Toyota Supra (2019) International Prototype Drive


Toyota certainly likes to draw out a new product launch, especially when it's something a bit sporty, like the Toyota Supra. Our UK Correspondent, Neill Briscoe got a chance to drive a pre-production version of the Supra. Here's what he thinks of it. 

Imagine, if you will, a Toyota that drives like a Porsche. No, there isn’t a rear-engined Corolla (not since the early '80s, at least we don’t think so…), but that’s what this new Supra is: a Toyota that’s gunning for the cars from Zuffenhausen. Toyota isn’t even trying to be coy about it. The car’s chief engineer, the garrulous Tetsuya Tada (who also gave us the brilliant 86 Coupe) told us that “the Porsche Cayman was always the benchmark for this car. We wanted to create a Porsche Killer.”

There may be some of you who might snigger into your sleeves at the thought of a car that shares showroom space with a Yaris outgunning a Cayman or a 911. But anyone old enough to remember the A80 Supra of the early '90s won’t be laughing. That car, a big, straight-6 coupe with twin turbos and a honking great rear wing, was fast and furious (forgive us) enough to give a 911 the willies. Can Toyota’s history repeat itself?

Toyota's Cayman beater?

Toyota has its sights clearly set on uprooting the Porsche Cayman.

Well, Tada and Toyota had some help. Specifically, from BMW, because, thanks to a tech-sharing agreement between the two manufacturers, the Supra and the new BMW Z4 are closely related. In fact, they are so closely related that the Supra’s 3.0-litre straight-six turbo engine is basically lifted straight from the Z4, with hardly any modifications beyond some Toyota-specific software. Even the 8-speed automatic transmission has been sourced from the Munich-based firm. The Supra’s engineering team makes no bones about this, and their attitude is basically: ‘if you need a great straight-6 engine, why wouldn’t you go to BMW?’

They may have a point, as this is something of a corking good engine. It flatters to deceive at first. Our test car was a late engineering prototype, not the fully finished article (production doesn’t kick off until early next year), but close enough. It has the Normal/Sports electronic settings button, which also works on the optional adaptive dampers. Start the engine in Normal mode and it coughs discreetly to life, with none of the theatrical rev-blare of some sports models. 

Not surprisingly for a Munich straight-6 (by way of Tokyo), it’s as smooth as freshly whipped cream at first. In fact, the whole car is, which is the surprising bit. Tada has spoken much about how he wanted to make the Supra an uncompromising sports car, but in our early kilometres, on Spanish tarmac of variable quality, the Supra is quiet, has a very comfortable ride quality and seems ideally suited to long-haul GT-style driving.

Sportscar or GT?

Official performance figures aren't available yet, but the BMW-sourced straight-6 is an excellent choice.

Even the steering is quite light. Doubtless there’s some last-minute tweaking of the software to do, but for our money, it feels almost a touch too light right now, and there’s not as much feedback as we’d like. That said, when we find the twisty roads, there’s not much wrong with it…

Tada has engineered the car to be stiffer than the old carbon-fibre Lexus LFA, despite it being made only of steel and aluminium. The centre of gravity, even with that tall straight-6 motor, is lower than that of the 86 coupe, and at the back, there’s an electronically controlled differential, which is there to help find extra traction, of course, but which can also help get the Supra turned in tight.

All of which comes together rather beautifully. Remember when the Porsche Cayman still had a sonorous flat-6 engine, so it had the soundtrack of a 911, but with more agility and sharper reflexes? That’s how the Supra feels. The engine sings a beautiful song once you get it past the 4 000 rpm mark and it piles on the speed with no little aggression (what do you expect with around 250 kW?).

The engineers have not quite put the finishing touches on the new Supra yet, and it's already very good.

Arrive at a corner, leave your braking as late as you like, and the Supra will look after you. Tada told us that it’s been set up to be more rewarding to the most skilful drivers, but it felt pretty brilliant to this ham-fisted correspondent. Even running deep into a tight corner, that light steering is accurate and fast, and the Supra’s needle nose almost always seems to find the apex.

In the dry conditions of our test, traction was simply never an issue, and with that brilliant 8-speed 'box being almost spookily good at picking out what gear you need next, you’re soon rocketing away from corner exit, hungry for more curves. When the rear wheels do break free, any slide is progressive, and you get plenty of warning, so there’s no nervousness here.

It’s not quite perfect yet. In Sport mode, the front dampers seem to fidget and bounce a little too much on poor surfaces, and we’d still like a fraction more steering feel, but be in no doubt that Tada and his team have reached their goal of making a Toyota drive like a Porsche. Potentially even better…

Tuners delight

There’s a lot more to come, too. Tada knows that tuners love their Supras, so much has been left ready for the accessories brigade, including a rear-end structure that’s reinforced to take the extra downforce from a big rear wing. There will also be more engines, including a 4-cylinder model, and likely a hybrid, although Toyota is keeping officially schtum on those for now. A manual version, however? Don’t hold your breath.

We’ve all been holding our breath for 2 decades for a new Supra. Time to exhale…

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