The 2019 Toyota Supra Lives Up to the Legend
We drove a prototype of the fifth-generation Supra and found out that Toyota hasn't forgotten how to build a serious performance car.
The new Supra needed a straight-six. Every Supra has had one, from the very first model in 1978 to the twin-turbo legend that ended production in 2002. When a group of Toyota engineers decided to revive the Supra for the 21st century, they knew they needed a row of six pistons under the hood.
But today’s Toyota is a different company. In the years since the last MkIV rolled off the assembly line, Toyota has become one of the three largest automakers on earth. A zealous philosophy drove that achievement: Design broadly-appealing vehicles, make them easy to assemble quickly, and sell them by the boatload. Asking Toyota’s powertrain division to halt work on tomorrow’s hybrid, electric and fuel cell technology to build a small-volume engine for a niche sports car was out of the question.
Still, the engineers got their wish. Underneath the tumbling hood of the fifth-generation Supra—called A90 by Toyota employees and MkV by everyone else—is a straight-six. The 3.0-liter single-turbo powerplant satisfies strict Supra tradition. Even if it came from BMW.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the new Supra. Horsepower? More than 300 is all Toyota will say. Torque? An engineer tells me it will be “more than twice that of the Toyota 86,” which makes 156 lb-ft. Zero to 60? A number less than five seconds, the automaker says. When will it go on sale, and how much will it cost? I wish I could say.
The Supra and Z4 share a jointly-developed rear-drive platform. Their chassis components are identical, though each automaker will use its own unique tooling and calibration. When production begins, the two cars will be built side-by-side at Magna Steyr’s factory in Graz, Austria.
So while Toyota hasn’t divulged any detailed Supra specifications, we can look to the Z4 for the basics. The cars have a surprisingly squared-off footprint, with a stubby 97.2-inch wheelbase and a track width of just over 63 inches—a smidge shorter than a two-door Mini, but roughly four inches wider. Toyota says the Supra, like the Z4, will have perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and a knowledgeable source predicts the Supra will weigh in at less than 3300 lbs, a significant chunk lighter than the drop-top BMW. As for performance, the six-cylinder Z4 makes 382 horsepower, 369 lb-ft of torque, and does 0-60 in 4.4 seconds; a prototype ran the Nurburgring in 7:55 at the hands of a German sports car magazine.
Out on the hairpins of Jarama, that short wheelbase makes the Supra more than happy to pivot. You feel the thing squirm around a bit under braking, especially at the end of the straightaway where you’re flirting with 140 mph. Rolling on unique compound Michelin Pilot Super Sports (255s up front, 275s in the rear, on upgrade 19-inch wheels) and optional adaptive dampers, the close-coupled car feels playful and engaging, never squirrely.
It also feels decidedly un-turbocharged. Final calibration is still being done—despite sharing its engine with the Z4, the Supra will have unique drivetrain programming—but I’m told this single-turbo engine maxes out at a little more than seven psi of boost. The torque comes on early and never really drops off; unlike some turbo powerplants, this engine rewards a run all the way to its 6500-rpm redline, and unless you’re demanding full boost at 50 mph in top gear, you’ll never catch the turbo sleeping on the job. You’ll never hear it, either: The engine note is pure straight-six rip, with a whisper of boost so faint as to be drowned out by the cabin fan. The exhaust gets notably louder in Sport mode, crackling obediently on deceleration.
The only transmission planned for the Supra is the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic. As always, it’s a peach, shifting itself well enough to make the wheel-mounted paddles seem superfluous even on track. Flipped into manual mode via BMW’s regrettably overcomplicated console shifter, the gearbox responds instantaneously to the paddles. The steering is quick, if a little mushy in the first few degrees off-center. The brakes on the prototype I drove around Jarama had clearly been punished by the journalist colleagues that drove before me, but despite a slightly soft pedal, the car always slowed confidently, with no fade.
Toyota engineers say they spent 90 percent of Supra development time on the road, to mimic how customers will presumably use the car. Most Supra buyers won’t be commuting on the sinewy mountain roads that skirt Madrid, poor saps. No matter: The Supra is a riot pretty much wherever you drive. This car lives to dive into a decreasing-radius corner. Nearly as wide as a Stingray but an acre shorter, the Supra is surefooted and planted even over choppy, worn-out pavement.
The only unfairness in all of this was the Toyota 86 we brought in our convoy through the mountains. Longer, narrower and considerably lighter than the Supra, the 86 was a different animal on these looping byways. The feedback from the Supra’s brake pedal and small-diameter, thin-rimmed steering wheel never quite lived up to the 86’s chatty interfaces. Then again, the four-cylinder coupe disappeared in the Supra’s dust with every rip up the tach. One car rewards precision and momentum; the other has grip, poise and pace to make any driver feel like a hero. Out of the mountains and back onto the motorway, the Supra thrums lightly with tire noise, and you hear every pebble that the rear tires fling into the floor, but overall the drive is calm and easy.
And while the 86 has plucky style, the Supra looks muscular and dramatic in person. At six-foot-two, I had ample head, shoulder and hip room, but the rear edge of the side window only comes about as high as my ear. Minimizing blind spots requires creative mirror adjustment.
Even wrapped in Toyota’s ever-present multicolor camo, you can’t ignore the draw and depth of the Supra’s rear fenders. Designers shaped the car’s rear expecting the production team to send it back to be toned down; no such revision was ever requested. The car’s prominent front overhang takes some getting used to, but it serves a purpose: The long nose keeps the car aerodynamically balanced, a trick often used by Porsche. The only chuckler is the fact that the dramatic air slits in the hood, doors, and front and rear bumpers were all completely blocked-off, at least on these preproduction prototypes.
As for the interior? An errant breeze lifted just enough of the concealing camouflage for a quick peek. Judging by this glimpse, a new BMW Z4 owner would feel an eerie familiarity in the Supra’s HVAC controls, landscape-layout dashboard screen, and console-mounted clickwheel user interface.
Toyota hasn’t had a true high-performance sports car since 2002. That means this Supra gets to set its own precedent, in terms of performance, character and feel. It’s truly a fresh start: Among the entire A90 Supra team, the only person who was around for the A80 was chief engineer Tetsuya Tada. Toyota could have used this distance to veer away from the Supra tradition. Instead, the automaker stuck to the time-honored formula: Six cylinders, two doors. Is it a rebadged BMW? Behind the wheel, you won’t care to ask.
More photos, lots of them:
The comments on off-center and general steering feel worry me. I had the previous generation and the steering feel was barely perceptible until one was going way, way too fast for the street. It felt like a Camry....