This car has big shoes to fill.
I careen around a tight bend in the road with a steep drop and no guard rails and give a nervous stab of the brakes. The narrow tires groan in protest and the rear-end swings out a bit. The tachometer drops and I kick the transmission down into second. Come on baby, rev! It’s taking too long to build speed back.
Is this what I expected out of the reborn Toyota Supra; the long-awaited fifth generation of Toyota’s most revered sports car? No, and that’s a good thing, because this isn’t a Supra I’m driving. Instead, I’m behind the wheel of the smaller Toyota 86, chasing a new Supra around Circuito del Jarama, near Madrid, Spain.
Predictably, I’m getting my butt handed to me, as the 86’s naturally aspirated boxer engine, rated at 205 horsepower, is no match for the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder that powers the new Supra.
I watch as, yet again, the Supra pulls far ahead. It’s wrapped in speckled vinyl meant to camouflage the body. But there’s no hiding the wicked acceleration of the Supra nor the way the sports car handles flatly as it clips the cambered curves. A set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires keep the Supra glued to the tarmac.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m having a blast trying to keep up with Toyota’s newest sports car, especially as I row through the manual gears. That’s one upside to the 86 that isn’t found on the Supra, which gets only an 8-speed automatic transmission. Every once in a while the driver ahead coasts for a while, allowing me to catch up. I’m sweating with the effort.
But then he pulls over. It’s time to switch cars. And then the fun really begins.
The State of the Supra
Judging by the state of video games such as Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, as well as the popularity of the Fast and the Furious film franchise, you’d think the Supra has been thriving for the last decade. But while the Supra story started in 1978, it ended in 2002, and has spent the last 16 years in the automotive netherworld.
But enthusiasts still lust after the Supra, with the fourth-generation car eliciting the most drooling from Toyota fans. Known internally as the A80, the fourth-gen Supra was available with a 320-hp, twin-turbocharged inline-six (dubbed 2JZ-GTE by Toyota), a six-speed manual transmission supplied by Getrag, and of course, a big honking wing. The Supra looked stunning and it had the performance to match.
A full 20 years since Toyota sold the last Supra in the U.S., and the iconic model is back with a full-on reboot.
But the A80 was also the Supra’s swan song. Along with its constant competitor, the Nissan Z, the price and complexity of the car continued to swell. Its last year on sale in the United States was 1998, when the Turbo model came to $40,000. Nonetheless, Supra fans have been clamoring for the model’s return.
A full 20 years since Toyota sold the last Supra in the U.S., and the iconic model is back with a full-on reboot. By any real measure, there’s no firm connection between that car and this one, the internally coded A90, a car built and engineered alongside BMW via a technical partnership that’s also responsible for the new Z4 convertible.
While the exterior designs of the two cars are noticeably different (which is obvious even when camouflaged), the hard points of the internal architecture are exactly the same. The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine and transmission also come from BMW. Even the interior switches are BMW-derived.
That turbo six is likely shared with the Z4 M40i, although Toyota was mum on the topic. Although Toyota gave us and other members of the global media an opportunity to drive the new Supra, the company elected to hold back all Supra specifications – including power figures. Toyota spokespeople say that information should come by the end of the year, and executives are only allowing that the inline six “makes more than 300 horsepower.” Um, yeah. Clearly. It should at least match the Z4 M40i’s 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.
When it goes on sale in the U.S., the launch model will feature an electronic differential and an active suspension. There’s no four-wheel steering or all-wheel drive offered. Masayuki Kai, the assistant chief engineer on the Supra, says the company is “studying” a number of other potential options. Everything from engine sizes (“smaller and bigger,”), a T-top roof, and even a manual.
“Technically a manual is possible,” Kai-san says. “But with an engine with high torque, it’s difficult to provide a good shift feeling. You don’t want to feel like you’re driving a truck. But of course it’s possible… and depends on market feedback.”
Still a Supra
Around Circuito del Jarama I quickly found the coupe intuitive and easy to drive quickly. The perfect weight balance of 50:50 was clearly evident.
But a huge part of the Supra’s charm is that it doesn’t have supercar ambitions. It felt quick but not brain-bending fast. It’s the kind of car you’d want on a back-road blast, while being tame enough that you wouldn’t worry if your buddy wanted to take the reins, too. With a weight of less than 3,400 pounds and the aforementioned power estimates, the Supra is a fun but accessible sports car.
Out of the 86 and into the Supra, I start the car to a faint cough of sound. There’s not a lot of engine noise, unfortunately, and some of it does come in via speakers, another BMW trick. And some features of the interior aren’t yet finalized, says Toyota. The inside of my test car is hidden in thick, camouflaging felt material.
No matter. It’s the sense of how it performs on the road that I’m most interested in. This time the 86 is behind us, fighting to stay in sight. I have the Supra in manual mode, which allows sharp but not jarring shifts. And while the steering is accurate, it leans more toward a typical Toyota than a BMW. More road feel would be highly appreciated.
The driving position is excellent and the seats are quite comfortable while still providing firm support. The adaptive chassis is forgiving even over bumps, but the Brembo stoppers give us a bit less confidence than I might like. Toyota says it’s still working on details like the brake feel. I imagine it will be significantly tweaked before the car goes to market.
Here I go, approaching another tight bend. Again with the steep drop and lack of guard rails. Although I haven’t spent too much time in the Supra, I know there’s no need for a nervous stab of brake this time. I give it more gas, actually, turn the wheel, and grin.
Apologies to the friend behind us in the 86. I promise, I’ll coast along the next stretch of road and let you catch up.
Gallery: Toyota Supra Prototype Test Drive
2019 Toyota Supra Prototype