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Toyota Supra prototype review: 4.5/5

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It's been a long time coming. Was the new Supra worth the wait?

Neil Briscoe

Words: - @neilmbriscoe

Published on: September 19, 2018

Words: - @neilmbriscoe

Published on: September 19, 2018

Tech Specs

Model testedToyota Supra
Pricingestimated at €90,000
Engine3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six petrol
Transmissioneight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body styletwo-seat coupe
Top speedcirca 250km/h
0-100km/h4.5 seconds (estimated)
Power340hp (estimated)
Torque450Nm (estimated)

Small. Agile. Fast. Cool. Toyota's new Supra ticks every box you put in front of it, even in prototype form.

In the Metal:

We're not sure what to award here as we haven't actually seen the new Toyota Supra in the metal. We've seen it in the camouflage tape, which automatically makes any car look 9,000 per cent more cool and interesting [Ed: I've told you a million times to not exaggerate.]. What we can discern beneath the disguise seems to be a very compact, needle-nosed two-seat coupe, with a fantastically cool double-bubble roof, and a very tightly drawn rear end. Basically, it looks just like 2014's Toyota FT-1 concept car, but toned down a bit, and almost nothing like the slightly beefy looking A80 Supra that, with a gap of almost twenty years, preceded it.

Inside, it looks a lot like a BMW and that's not surprising, because it is a BMW. Well, sort of. Toyota and BMW agreed to develop the new Supra and the new Z4 side-by-side, and even though the two projects drifted apart in focus, and the two cars are supposed to feel very, very different to drive, there's still a lot of BMW DNA in this Japanese sports car. That's especially true of the cabin. With most of it hidden behind felt fabric in this engineering prototype, we can tell so far that the instrument panel and the central infotainment screen look different to those of the Z4, but the centre console, steering wheel, buttons, and switchgear all scream 'Munich!' as soon as you sit in. It's possible that Toyota has plans to add more of its own individuality before production finally starts in the spring of 2019, but for now this all feels very Germanic.

Not that that's a bad thing, and the cabin (what we can see of it) works well. For the driver, it's roomy and comfortable (possibly slightly less so for a tall passenger) and the driving position seems pretty good.


Driving it:

There's a lot going on here. First off the Supra is incredibly stiff, even more so than the all-carbon-fibre Lexus LFA supercar, in spite of the fact that there's no carbon in the structure - just high-tensile steel, aluminium and some clever bonding techniques. It's not featherweight, but circa 1,500kg isn't too shabby for something with a big six-cylinder engine. That weight is distributed 50:50 front to rear, and it's low down too - the centre of gravity is claimed to be lower than that of the Toyota GT86 coupe, which has a flat-four engine...

The Supra's suspension is conventional, with wishbones at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear, and there are optional adaptive dampers, which have, refreshingly, just two settings - Normal and Sport. The steering has a single, non-variable ratio, but there is a clever electronically controlled differential at the back that actively helps to trim the Supra's cornering lines.

The steering feels a touch distant and light, at first, almost as if Toyota is deliberately taking some inspiration from its Le Mans winning TS050 racing car (Le Mans cars all have really light, feathery steering so that hauling on the wheel for 24 hours doesn't knacker you out). But as you drive you sense that there is some feedback and some front-wheel feel there (not quite as much as you'd ideally like, but it is there) and that the weighting, and certainly the accuracy, are really good. Driven gently, in Normal mode, the Supra feels relaxed and refined. The suspension is eerily good at soaking up lumpy surfaces and, aside from a bit of tyre roar, you could easily and happily drive one from Saipan to Stuttgart without breaking a sweat.

The engine and gearbox, both lifted all-but unchanged from BMW (Toyota does add its own software) play big parts in this. That big six is smooth and silent at first, with lots of low down torque and an eight-speed automatic gearbox that seems almost sentient in how well it picks out which gear to use, the Supra rolls along with maximum intent, but minimum fuss.

Then you find some corners, and hit Sport mode. Now, the engine is never a monster, as such, and this is not a frantic-feeling car. But it does go, and then go some more, and then keep going until there's nowhere else to go. It sounds terrific - almost Porsche-like when you get above 5,000rpm - and pulls strongly all the way to the redline. It's one of those engines that just seems to invite you to haul along at serious speeds, with plenty of reserve left in it. It's brilliant.

So too, thankfully, is the handling. Toyota's chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada, told us that he wanted the new Supra to be a 'Porsche Killer' and that the Cayman was the car most firmly in his crosshairs. Well, he's nailed it. The Supra feels as agile and as biddable as the Cayman - you can almost never miss an apex, not matter how badly you muck up your braking and steering - but it has the power and musicality of the bigger 911. That's quite the combination. It's fantastic fun on the road, searing from point to point in much less time than you'd expect, and feels by road car standards oddly at home on a race track.

Even at Jarama, the ex-Formula One circuit just outside Madrid, the Supra felt like it had plenty of power, never ran out of brakes and only under-or-oversteered when you really, really got it wrong. It may just be one of the best-driving cars of the year.



What you get for your Money:

We just don't know yet what the Supra will cost and how well-equipped it will be. The only thing that we know for certain is that one option is the adaptive damper setup. Price-wise, we're expecting the Supra to land in Ireland for about €90,000, which isn’t cheap, but then this was always going to be something of a specialist car. A manual gearbox option? Toyota has thought about it, but it's not on the cards yet. Four-cylinder engine? Hybrid? Almost certainly on both, but as usual Toyota is currently playing its cards close to its chest. If you want one, act fast. Order books open on October 2nd and Toyota is setting up a ‘Supra 900 Club’, for the first 900 deposits, whose owners will get production priority.

Summary

If ever a car were close to review-proof, the new Toyota Supra is it. Those who love it already know they love it, sight unseen. The doubters will always doubt. For what it's worth, I think Tada and his team have nailed the Porsche bullseye with this one. The Supra feels wonderfully agile, yet also surefooted and friendly. The engine is close to perfection, the styling and cabin we'll have to wait and see for a bit yet. In the meantime, this is shaping up to be every bit as big a legend as its A80 predecessor.



Alternatives

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