Why we’re running it: To find out what sort of performance car the GR Supra really is, and whether it has the character to live up to the name
Welcoming the Supra to the fleet - 9 September 2020
Let’s suppose we played car word association. If I said ‘996 GT2’, you might say ‘hedgerow’. If I said ‘Elise’, you might say ‘head gasket’. And if I said ‘Supra’, you would say?
I’m certain the more mischievous among you would say ‘BMW’, and shortly we’ll address the reasons for that, but until very recently, most of us would probably have said ‘tuner’, or similar. And we can squarely blame the Mk4 A80 Supra for that.
The Supra was born in 1978, when Toyota gave the Celica extra snout to make space for six cylinders. Yet more so than that original car, and more so even than the fact the A70 Supra was at one point an exotic Group A World Rally car, it was the curvaceous A80 Supra of the 1990s and an inventive Japanese domestic aftermarket scene fantastically corrupted with cash that made the name famous. Back then, if it could be imagined, it could be done, and one of the many dubious high-water marks for this feral corner of the car universe occurred not in Japan but in 1999, near Peterborough.
Having shipped his gold-painted ‘Top Secret Co’ Supra and its 930bhp 5.0-litre V12 to Britain, Kazuhiko ‘Smokey’ Nagata nailed 198mph on the A1 M at four in the morning. To nobody’s surprise – not even his, you have to imagine – old Smokey was arrested, tried that very afternoon and deprived of his licence (although astonishingly, no custodial sentence was forthcoming). The press went wild: Max Power readers had a new hero, the tabloids had their ultimate villain and the A80 Supra was core to it all. That flat-out run is still the fastest and most unhinged speed ever recorded on this country’s roads.
Back in Japan, the Castrol TOM’s Supra competing at the time in Super GT quickly became one of the most recognisable racing cars in the world. And then, two years after Nagata’s infamous run, the Mk4 Supra made a cult appearance in the Hollywood mega-hit The Fast and the Furious. In a scene that now has more than three million views on YouTube, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor out-drags an F355 Ferrari in his souped-up Toyota. The Italian supercar gets roasted in oh-so-satisfying fashion. It’s great. To watch the film is to fall for the Supra, and so the car’s legend as an illicit aftermarket delicacy was fermenting very well indeed.
Of course, we know what happened next. Toyota let the trail go stone cold, seemingly forgetting how to build a serious performance coupé. Instead, it gave us the lively but too junior MR2, an inexplicably front-driven Celica and finally the excellent but wouldn’t-trouble-a-Golf-GTI GT86.
It therefore isn’t hard to fathom why anticipation was at fever pitch when an A80 Supra successor was finally announced in 2018. And here we are, two years on and with our very own A90 ‘GR’ Supra. As a licence-less teen who fell for the old Supra back in its heyday, the mere arrival of this car already feels like the end of a journey.
This juicy Prominence Red Supra comes in Pro specification, with extra leather, a JBL sound system, a head-up display and wireless phone charging. The asking price is £54,960. It drops the reborn Supra into a shark pond of competition. Think Alpine A110, BMW M2, Porsche 718 Cayman and, a little traitorously, BMW Z4 M40i. Because an A90 Supra could only ever come about on the condition that it would be profitable for Toyota almost from the start, an arrangement was made with BMW. Simply, the Z4 and Supra would be co-developed.
The crux is that the two cars share their engines, chassis and electronics. They are indeed twins, although most of the core parts are from the German side of the family tree. To what extent and in what precise manner this influences the Supra’s character is one of the key questions we’ll answer. After all, nobody wants a Z4 in drag, and in fairness, our prior experience of the new Supra suggests that isn’t the case. At least, not entirely the case.
First impressions? Frankly, the exterior design could hardly be less Germanic. In fact, being curvy like its predecessor but also rakish in the modern way, the new Supra could only be Japanese. It looks stunning after nightfall in London, with contours that interact with street lighting to produce an effect that photographer Olgun Kordal says he usually only sees in a studio setting.
And, of course, though its rivals are numerous and talented, the Toyota isn’t exactly toothless. As a front-engined, cab-rear, two-seat coupé, it has classic GT kerb appeal before it even turns one of its 19in wheels. In terms of hardware, the single-turbo 3.0-litre straight six makes 335bhp, which is put to the road through an electronically controlled limited-slip differential between the rear wheels, which themselves are shod in Michelin’s excellent Pilot Super Sport tyres. The weight distribution is also said to be very near perfect and the wheelbase to track width ratio is almost identical to front-engined handling pin-ups such as the Ferrari 575 Maranello. The GR Supra is also sensibly sized. It’s the same length as the Cayman to the millimetre, and about the same width. The wheelbase is also shorter than that of the GT86, if you can believe it.
It all points to a car that should not only be seriously appealing from the driver’s seat but also pretty broad-batted. What we’ll discover here is how well that appeal spreads itself across the spectrum of everyday use. That and whether Toyota was right to revive the name of arguably its most storied and desirable car.
I really liked the new Supra when I first drove it, which would normally be a good thing. Problem is that I absolutely love its two strongest rivals: the Porsche 718 Cayman and Alpine A110. It would be very interesting to put it up against a facelifted Jaguar F-Type, though. The outcome of that might be too close to call.
Back to the topToyota GR Supra Pro specification
Specs: Price New £54,340 Price as tested £54,960 Options Prominence Red paint £620
Test Data: Engine 6 cylinders, 2998cc, turbocharged petrol Power 335bhp at 5000-6500rpm Torque 368lb ft at 1600-4500rpm Kerb weight 1541kg Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 4.3sec Fuel economy 34.5mpg CO2 188g/km Faults None Expenses None
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