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A90 Toyota Supra Prototype First Impressions & Answers

Editor-in-chief Sam Du is one of the first few journalists to test drive the new Supra prototype

Sep 20, 2018
Photographer: Toyota

This week, a selected number of automotive journalists and media influencers made the journey to Spain to be the first behind the wheel of the much-anticipated 2019 Toyota Supra. And luckily, since you can't think about a Supra without thinking about Super Street (wink, wink), Toyota was kind of enough to invite me. So, I had to stop what I was doing in the office, hop on a plane to Madrid and evaluate the Supra on the ex-Formula 1 track known as Circuito del Jarama, as well as participate in a spirited drive on some of the country's most beautiful and curvy backroads (with no speed limits!).

A90 toyota supra prototype sam du masayuki kai herwig daenens Photo 2/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Sam Du Masayuki Kai Herwig Daenens

First things first, the Supra I drove is a prototype and it's similar to what some of you might've caught wind of at Goodwood Festival of Speed last June. That means everything you see masked is masked for a reason. Elements such as the bodywork and interior aren't finalized or production spec yet. I was invited purely to evaluate the Supra's new driving dynamics. And with two sessions on the track and about 100km of road driving, I was able to grasp a decent impression of what the new Supra is all about.

Many industry friends and enthusiasts in the community posed several questions about my experience on social media and I've tried to answer the most popular questions there. Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of Toyota's reborn Supra, and with any luck, you might have just enough patience to wait for one when it's expected to hit dealerships sometime next year.

How'd you like it on the track?

Jarama is a beast of a track and quite long (2.39 miles) and technical (13 turns with a good number of elevation changes). The first session was a wash as I was practically trying to learn the track. However, on the second session is where I was able to push the Sport mode button (makes everything from the suspension settings to shifting behavior more aggressive) and let the Supra prototype breathe. From being able to pitch it from one turn to the next, to going hard on the brake and gas pedals, the whole system acted smooth and harmonious, not over aggressive or harsh by any means. The power was there when I needed it, which was one of my biggest concerns going into the day. Sure, it could've used a tad more, but overall the Supra's packaging is solid, the steering inputs easy and the power delivery is great. I was smiling from ear to ear after getting out of the hot seat because it was that much fun and it debunked a lot of my reservations about the new Supra. To put my impressions into context, I do about 1-2 track days a year so I'm not Randy Pobst by any means, but getting behind the wheel of the Supra, I got the sensation of a well-balanced, fluid, nimble and controllable sports car. I come from driving a supercharged Scion FR-S that has been modified to a very stiff, almost violent setup, plus I have track time in cars like the Civic Type R and Lexus RC F. My short time with the Supra was that much more rewarding once I was comfortable with the car.

It doesn't look aggressive like the FT-1 or Gazoo Racing concepts, and the new Nissan R36 GT-R concept blows this out of the water.

To answer the part about the GT-R first, it's really an apples to oranges debate. The GT-R is a $100K car and all-wheel drive with much more power. The Supra will be coming in close to half that price. As far as styling goes, concepts and prototypes like the FT-1 and Gazoo Racing cars are gorgeous, but we still have to prepare ourselves for a less complex final production model as building a concept into production form wouldn't make any business sense.

A90 toyota supra prototype driver Side Front View Photo 6/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Driver Side Front View

Any rumors of all-wheel drive?

Toyota engineers were clear that carrying the Supra name had to include two things: 1) turbocharged six-cylinder powerplant, and 2) front engine, rear-wheel drive layout. So, no go on the all-wheel drive at this time.

How underpowered did it feel?

This was my biggest concern going into Spain and it was squashed the moment I drove it. The power delivery is linear as I'd expect from something from Toyota. Engineers couldn't comment on exact power figures but they told me the goal was to exceed 300hp. It feels like 345-375hp range if I had to guess, and Toyota mentioned that it runs very low boost (approximately half a bar) to eliminate lag and make it easily drivable.

How was the "feel"? Toyota engineers keep trying to dial it in...

During the technical presentation, I found it interesting that Toyota said, "numbers are one thing, but feeling is what matters." With that said, it's almost like they are admitting that on paper, numbers like horsepower and torque aren't going to wow you, but it's when you get behind the wheel that things begin to make sense. And they're right. We might think that with only 300-some horsepower, the new Supra doesn't do the 2JZ justice. But because it's lightweight with a 50/50 weight distribution, its low center of gravity, its super rigid body and its wider track... it all comes together to make an amazing driving experience. But if you can't let go of the past and you're looking for something to stomp on the Corvette next to you on the freeway, the new Supra might not be your brand of whiskey.

A90 toyota supra prototype passenger side view Photo 7/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Passenger Side View

Does the rear spoiler lift electronically?

I didn't notice an adjustable rear spoiler from the trunk, and I didn't see a button for it either. I asked engineers about a bigger spoiler 'cause what's a Supra without a wing?! They mentioned it's still be discussed and could be something that comes as an accessory later down the pipeline.

Why can't they present the actual production car inside and out already? People are starting to not care anymore!

I feel your frustration here along with everyone else on this one. The FT-1 concept was unveiled four years ago, the Gazoo Racing earlier this year in Geneva, then the NASCAR news, Goodwood, now this... The long drawn out wait is mostly due to the fact that Toyota is having to collaborate with BMW on this project. Two completely different cultures, not to mention two completely different outlooks on vehicles, then throw in all the issues with language barriers, travel, etc. There are so many more cooks in the kitchen on this project that things are taking longer than a usual vehicle launch. Both parties want the Supra to be a huge success so they are taking their time to perfect it. The assistant chief engineer from Gazoo Racing Company, Masayuki Kai, explained to me how it's been one of the biggest challenges of his career to work with BMW on the Supra. At any given time the project could've been scrapped as there were lots of differences of opinion between both teams of engineers.

For $56K, I can get a Corvette with a 455hp LS engine, manual transmission and proven reliability.

Maybe so and that was actually a concern of Toyota engineers as they understand the Corvette is very competitive when it comes to rear-wheel drive, two-seater sports cars. I explained to Toyota that for myself and thousands of others in the North American car community though, you'll never find us walking into a Chevy dealership to buy a Corvette! It's just how we grew up, how we take our coffee, how we like our women... I've been around Japanese and European imports my entire life and that plays a huge role into me admiring and appreciating the Supra more than Corvette, even if the Corvette can beat me in a straight line or around the track. For performance car enthusiasts with no brand loyalty, it'll be a harder sell.

Do you feel like it's reminiscent of the 2JZ monster the Supra once was, or just a new car with an old badge?

There's going to be a lot of people that are holding on too tight to the Mk4. The new Supra isn't a 2JZ monster. And let's not forget the twin-turbo 2JZ only came with around 270-325hp to begin with. If it was, it would be trapped in time. This new Supra breathes new life into a model that came out more than two decades ago. It's also making Toyota relevant in the high performance sports car market again - a place they haven't been for years. So, with that said, I would say the Supra heritage is upheld in that it's still a turbo six and rear wheel-drive; however, it's been updated to today's standards with a better balance and overall package than before, plus the addition of things like active suspension and diff among other modern-day features.

How is the exhaust note?

The prototype I drove was based on the European model that will have much more restriction due to sound and emissions laws. Toyota told me the U.S. model should have a freer flowing exhaust and less restriction, meaning possibly a louder exhaust note and even a tad more horsepower.

A90 toyota supra prototype front bumper Photo 11/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Front Bumper

Any mention of a manual transmission coming out?

This is actually what I brought up to Toyota the first time I talked to 'em. Yes, Toyota, you remembered keeping it turbo six and rear-wheel drive, but you forgot the six-speed manual. It's something they don't deny needing and they understand there's some demand for it, but to keep costs manageable at the time of the vehicle's initial launch, the automatic will only be offered. Assistant chief engineer Kai-san mentioned that having a manual would require other components to be changed and upgraded as the engine has high torque and would require additional work to keep a good shifter feel-meaning the manual version would be more expensive. In my personal opinion, I think a manual would do well as a limited-edition trim of some sort, not just an option when you buy the car. But we also have to take into consideration that manuals are just becoming less and less popular... We've all seemed to accept the GT-R only coming in auto, right?

Any info on a four-cylinder model?

Toyota engineers mentioned that they looked at both smaller and bigger engines for the Supra. A smaller engine was actually favored as a four-cylinder turbo could still make big power, be lighter and possibly cost less than a six. They aren't saying it's out of the question in the future, but for now, the Supra will strictly be a six-cylinder .

Idea on price range?

Nothing set in stone yet, but I was told it should be in the ballpark of $50K, and should be less than the BMW Z4, although we're still waiting on official pricing of the Z4 ...

A90 toyota supra prototype sam du Photo 12/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Sam Du

How's it feel compared to a BMW M2?

Unfortunately, I haven't driven the M2, but a good question. Two of the benchmark vehicles for the new Supra were the M2 and Porsche Cayman S according to assistant chief engineer Kai-san.

More info about the brakes?

On the front, there's Brembo four-piston calipers with decent sized rotors. The Supra uses a hydraulic brake booster to help with an organic and comfortable brake pedal feel. While I did finish a couple of sessions on the track and didn't feel the brakes go out on me, Toyota engineers mentioned candidly that a six-piston front and larger rotors could still benefit the Supra. Something the aftermarket can probably easily fix, or perhaps something upgraded in a future model year Supra.

When will we see a 2JZ swapped one?

My prediction is 90 days after launch! Then, perhaps eight months later till there's a swap kit available. Hah! In my conversation with Toyota, they actually did think a 2JZ swapped Supra would be cool to see, in fact, they'd even build one if they could get funding and approvals for a one-off show car.

How's the size of the car? Does it look smaller than a Mk4 Supra?

I didn't get the new Supra parked up against anything else besides the 86, but it will be smaller than expected for a lot of people. While the track is wider than an 86, the wheelbase is small, and there are no back seats in the new Supra, unlike the 86 and Mk4 Supra.

What's it like inside? Cockpit and comfort-wise?

The interior was one of the most masked parts of the prototype I drove, which means it'll be one of the last aspects of the car that'll be finalized. When I asked about making it look as different from the BMW Z4 as possible, they mentioned it just wasn't cost effective to do so, so it's likely going to have a lot of BMW essence with Toyota Supra badging.

How's the trunk space?

Like the interior, the trunk was off limits to check out. If it's anything like the 86, at least we can squeeze a set of golf clubs in there.

A90 toyota supra prototype fredric aasbo Photo 16/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Fredric Aasbo

Why didn't Toyota build the powertrain themselves? Why BMW?

Taking a step back, the worth of Toyota is something like $200 billion dollars. The Supra is a tiny speck of dust in the overall business strategy of Toyota. Yes, they do have departments and teams dedicated to building engines, but from what Toyota tells us, most of the money and resources are dedicated to EV, Hybrid, autonomous technology - stuff that's for mass market and for the future. Keeping the entire Supra project in-house wasn't going to fly, hence why they reached out to BMW, one of the best sports car makers in the game. On another interesting note, assistant chief engineer Kai-san mentioned that this will be the last generation of the Supra with a gas engine. The next generation of Supra or another halo sports car will likely have hybrid/EV technology.

Will there be a Targa top?

The engineers liked the idea of the throwback to the Targa top, but it's something that will be under study and won't be available at the time of launch.

Can it drift?

Yes, in fact, Fredric Aasbo and Ken Gushi were two of the influencers flown out to drive with us and they have drifting footage of the new Supra on their Instagram pages!

A90 toyota supra prototype driver side front view Photo 17/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Driver Side Front View

Release date?

No exact idea but we're close. If they make another prototype, I'll lose my mind, too. I can only make the educated guess for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (January 2019), the same show that unveiled the FT-1 five years prior.

Is it going to flop?

I think it'll be received with mixed reviews, but what car isn't? I don't think it'll be a complete flop as I'm already a fan of it and I haven't seen what the final car looks like yet. It'll sit at a price point of $50K (hopefully under), and it'll be a very satisfying and fun car to drive for its value. Closer to $60K, sure you can get a Corvette, M2, RC F, or S3, but none of those cars really have the emotion that comes with the Supra. In the tuner/aftermarket community, I feel this will be as popular as the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ when it first came out. Expect a shitload of SEMA and Auto Salon builds.

When are you building one?

Fingers crossed, we'll be able to build one for SEMA '19, too!

Who does Toyota think its largest customer base will be?

Performance car enthusiasts first and foremost; there's a decent chunk of former Supra owners they're going after; however, an even bigger customer base is cannibalizing and going after current 86 owners who are looking for something sportier, more cutting-edge and with more gusto.

Are there any comparisons between BMW and the Supra yet?

While I haven't been able to drive the Z4 for comparison, another journalist on the trip mentioned that the driving dynamics between both cars are different. BMW calibrates their vehicles to be more on the aggressive side, whereas Toyota spent a great deal of time making the Supra with a distinctive Japanese taste. Everything from the steering, suspension and drivetrain should feel noticeably smoother.

Are those the wheels that'll be on the production model?

Most likely. They are 19" forged wheels; however, Toyota mentions some markets will get 17" and 18" options.

A90 toyota supra prototype rear spoiler Photo 21/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Rear Spoiler

Is there launch control?

Yes, built- in!

Will it be in the next Fast & Furious?

As cheesy as it is, I really hope so. It could only help its marketing power, not hurt it. The Supra being the star in the first Fast & Furious in '01 was a catalyst for a lot of young kids to get into cars. A modified Supra in the next movie could be a nice ode to the original film, keeping the Supra relevant with today's youth. I believe that's also why Toyota made it a priority to ensure the Gazoo Racing Concept was put in Gran Turismo ahead of anything else, so gamers can aspire to own and drive the car one day in real life.

Would you buy one?

Yes, but I'm going to need a fat raise first!

A90 toyota supra prototype front bumper Photo 25/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Front Bumper
A90 toyota supra prototype front view Photo 29/32   |   A90 Toyota Supra Prototype Front View
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