A90 Toyota Supra drive in Spain

By Botchi Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer September 26,2018

The A90 Supra going through its paces at the Jarama Circuit

Supra. The name in Latin loosely means “from the Heavens,” and has identified every single flagship rear-wheel drive sporting GT from Toyota since 1981, although Toyota’s sports car lineage traces further back all the way to the 2000GT from 1965.

From the 2000GT, there have been four generations of the Supra, and its initial predecessor, the Celica (which loosely means celestial, or from or of the stars, similar in notion to Supra), before the two models were split, the Celica being a junior RWD sports-car for the brand.

As some of you may know, I also own a Supra, the last generation model, code-named the JZA80, a 1996 targa-top twin-turbo 6-speed model with the now legendary 2JZ-GTE engine imported from the USA.

Hence, a test drive with the latest generation model, albeit in pre-production form, was always going to be a very close matter to my heart.

So let’s get the cat out of the bag.

The Supra is a real hoot to drive, amazing to say the least. Yes, it shares its basic architecture and majority of hardware with BMW’s upcoming Z4 roadster.

Contrary to everyone’s belief however, Toyota did not simply poach an existing BMW platform and rebadged it; far from it.

Rather, Toyota approached BMW as both brands were preparing for an all-new model: the upcoming Z4 replacement, and the new generation A90 Supra.

BMW and Toyota collaborated from the very beginning to unveil an all-new platform that would benefit both their requisite needs.

Many of the ideas brought forward were in fact from Toyota. To have approached BMW to collaborate with the platform was a no-brainer as the Bavarian brand has much experience building inline-six gasoline engines and a sporty and compact RWD platform.

The A90 Supra is still a highly capable drift missile.

Toyota simply did not have the resources, nor did it merit the financial sense, to go at it alone. And Toyota admitted they would learn many useful things collaborating with BMW.

But, there was hardly ever any joint testing/R&D for both Toyota and BMW teams; it was an independent effort for both, with most collaboration only happening at the boardroom level for engineers to discuss design and engineering concerns and issues.

For the exterior, there are only three shared parts: door handles, side mirrors and wiper arms. The rest is pure Supra.

So what makes a sports car a Supra? According to Toyota’s assistant chief engineers present, Keisuke Fukumoto and Masayuki Sai, a Supra has to have an inline-6 cylinder engine, preferably turbocharged, and driving the rear wheels.

Furthermore, the new Supra had to be dynamic, agile, stable and response (respond?) all together. Seems like a tough order, but Toyota set out to achieve the seemingly impossible.

The Supra enjoys a true 50:50 weight distribution front to back (just like a BMW), with a very stiff chassis.

It surpasses even the Lexus LFA’s carbon-fiber tub, which costs easily 10 times more than the Supra, which uses a conventional high-carbon steel and alloy structure.

The new Supra has a wheelbase of roughly ~2,450mm, with a track width of ~1,575mm, giving it something Totota has learned to be crucial: a golden ratio of less than 1.6 between wheelbase and track-width.

For comparison, a Porsche 911 has a square 1.6 ratio, while a Ferrari F488 has an even smaller 1.59. These European aristocrats are some of the best handling cars of the moment.

The Supra also enjoys a very low center of gravity. When the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ were launched back in 2012, both cars enjoyed an extremely low (for a serial production sports car) center of gravity. Lower than even a Lamborghini Aventador.

The A90 Supra has a delicate handling balance for keen drivers.

About the only car with lower CG was a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, which practically scraped the ground with its front airdam and the combination wet and dry-sumped engine was touching the ground.

Again, I found both cars awesome to drive.

This time, Toyota reports that the new Supra has an even lower center of gravity than the 86 and BRZ, despite possessing an upright, inline-6 cylinder engine.

Toyota even magev?? (gave?) more input towards the latter part of the A90 Supra’s development: the wheel bearings were enlarged and became stiffer, the front hubs or uprights were redesigned to optimize geometry and reliability, and the front sway-bar was redesigned with a longer upper link which helped give the car more front wheel articulation on bad roads, better individual wheel feedback, reduced initial under-steer on turn-in, which also resulted in a more fluid movement up/down and left/right, all without sacrificing roll-control and stability at higher speeds at all.

Toyota says 90 percent of testing was conducted on public roads, and it showed.

At the crack of dawn, we left our hotel in the Madrid City Center to Jarama, which is technically only 30 minutes away, roughly 20 kilometers out.

But Totota decided we needed a fair bit of play on public roads to get acquainted with the Supra before heading out to Jarama, an old F1 Circuit which used to host races until the mid 80s.

And a fair bit of play we got, adding 140 kilometers of highways, B-roads, mountain passes, and all sorts of surfaces thrown in.

A collection of Toyota’s flagship RWD sportscars

The Supra felt divine on all these roads. A quick sprint to 240 km/h was indeed jail-baiting, but to my defense, I was simply keeping up with the general speed of traffic on the highway.

Power felt like it wouldn’t taper off until I reached the 270 km/h range, so we know the new Supra isn’t a slouch.

On the winding roads, the instructor beside me jokingly said we’re passing through the special stages of Rallye Madrid, a favorite hunting ground of car enthusiasts.

The roads were tight, off-camber, uphill and downhill, with blind crests and hairpins.

The Supra, with its compact footprint, excelled here as well, with impressive turn-in matched by its rear-end stability.

The locking rear differential, which can seamlessly transfer 100 percent of power to either side, is truly magic: you feel like a god on these roads with all the rear-end stability you could hope to ask for.

If I tried this sort of driving in my old Supra, I’d quickly find myself down the cliff in no time enjoying an eternal siesta.

Toyota told us to focus on feel, and here is where the Supra shines. It does not feel like a BMW, which is what many fear. It retains its Japanese identity.

Neither does it feel like my Supra, which is heavy and somewhat sluggish in comparison. It feels alert, responsive and playful, without being frisky, edgy and nervous. You know it has your back.

The steering is light, like most Japanese cars, but there’s a degree of delicacy missing in almost all other Japanese cars.

The brakes are firm, consistent and easily modulated, and the suspension is soft and supple in normal model, perfectly damped in Sport mode on track and on winding roads.

It feels like a modern well-engineered Japanese car, which is what Toyota sought to achieve, and it truly has succeeded with flying colors.

On the track, the Supra gets its validation as a real, serious driver’s car. It’s sharp, responsive, incisive, but it doesn’t feel nervous.

The specially formulated Michelin Pilot Supert Sports (245/40R19 front and 275/35R19 rear) give massive amounts of mechanical grip.

Jarama is a tight, twisting and technical track, which looks deceptively short, but you can easily reach 220-230km/h in the Supra on the main straight before braking hard for a decreasing radius hairpin on turn 1.

The Brembo 4-piston front calipers, along with the adaptive dampers, set in Sport, give confidence-inspiring, eye-watering braking performance consistently.

It’s also very forgiving: on a few turns, I messed up the downshifting, braking, and turn-in sequence, which would have landed me in the dirt or into the walls, but the Supra thankfully simply got ‘squirrelly’ but righted itself up very easily without any of the driving aids lighting up.

Hence, you know that organically, the Supra is dynamically sorted without relying too heavily on electronic driving aids.

The Supra is about 90 percent ready for production. Just a few tweaks here and there, and it should be good to go.

The interior was covered up, but you can tell that it’s still BMW on everything: dashboard, center console, iDrive controller, and other buttons.

Toyota says it will use its own unique interior for the Supra.

Now the big question is, will it makes its way to the Philippines? I hope so. It’ll be built at the Magna-Steyr factory in Graz, Austria alongside the BMW Z4, so it won’t enjoy any Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement incentives.

Fingers crossed, let’s hope it makes it to the Philippines!

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