Toyota's iconic Supra makes a welcome return

After a 17-year absence, Toyota has unveiled a new version of the Supra, this time it’s a two-seater fastback with an in-line six, writes Declan Colley.

IT is one of the most iconic nameplates in the business, but we haven’t seen one for over 17 years now and petrolheads the world over have been doing a lot of cold turkey as a result.

What we speak of is the Toyota Supra, a car which, since it first appeared in 1978, has enchanted sports car enthusiasts across several generations — particularly those who swoon at the thought of a 2+2 fastback with an in-line six cylinder engine.

At the Detroit Motor Show this week Toyota scratched an itch which has existed among Supra fans since 2002 when it ceased production of the fourth generation of the model.

The Japanese giant unveiled a new Supra and while they might have tricked with the formula by making this one a pure two-seater, it will retain the front-engine, rear drive layout and also feature an in-line six.

The new car’s official title — Toyota GR Supra — reflects the involvement of in-house tuning specialist Gazoo Racing, but does not tell us that this car has actually been developed in tandem with the new BMW Z4 or that the engine is originally of German origin.

But that is of little concern to anyone with a millilitre of petrol flowing through their veins as this 335 bhp beast looks and — we are assured — performs to the expectations of a fan base which has been craving a hit for some considerable time now.

The new car is very much a joint effort between BMW and Toyota and both the Supra and the Z4 will be built alongside each other by Magna-Steyr in Graz, Austria. While some might express disappointment at this apparent dilution of Toyota’s influence on the car, it is very evident from the company’s demeanour at Detroit that it is very happy with its role in the development of the car.

Indeed, company supremo Akio Toyoda — himself a master driver — was part of the team which tested and evaluated the new Supra over many months at the Nurburgring and he says the new car is a cracker.

“Back in the day, I spent countless hours driving an old Supra at Nürburgring to become a master driver,” Toyoda-san commented.

“Supra is like an old friend that holds a special place in my heart. While other manufacturers were putting their beautiful new prototypes which they were going to introduce through the paces, I was driving an old Supra that was no longer in production.

So even though Toyota had no plans to make a new Supra, just like a lot of other die hard Supra fans around the world, I secretly wanted to make it happen. The new GR Supra was born through testing at Nürburgring, and I can honestly say that it is a car that is fun to drive and better than ever.

As the man who promised “no more boring cars” from his company some time ago — something we look forward to evaluating in the not too distant future — this is high praise indeed and a neat teaser for those champing at the bit to get their hands on one.

Deliveries of the new Supra will begin this summer and although Toyota Ireland has yet to announce a price for the thing, potential owners should be warned that only 900 units will be sold across Europe in the first year of production after sales begin this summer.

However, if you are one of those 900 owners, you will be given access to “an exclusive experience programme and money-can’t-buy rewards” in the lead up to the delivery of the car.

Just to whet your appetite a little more, Toyota has told us that Supra Chief Designer, Nobuo Nakamura, gave his team a simple brief around the concept of ‘Condensed Extreme.’

“With chief engineer Tada pursuing driving pleasure, I knew that my mission was to create a design that would be visually and physically exciting to sports car fans,” he says.

“By using a straight-six front engine, rear-wheel drive layout — something rarely seen in today’s cars — I was able to reach something beyond Toyota’s boundaries.”

In the finished design, the ‘Condensed’ theme is evident in the relationship between the Toyota GR Supra’s large-diameter tyres, short wheelbase and overall length. It’s notable that the wheelbase is in fact shorter than in the GT86 coupe, and the tyres are larger. ‘Extreme’ is interpreted in the car’s wide stance, with tight cabin proportions and a broad tread, contributing to a high level of manoeuvrability and stability.

The 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine is fitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger, high-precision direct fuel injection and continuously variable valve control that secure segment-leading torque performance from very low revs. The unit is said to be powerful, well-balanced, smooth and light revving, with an exhilarating acceleration feel.

It is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and the driver can take control of gear changes using paddle shifts on the steering wheel and can also select ‘Normal’ or ‘Sport’ driving modes to suit their preference and the conditions.

A Launch Control function enables powerful acceleration from standstill with maximum traction and providing a 0-100 kph time of just 4.3 seconds.

All versions of the Toyota GR Supra sold in Europe will be fitted with an active differential that operates both when accelerating and decelerating and can seamlessly adjust from zero to full, 100% lock, with instant response.

High targets were set for the handling performance and Toyota maintains these were achieved in a development programme led by Gazoo Racing that included extensive testing on a wide variety of challenging roads worldwide.

High structural rigidity (greater than that of the Lexus LFA supercar), a centre of gravity lower than the GT86 coupe and ideal 50:50 front/rear weight distribution are all features.

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