Why the Supra is more than the sum of its parts.

Toyota is probably not a car company many people think about with much enthusiasm. Yes, the Prius hybrid is a market leader and is at the cutting edge of technology that will keep us mobile well into the 21st century. The more conventional models, like the Yaris or Corolla are the very definition of automotive white goods. Cars for the people who want reliability above everything else. This isn't a bad thing. Toyota has become the biggest car company in the world for this reason. So, the very fact that the new Supra even exists is something of a miracle. The question remains is this new fifth generation model (A90) any good?

To answer this question, we first need to go the top of Toyota itself. The company's CEO, Akio Toyoda promised to create more emotional and exciting cars when he took over the reins in 2009. Toyoda is a "car guy" with a love for racing and he understands what makes a good sports car. The GT 86 was the first fruits of this promise. A small rear-wheel drive coupe co-developed with Subaru. Yes, it has a horrible interior. Yes, it is underpowered and yes, it is now reaching the end of its life-cycle. But, for people who love driving, this is a genuine sports car. It needs to be driven skillfully to get the best from its limited power output. More importantly, this is a car that can be rewarding at safe speeds on public roads due to its rear-wheel drive nature. It only exists because it proved to be economically viable through collaboration with another car manufacturer. This pragmatic approach was duplicated when it came to reviving the Supra after nearly 20 years in the wilderness.

Toyota and BMW jumped into bed together to make the Supra a reality. BMW wanted to developed a new generation of Z4 roadster and Toyota needed a platform, engine and manufacturing site for its new car. Apparently, both vehicles were developed independently to retain their unique characteristics. But the Supra that launched a few weeks ago has faced vocal criticism that it is nothing more than a Z4 with a roof. On the surface, this criticism is valid. It is powered by a BMW engine (the B58) good for 335 bhp and has an 8-speed automatic ZF gearbox, again from the Germans in Munich. The interior is even more blatant, with BMW switchgear and an iDrive package that was lifted straight from the Z4. The exterior was styled in-house at Toyota and that too has been  attacked for being full of odd curves and fake vents. Superficially then, this new Supra appears to be a compromised badge engineered BMW which sullies the legacy of the cars that came before it.

You have to look beyond the superficial details to really understand what Toyota contributed to this project and why the Supra is more than the sum of its shared parts. Toyota specified the platform adhere to the so called "golden ratio" of 1.55 for both wheel base and track. It is also very rigid, the chassis being stiffer than the Lexus LFA supercar. Toyota also tuned their car to have less power compared to the Z4, but this results in torque at the lower end of the power band, perfect for everyday driving. The focus being given to precision and balance above outright speed. As a result, the car is fun and is more at home on the road compared to the race track.

It is not a perfect sports car however. Pistonhead's Dan Posser emphasized that currently the Supra is "good enough" and feels there is more to come. The Supra has always been the tuners delight and the aftermarket will no doubt offer engine modifications, louder exhausts and extra bracing. Toyota themselves probably have more hardcore variants in mind, primarily a manual version if demand is high enough. Ultimately, this new Supra is an old-school sports car that would not exist if it were not for Toyota's pragmatic approach to its development. For consumers, this is a good package that is more affordable and reliable than anything Porsche or McLaren can offer. It is a car built for enthusiasts that comes with a Toyota 5-year warranty.

If the sports car is to survive into the next century, Toyota and Akio Toyoda may have just shown us how this can be achieved.


Supra images sourced from https://www.autocar.co.uk