As Chuck Berry would attest, 16 years is a very long time. So just to jog a few memories here, the old Toyota Supra – the A80 Mark IV, which went out of production in 2002 – was a whip-fast, bi-turbo straight-six GT coupé based on the Lexus SC300.
This was something of an about turn for the Supra series, which since its inauguration in 1978 had become faster but softer. The Mark IV's appearance was generic, with a huge rear spoiler and handling of the all-grip-low-feedback variety. In the hands of a typical kamikaze Japanese tuner, engine outputs could touch 1,000bhp.
Not dull then, but not one of the great sports cars, either. The economics of producing and selling cars like this are dubious, and when the US market went South in the Nineties, Toyota hitched up and quit Dodge; Supra it seemed, would be no more.
"Which is just the thing you must not do," says Tetsu Tada chief engineer on the new Supra. Tada san has previous here; in the noughties he was hauled off a van project to engineer the GT86 Hachiroku sports coupé. That was in conjunction with Subaru and this new Supra development has been combined with BMW. The course of true love didn't run smooth on either.
"After the Subaru, I said I never wanted to be involved in such a project again, but having gone through the development of this car, the Subaru looks all rosy," says Tada san.
The first obstacle was Herbert Diess, then BMW's head of R&D, now VW's chairman. Tada san wasn't impressed.
"Diess said he understood my passion, but gently suggested the finances of a sports car could be very difficult and suggested other alternatives. It was really hard going; we made no progress for over a year," says Tada san.
Only when Diess left for the VW job and Klaus Fröhlich, BMW's research director took over negotiating that progress was made.
"The change was pivotal," says Tada san. Once they decided that BMW would make a Z4 convertible, Toyota a Supra coupé, they were cooking with gas, targets were set, designs finalised and the two engineering teams went back to their bases and began work. Interestingly BMW's engineers told Tada san that they had never developed a true sports car – BMW's most recent being the mid-engined M1 produced between 1971 and 1981. Obviously there was no one left at the company who'd had a hand in that.
So Z4 and Supra share underbodies, suspension design and pickup points, plus BMW's B58 three-litre 335bhp six-pot twin cam, twin-scroll-turbo engine and eight-speed ZF transmission with an electronically controlled rear differential. The software and electrics are BMWs, but tuned by Toyota, with a Toyota-exclusive instrument binnacle, seats and of course that bodyshell.
From the front with those air intakes and narrow lamps, this is visibly a descendent of the Mark IV. Turn to one side and you're reminded of the BMW's lines, while the roof line is distinctly Japanese (and also reminiscent of a Riley RME). As for those rear wings, well they wouldn't look entirely out of place on an Avions Voisin. It doesn't photograph that well, but in the metal there's a kind of stand-out toughness about it.
It's been prepped for the tuning firm, who've already had a 'measuring session', with blanked off cooling grilles all over, the go-faster twin latch bonnet, drillings and tapping for strut braces and so on.
We've driven the Z4, of course and so were keen to try this car, which promises so much more. The cabin is a strange mix of BMW and Toyota, but mostly BMW, which makes it weirdly one of the few Toyotas to have Apple CarPlay as standard. The centre console and the iDrive capstan controller are BMW's and work pretty well. Safety includes pre-collision braking, active cruise control and lane departure alert with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. This is a well-specced car, as it should be at £52,695; there's also an upper-spec model at £54,000, which has leather upholstery, a JBL 12-speaker audio, wireless phone charging and a head-up display. Save your money.
(Actually you'll have a job spending it, since the UK's 300-car 2019 allocation has already gone and there's a waiting list for next year.)
Out on the old Spanish F1 circuit (1968 – 1981), you might not be anywhere near Gilles Villeneuve's 1979 track record of 1m 16sec, but it sure as hell feels as if you are. Basic proportions (wide track, short wheelbase), humongous grip from those Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and good manners allow you to get away with rather a lot. The engine is simply a monster in Savile Row tailoring: creamy, powerful and flexible. At 1.5 tonnes, this car is heavy and softly sprung (though stiffer than the Z4), and you need to plant the front end on the brakes in the slow corners or the nose will run wide, but the in-corner dynamics would rival a Porsche Cayman and that six-pot engine is a thing of rare aural beauty.
It's also pleasingly adjustable in the corner with a lovely chassis balance and amazing traction out of the turns, with a lot less interventionist software than in the Z4. A measure of the chassis balance (and how close you are to exploiting the chassis to the full) is that after six banzai laps the tyres had only worn in the centre of the tread rather than the outside. Of course a six-speed manual would improve the car on the track, but the eight-speed ZF is strong, light, long lived and according to Tada san, no more than 15kg over the weight of a manual.
What the Supra needs most is a better set of anchors, the existing ones are soft, fade fast and need the help of the engine to get slowed before the corners. And out on the road the story isn't quite as rosy; the steering feels odd just off centre, refusing to properly self centre, the ride is still too soft (although pleasingly supple) and that 1.5-tonne weight and the car's width inhibits full exploitation. Oh and the brakes still want for bite and power.
Drive it hard and somehow Supra pulls it off and sounds great, but you know you are driving round the issues and that on the same stretch of road and the same speeds, the Alpine A110 and the Porsche Cayman would be feeling more purposeful, tactile and fun.
Perhaps it's an issue of definition. In America this is a sports car, but not in the shrink-wrapped, finely focussed European idiom. That's not to say that Mark V Supra is in anyway hopeless, but size and weight will out, somewhere in there (perhaps with 100bhp more and 100kg less) is a truly great car. As it is the Supra falls just a little bit short of greatness, but deserves its place in the ranks of thoroughly enjoyable.
Toyota GR Supra prices and specifications
TESTED 2,998cc, straight six cylinder, single-turbocharged petrol engine with eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive with active limited-slip differential
PRICE/ON SALE from £52,695 for standard 3.0L, £54,000 for 3.0L Pro. All 300 of this year's allocation are now sold, with a waiting list for 2020
POWER/TORQUE 335bhp @ 5,000rpm, 369lb ft @ 1,600rpm
TOP SPEED 155mph electronically limited
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 4.3sec
FUEL ECONOMY WLTP 34.45mpg - mpg on test
CO2 EMISSIONS NEDC 170g/km
VED £530 first year, then £145
VERDICT While it's great to see Toyota back in the game of making big sports coupés, the new Supra falls a bit short of the smaller and more focussed rivals. It rides well, has a lovely engine note and is practical enough to drive every day, but it's soft, heavy and the brakes need an upgrade.
TELEGRAPH RATING four stars out of five
Toyota GR Supra main rivals
BMW Z4, from £36,990
BMW's version of this joint project went on sale this spring and has a range of engines from a 194bhp 2.0-litre four cylinder to three-litre straight six with 254, or 355bhp. Well built, luxurious and good looking the new Z car is softer than its rivals, but is a decent and highly charismatic GT.
Morgan Plus Six, from £77,995.
Another use for a BMW turbo straight six, which fits where it touches in this new extruded and bonded aluminium and ash wood slingshot sports car. Designed to replace the Plus 8 which went out of production last year, the new car looks very similar, but inside it will now accommodate drivers with heights greater than four feet and there's even a parcel shelf for your significant other's bag.
Porsche Cayman S, from £44,798
Now called 718, with a disappointingly incoherent if highly effective four-cylinder engine, but there's been rumours that the next generation will sport six cylinders and perhaps even a battery-electric drivetrain options. Engine apart, however, this is an utterly beguiling sportscar with terrific handling, great performance and a decent enough reliability record.
Alpine A110 Legende, from £50,810
Probably a little over priced for a four-cylinder Renault, but then you drive it and are utterly smitten with the combination of light weight, soft springing, beguiling handling and sheer beauty. This aluminium, mid-engined tarmac terror rightly ran Jaguar's iPace a very close second in this year's Car of the Year award.
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