Though built in Austria and with a German heart, the fifth-generation Supra continues Toyota’s sports coupe heritage started by the 2000GT more than 50 years ago
“Ah, no.” Never in my twenty-odd-years of experience in this game has an automotive executive or engineer answered a question more honestly and without the need for softening clarification. Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer in charge of the long-awaited fifth-generation Toyota Supra had just been asked whether he’d again develop a car in a joint venture with another manufacturer. Having led the team in charge of the co-development of the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, along with the Toyota side of the Supra and BMW Z4 joint venture, Tada-san is uniquely positioned to answer so resolutely. It was clear from our 20-minute chat (much of which he asked to remain off the record) that the relationship with BMW was not always the easiest.
However fraught the relationship might have been, the result is certainly striking in the metal and, to my eyes at least, more convincing in three-dimension reality than in the 2D world of websites and magazine imagery. What looked like overwrought and fussy detailing in photos transforms to interesting and complex shapes when the Supra is sat before you. Visually or mechanically there is little to link the A90 to previous generations of Supra, save for a glimpse of JZA80 around the headlights and the roll of the clamshell bonnet over the front wheel. Given the 17-year passage of time since the fourth-generation Supra ceased its nine-year production run in 2002, perhaps it was wise for Toyota’s designers not to force the connection with the new car. Regardless, the GR Supra is a striking vehicle and during our day based out of Phillip Island, I fell for its looks in a way that was completely unexpected. The design works equally in subdued grey or look-at-me yellow and I’m a real fan of the Zagato-style double-bubble roof – a feature that I admired on BMW’s old Z4 M Coupe.
Reams of real and internet pages have already been written about the commonality between the A90-generation GR Supra and the third-gen BMW Z4, so there’s little point labouring the details, but not everyone is happy with the result of the clash-of-cultures joint venture. The biggest bones of contention appear to be that some interior touch points are too obviously sourced from BMW and that the drivetrain is carried over from the BMW roadster. Sure, you can play parts-bin bingo if that’s your thing, but for me, the Supra’s interior is different enough and it’s not as though the BMW parts are rubbish. There’s more of a cockpit feel in the Toyota with its very low roof line and gun-slit visibility, but the stroke of generous is that the Supra uses a thinner steering wheel rim than the overly chubby one used in sportier BMWs.
As for the drivetrain commonality, it’s hardly as though the BMW-supplied 3.0-litre single-turbocharged B58 straight six and ZF-supplied eight-speed torque converter auto fall short of the very highest standards in the industry. As in the BMW Z4 M40i, the Supra’s B58 makes 250kW between 5000-6500rpm and a very stout 500Nm from just 1600rpm all the way around to 4500rpm. The engine revs to 7000rpm but it feels like it could keep pulling for at least another 500 revs as it’s certainly not gasping for breath as the redline demands an upshift. If anything, the engine in the Supra feels even punchier than that in the Z4 M40i (we had a BMW in the evo Australia garage in the days before our drive of the Toyota) and sharper than the numbers on the tin suggest.
Given the Supra’s sports car purpose, the exclusive inclusion of an automatic gearbox is perhaps more difficult to swallow for enthusiasts, but the ZF eight-speed remains the industry gold standard for torque converter autos.
Either way, Tetsuya Tada has no issue with the Supra’s drivetrain, admitting that he was very happy with the BMW engine and that the Supra maintained its straight-six heritage. It’s something to which I admit to not considering, but the Supra’s manufacturing site caused more pause from Tada-san. The A90 Supra is built alongside the BMW Z4 range at Magna Steyr’s gun-for-hire facility in Graz, Austria. The pragmatic decision sits heavily with Tada-san who grimaced as he acknowledged that the fifth-generation Supra isn’t built in Japan. I love that level of passion from an engineer but I doubt buyers will care where their Supra is screwed together.
And on the back roads around Phillip Island, the Supra felt well screwed together. On typical Australian roads, the multi-mode adjustable dampers are best left in normal mode. Switch out of the firmer sport mode back to normal and you can sense the car relax. It begins inhaling the bumps and exhaling over crests rather than maintaining rigid body control and combatting the surface. That’s not to suggest that the Supra is soft and floaty, rather that the balance of control and compliance is in the Goldilocks zone in normal mode.
The softer setting keeps the tyres in better contact with the changing surface, leading to more information flowing back through the thin-rimmed steering wheel. You still won’t be overwhelmed with incessant chatter, but the steering does inform you of front grip levels and how much is left in reserve. With 255/35 ZR19 front and 275/30 ZR19 rear tyres there is no shortage of grip and the chassis feels neutral unless you begin to try too hard. Only in tighter sections of our road loop could you find the limits of adhesion at either end of the Supra but really only with too much corner-entry speed or with too-eager and too-early application of throttle on exit.
Perhaps it’s odd to draw a comparison with a mid-engined car, but the Supra lacks a little of the flow and finesse of Alpine’s reborn A110, but otherwise it delivers a similarly nuanced experience as the lovely French sports car. It’s certainly much more resolved than the BMW Z4 with which is shares many strands of DNA. The steering is more faithful and accurate, the chassis more capable of dealing with surface imperfections and more willing to entertain and engage the driver. Oddly, the engine also appears more characterful than that in the BMW Z4 M40i.
On the fast and flowing expanses of Phillip Island’s Grand Prix Circuit, the Supra remains an impressive machine, though the speed is dulled and the gearbox is left wanting. The engine’s willingness to rev to 7000rpm isn’t matched by the ZF’s shift speed and you can clatter into the limiter if you don’t pre-empt the gearbox’s marginally tardy responses in the heat of the moment. More frustrating is the gearbox’s hesitation on the run down the ratios where you’re sometimes still plucking the left paddle looking for a shift as the apex is approaching. It’s here that I’d like three pedals and full manual control or, at least, a fast-shifting dual-clutch.
On the smooth surface of the track, the firmer suspension mode comes into its own, helping the Toyota sports car maintain a flat stance through the Island’s numerous fast corners. And there’s still enough compliance that kerb strikes don’t fling the coupe off line.
On a smaller circuit, such as Baskerville, Wakefield Park, Winton or some of the shorter configurations of Sydney Motorsport Park, the Supra is likely to be even more fun in its standard trim. Of course, given the model’s Gran Turismo and Fast and the Furious legacy, one can only imagine that many fifth-generation Supras will not remain showroom standard for long.
As it sits however, the A90 Toyota Supra is a welcome addition to the sports car landscape. Having now seen and driven the car, I cannot fathom the negativity around the joint venture with BMW. In an ideal world, of course it’d be nice if the Supra had a smidge more Japanese identity to it and a domestically sourced straight six descendent of the 2JZ under its long bonnet. But we live in an increasingly homogenised world, and having a new Supra is better than not.
With the aforementioned Alpine A110, continued sales success of the Ford Mustang and now the arrival of the new Supra, the sports car segment is looking more interesting and healthier than it has in years. Add in BMW’s Z4 range and its excellent M2 Competition, along with Porsche’s Cayman and Boxster models and the choice or two-door, rear-wheel-drive cars is the broadest it’s been in years. Toyota Australia admits that supply will be the biggest hurdle facing the Supra’s success. So far, most local customers (more than 80 per cent) are choosing the $94,900 GTS model over the $84,900 GT, and for many, the Supra is their first Toyota, having come from some of the aforementioned sports cars.
Before I left Phillip Island, I farewelled Tetsuya Tada for his trip back to Toyota City. After a long day sitting in the pit garage, Tada-san looked tired. I thanked him for his time and complimented him on the new Supra. The boyish enthusiasm I first encountered in 2012 when Tada-san was introducing me to the 86 flashed across his face; “Thank you. I hope the world likes new Supra”. Whatever stresses that the Toyota-BMW joint venture caused, he knows that the end result was worth it. Jesse Taylor
Toyota GR Supra
Engine In-line 6-cyl, 2998cc, turbo
Power 250kW @ 5800-6500rpm
Torque 500Nm @ 1600-4500rpm
Top speed 250km/h (limited)
Basic price $84,900
evo rating ;;;;2