FIRST DRIVE | The 2019 Toyota GR Supra is a premier coupé
Brenwin Naidu finally gets to sample Toyota's most anticipated new model in years
The biggest problem facing the fifth-generation Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR) Supra are the mythical spectres cast by its forebears. Thanks to popular film and gaming franchises that do not even need to be mentioned here, the nameplate has been grossly fetishised to the extent that reality could not possibly match fantasy.
It would not be remiss to say that most customers eyeing this A90 version are au fait with former versions solely in the digital realm. Something that the marketing scientists at the firm are quite aware of - as you will see when the television commercial airs. It is this nostalgia the brand aims to play on.
While in bed the night before catching a 6.20am flight to the local launch of the model, my expectations were being carefully managed. Guess what? I had never piloted a Toyota Supra before in the real world. One is doubtful that there are many local motoring writers who have, particularly the hallowed A80 version, in its standard from-the-factory specification anyway.
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Our reference points are perhaps a little more germane, to be frank. Between the staff involved with this title, we have done our due diligence across the breadth of the category the Toyota is intended for. That includes the Porsche 718 Cayman S, BMW M2 Competition and Audi TT RS. It has its work cut out. This crop offers so many different textures, sensations and areas of competence, from impeccable handling to drift-goading lunacy and supercar-slaying acceleration in a straight line.
The Supra is going to require more than nostalgia as a unique selling point. This story would be incomplete without discussing the Bavarian elephant in the room. Yes, we have to mention the relationship between BMW and Toyota, with the Japanese manufacturer employing the foundation and powertrain of the Z4 (G29) M40i as its basis for this project.
Collaboration between manufacturers is not a foreign concept in 2019. Some synergies are more fruitful than others. Dressing up a Nissan Navara in Mercedes-Benz lederhosen? Giving a Mazda MX-5 some Italian flavour with a turbocharged engine, longer hood and some scorpion badges? A slightly more endearing example of a joint venture - but the original is undoubtedly the truly authentic rendition.
Well, BMW garners praise for the character it breathes into its sporting wares. And Toyota is known for breathing reliability into its wares in general. A fairly positive symbiosis should emerge from such a union.
Then again, reliability is not the only thing Toyota is known for. They have an illustrious heritage in the department of spirited two-seater machines. Dig up the files from as far back as 1967, containing snaps of the utterly gorgeous 2000GT, developed with Yamaha. Remember the Celica and MR-2?
So they could have probably gone it alone. But the prerequisite of the Supra revival hinged on a straight-six engine. There was no unit in the portfolio. And developing one specifically for a line poised to sell in small volumes was a plan that could not be snuck past the accountants.
Anyway, here we are with the result of this marriage. If you are one of those who hold misgivings about brand dilution, they might be forgotten after seeing the car in the metal. Wearing one of the livelier shades on offer, the Supra is especially fetching. We make a beeline for the red press vehicle. Spotting BMW hardware in the cabin is a given. This is the same deal with the infotainment system software; deriving its functionality verbatim from the iDrive system pioneered by the German firm.
You can overlook that, because it works superbly. There are some elements that would have you yearning for a more Toyota-specific approach. Like the steering wheel, appearing to have the thin rim, satellite audio and cruise control buttons lifted from an entry-level (F20) 116i.
After our brief familiarisation we decided it would be prudent to open the taps with a bit more enthusiasm. The subsequent look on the face of fellow motoring journalist Francisco Nwamba in the passenger seat mirrored my thoughts. This feels tangibly stouter than the quoted output aping that of its donor.
With 250kW, 500Nm and a claimed sprint time of 4.3 seconds, the headlines are obviously going to imbue a keen driver with anticipation. The conviction of its delivery, particularly in the overtaking range, leads me to believe that someone is being modest with the claims. Like its propeller-emblem connection, the Supra uses an eight-speed automatic from manufacturer ZF.
You know a sports car is worthy of praise when, in the first 15km, it has you overwhelmed with a mix of ballsy confidence and pinch-yourself disbelief. Venturing out into the more deserted parts of the Eastern Cape, we carry velocities through switchbacks (punctuated with undulations) that would trip up machines of lesser integrity in a devastating way.
My comment was that a person would not want to attempt the same style of driving in the topless, floppier Z4. The additional sturdiness of this coupé format is felt. In fact, its makers say it boasts a greater structural rigidity than the Lexus LFA. No easy way of proving or disproving that.
But the sticky pliancy of its underpinnings we can attest to. Michelin Pilot Super Sport cup tyres are on duty and despite the expectedly low profile (255/35R19 front and 275/35R19 rear) it dealt with challenging surfaces of the friendly province in a way that erred on the side of a polished grand tourer.
This is attributed to the efficacy of the adaptive suspension system, which uses sensors to adjust the damping force at each wheel based on the conditions underfoot and how the car is being driven. Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada has not slacked in his mandate. Let us cite some bits from the technical release to give further credence to our positive words.
Consider that the chassis boasts the so-called "golden- ratio" in its proportion between wheelbase (2,470mm) and track (1,589mm) said to create optimal levels of manoeuvrability and surefootedness. Scythe-like incisiveness in the corners is aided by reinforcements in the sub-frame and mounting points of the control-arms. The Supra has a five-link setup at the rear.
While the steering seemed light with its electric assistance, it was precise and with a sense of immediacy. Braking meanwhile is dealt with by a system employing Brembo calipers strapped to discs measuring 348x36mm at the front and 345x24mm at the rear.
To fully and objectively appreciate the depth of talents offered by the new car, we need to move beyond the wistful sentiments for progenitors we never truly got to experience. The SA market can now establish meaningful Toyota Supra associations of its own.
- Prices range between R953,000 and R1,092,300.