2019 Toyota A90 Supra Review – Prototype Drive

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The new A90 Toyota Supra coupe is still a work-in-progress, but the early results are promising

The fifth-generation Toyota Supra is one of Japan Inc’s most anticipated new cars – and has been drip-fed almost to the same extent as its fellow, but much more expensive, Manga warriors from Nissan (GT-R) and Honda (NSX). As part of the slow-burn launch campaign, we’ve driven the new Supra in pre-production form ahead of its world debut in final undisguised production guise early next year. The new A90 Toyota Supra will launch the Japanese brand’s GAZOO Racing (GR) performance sub-brand in Australia when it arrives here in the second half of 2019 – and we can tell you it will be worth the wait.

What we liked:

• Lag-free muscular inline six

• Great road manners and no track slouch

• Refinement even in prototype form

Not so much:

• Interior is unlikely to be Toyota-ish

• Base version may be quiet different

• No pricing details yet

Waiting, waiting…

It’s a Supra, but not (exactly) as you know it, and it’s been a while in the making.

But who can blame Toyota? Simply, Supra is a defining car for the brand and has a cult following that very few other machines can match.

There are a couple of generations of petrolheads (at least) waiting to see how this one works out, so Toyota needs to get it right.

The short version is that we have good news.

The new Toyota Supra may share its hardware with the recently unveiled BMW Z4, but what has emerged from around six years of gestation and four years of development is a capable and characterful sports coupe. Oh, and it’s fast!

In short, the A90-series Toyota Supra is a car that’s worthy of the badge.

How the new Supra was born…

The new A90 Toyota Supra project kicked off in 2012 when Toyota and BMW agreed to collaborate on (among other things) a new sports car platform.

The bottom line (almost literally) is that alone neither of these giants could really get the business case for a bespoke sports car to stack up.

The father of the Toyota 86, Tetsuya Tada, was charged with making the Japanese-German courtship work and aligning the requirements from both camps into one ‘tool box’ of hardware.

That toolbox was signed off somewhere between 2012 and 2014 and the development of Supra commenced proper.

By that stage, Toyota insiders say that they had agreed on the short-wheelbase, wide-track concept that Supra is today.

They also, it’s claimed, had persuaded the BMW’s project burghers to push the engine rearwards by around 125mm and move the base of the A-pillars forwards.

The end result was a front/mid-engine platform with a supercar ‘fast’ (ie: sloped) windscreen and ultra-short overhangs front and rear. The perfect recipe for a sports car.

A BMW with a Toyota badge?

Once the hardware and packaging were agreed upon, Toyota’s development team waved goodbye to the Munich guys and started their development program proper.

There is no disputing nor hiding the hardware that creates the Supra. The new car is powered by a single twin-scroll turbocharged inline six that hails from Munich. It features an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.

There’s an electronically-controlled adaptive differential that works exactly the same as BMW’s active diffs. And there’s commonality on things like dampers and many, many other items.

But the diverged development streams mean that every calibration is by Toyota Motor Europe’s development engineers and master (development) drivers for Toyota’s target attributes and customers.

You, me and Jamie Oliver can all be given the same ingredients, but I’m tipping our chicken tikka masalas are going to taste different. Such is the case with Z4 and Supra.

The basic facts and figures

Toyota is still being very coy on the numbers that define the new Supra. The 3.0-litre straight six produces more than 220kW and 450Nm, they say.

After our road and track drives, we’d suggest a bit more – perhaps around 240kW and 500Nm, says my seat-of-the-pants dyno.

At a very basic level, the other stats are that it is a two-seat, two-door coupe with a wheelbase that is shorter than the Toyota 86’s and a lower centre of gravity – both facts Toyota wanted to drive home.

As noted above, the prototypes were fitted with eight-speed autoboxes, adaptive suspension and an active differential. Two drive modes were selectable: normal and sport.

The gearbox had a manual mode (a la most BMWs), with the choice of lever or gearshift paddles. In manual mode, the gearbox does not change up at redline. It will kick down, however, if you’re wrong-footed.

Suspension is a four-strut design. Toyota says it has created a bespoke front anti-roll bar set-up that delivers a more linear response – with more resistance to roll at low wheel stroke measurements and less at higher.

This is claimed to deliver better steering response at low speed and better resistance to understeer at higher efforts.

The track widths front and rear look substantial – with the “volumey” (Toyota’s own words) guards and wide Michelin Pilot Sport tyres exaggerating the effect.

Also noticeable is the substantial amount of negative camber on each corner. When you notice this by eye, you know it’s plenty.

And when the Master Driver (the bloke charged with developing and signing off the production car) nods and then says it doesn’t negatively affect tyre life, you know you’ve picked it right.

This racy geometry set-up is clearly is a big contributor to the Supra’s high levels of mechanical grip.

Plastic surgery

Styling is a personal thing. I don’t intend to discuss this at length – for one thing, the WWI battleship inspired camo-wrap on the Supras we drove does a remarkably effective job of hiding the car’s real lines.

But I do need to call out a fair swag of fakery that’s disappointingly found its way onto the A90 Toyota Supra.

Starting at the pointy end, there are fake (ie: sealed plastic) ‘vents’ on the front of the car and the outboard corners, more above the wheelhouses, more in the rear section of the doors (presumably to give the car some semblance of a mid-engined appearance) and even at the rear. And I’m not at all convinced the rear ‘diffuser’ is in any way functional either.

When questioned on these affectations, Assistant Chief Engineer, Masayuka Kai, stated that we can expect these openings to be, well, openings, on future racing versions of the Supra.

And perhaps in some instances on higher performance street Supras? We’ll have to wait to find that out. Kai wasn’t saying.

Felt a little out of it

Black felt covered almost every surface in the cabins of the Toyota Supra prototypes we drove. Most of us lifted it the moment we got in the cars.

The explosion of felt could be for two reasons – the cockpit is going to remain very BMW-centric and Toyota is concerned about that. Or they are still waiting to bolt in a Toyota makeover.

I’m going with the first scenario – the car is too close to production start for wholesale changes to be made.

A quick examination of the cars we drove versus the Z4 press shots show they share no sheetmetal at all (even the door shut lines are different) but the interior layout, infotainment and HMI (including the latest iDrive controller) looked all but identical.

We did note the Supra’s virtual instrument panel features a significantly different layout to the Z4. While the German roadster has a conventional two-dial layout, the Japanese coupe features a central tacho, large info panel to the right and was flanked by a digital speed and fuel and temp bar graphs.

The Supra’s steering wheel has also been tailored to the Toyota team’s taste. Gone is that stupidly thick rim that BMW seems to persist with and the diameter has been trimmed. The switchgear on the three and nine o’clock spokes, however, is very Munich.

Of course, all of this could change. In honesty, instrument panel treatment aside, I’d rather have the BMW cabin and HMI. This is an area where Toyota (and might I add, Lexus) is still behind.

Gissa drive mate

Our prototype drive of the new Toyota Supra took place on Tuesday in the hills to the north of Madrid and on the wonderfully historic, but fortunately recently resurfaced, Jarama circuit.

If you haven’t heard of the track, look it up. Some of the F1 battles there in the early 1980s were legend. And when 500 GP bikes were still racing, the way the unruly two-strokes stormed up Rampa Pegaso, front wheels clawing the air, was simply awesome.

This is a fast but technical and tricky track that demands attention, and (I’d suggest) rewards local knowledge. Not sure I had either, but it’s a credit to the new Toyota Supra that it more than coped – it was fast, engaging and forgiving. I didn’t want to give it back!

On the public road, we experienced great grip and good turn-in manners – and that didn’t deteriorate even on bumpy, badly cambered sections of the fun, fast but not furious road loop to the north of Torrelaguna and back towards Madrid.

Even on the track there’s not a lot of soundtrack to the new Supra. On the road it’s quiet – too quiet.

In addition to changed gearbox and throttle mapping (and the damping curves of the suspension), Sport mode opens valves in the twin, single-outlet exhausts to deliver some grumpiness on the over-run.

Like the current crop of M-cars from BMW, the stereo system is also employed to make some noise. This is still a work in progress, says the development team.

There’s also a good blip of the throttle on down-changes in Sport mode but the whole effect could be louder and grumpier, I reckon.

Making tracks

Overall the Toyota Supra’s balance of ride and handling is excellent. There’s genuine feedback through both the wheel and the seat base, and a true athletic resolution to how the car feels on the road.

It’s also easy to place accurately – something you become acutely aware of when you’re driving on the other side of the road.

On the track, we were able to further vouch for the Supra’s excellent traction, even under reasonably serious levels of provocation. It was also well balanced and ‘friendly’ under hard braking with a fraction of lock still on for the downhill Portago right-hander.

Those brakes may look pedestrian (they are ventilated but not grooved or drilled) but they work well. I sensed just a hint of the pedal lengthening on a hard road section.

Perhaps that’s why Toyota was limiting the fast laps to just three or four at Jarama. Another area for investigation when the production car surfaces.

On the long straight approaching 200km/h was a cinch before the conservative braking markers Toyota had installed.

A quick sprint up to and beyond 240km/h on one of the main roads on our loop showed the Supra to be rock-solid stable, and still accelerating with some verve. Slow it ain’t.

Toyota says it has considered the fact that some owners will want to both drift and “donut” the new Supra, and so it accommodated both in its development.

There’s no drift mode per se, but the traction and then stability control can be turned off to facilitate such shenanigans. We were strictly prohibited from doing so on our drive. No. Just no. Don’t.

The new Supra’s manners even at this pre-signoff stage gives credence to the statement by the project’s Master Driver, TME’s Herwig Daenens, that 90 per cent of the car’s development has been on public roads.

The TME team used Nurburgring and, importantly, the roads around there for much of the Supra’s calibration. The giant Miramar proving ground complex north of Paris was also used and the teams also undertook long road trips, Daenens claims.

He says, correctly, that often things don’t start to annoy you until you’ve had six or seven hours in the car.

Good bones

In our engineering preproduction prototype drive we didn’t have anything like that time – and certainly found nothing to annoy.

I provided confidential feedback on a couple of WIP items at Toyota’s request but they were minor grizzles.

There will be so much more to talk about when the new Toyota Supra is (eventually) officially launched. We expect that to be some time in the first quarter of 2019.

No doubt then we’ll also have some idea of the model line-up, what equipment will be standard or optional, and be able answer questions like power, torque, acceleration times and, God forbid, even the fuel consumption and NCAP safety ratings.

Oh, and the all-important price…

For the time being, let’s keep it simple.

The Supra’s back. And it’s good. Bloody good. And we should all be glad it is. The world’s biggest car-maker needs a proper sports car.

(motoring.com.au, http://bit.ly/2QOblTp)

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