Toyota Supra is a next-generation testament to classic sports car design
The new Toyota Supra is that increasingly rare beast – certainly from a metropolitan perspective; it is a car designed purely around the joy of driving. Throughout modern history, regardless of the strictures on automobile use, there have always been purist sports cars, and perhaps there always will. It’s telling, however, that the world’s largest car maker, still feels that such a microscopic niche is worth the effort. Yet unusually for Toyota, this car is a co-production, developed in close collaboration with BMW and sharing a chunk of its mechanicals, along with its Austrian production line, with BMW’s new Z4 Roadster.
In a straightforward battle of aesthetics, the Toyota wins hands down over the Z4, but there’s still something frustratingly contrived about the way the long nosed, stubby-tailed shape is detailed. The proportions are the best bit, for this is a classic sports car layout that somehow never gets old. Certainly some of the design elements are spot on, like the Zagato-style double-bubble roof (a nod to Toyota’s iconic 1967 2000GT) and steeply raked rear screen, but the bulbous rear flanks and clutch of fake vents that bleed out of the edges of the front and rear light clusters, in the doors and on the bonnet don’t bear close scrutiny. They might look purposeful but are too much of a blatant nod to the Supra’s historic role as a car for tweakers, customisers and lairy performance enthusiasts (you will struggle to find an example of the earlier Supra’s in pristine, factory fresh condition).
There’ll no doubt be a burgeoning aftermarket for the new car as well, which seems destined to follow its forebears to cult status. Right now, however, the Supra is new, rare and very much in demand. Toyota will only bring about 300 cars a year to the UK market, and they’re all already spoken for. Such was the buzz around this car, carefully built up over five years, that the first production model off the line was sold at a US charity auction for £1.63m. If you can find one, you’ll pay substantially less (albeit probably still over the odds to beat the queue). The Supra lines up alongside impressive competitors, including Alpine’s A110, Porsche’s evergreen 718 Cayman and perhaps the ageing Lotus Evora. Does it have what it takes to beat them?
While BMW went in a different direction with its half of the project and built a roadster for cruising, there’s a sense that the Supra isn’t an outright sports car either. Instead, it’s a swift super coupé, a tightly wound grand tourer that’s far more usable than the Lotus, less characterful than the Alpine and marginally less of an all-rounder like the Porsche. You’re almost always aware of the car’s weight, with poise and balance that isn’t quite as confidence inspiring as the Alpine or Porsche. Modern cars handle so well, that it’s a surprise to be handed something with a slightly twitchy character. This is obviously a big plus for some drivers; they’ll be taking their cars on a track at every opportunity. It’s also a bigger, more brutish machine than the GT86, Toyota’s well-respected, compact sports car that it introduced seven years ago (and still makes).
The BMW heritage is especially obvious on the interior, where practically every element comes from Munich, from the switches to the graphics. This is apparently due to the enormous complexity of the modern car, where software is so embedded in the hardware, that the shared engine demanded most of the code be ported over as well. If you need the code, you also need the interface, and so on. At this point, BMW’s software is arguably better than Toyota, but the German company’s trademark skew-whiff cabin architecture and dash aesthetics only serve to highlight the Supra’s complex heritage. But that’s the modern car industry in a nutshell, a smorgasbord of influences and references served up on a bed of platform sharing and industrial collaborations.
The new Supra is a worthy bearer of the name. It might be a tad anachronistic in its ambitions, but this is hardly going to dissuade the enthusiasts – quite the opposite. For the rest of us, it demonstrates that in order to stand out, conventionally powered cars need a real point of difference as they near the end of their existence. As a result, the Supra has been designed to guarantee its future classic status. §