Two car manufacturers have taken a page from history by announcing a strategic union and conceiving two vehicles, one of them the 2020 Toyota GR Supra, to strengthen their position in the industry.
Throughout history, sons and daughters have been used as valuable currency to form bonds between countries and families.
In the automotive world, there are often marriages of convenience that are of benefit to both parties.
One such alliance has seen Toyota and BMW get cosy to develop two sports cars — the BMW Z4 and the Toyota GR Supra.
Toyota was behind the wheel in this relationship.
The Japanese company was under pressure to come up with more exciting cars. Despite their Corollas, RAV4s and Tacomas performing strongly in their respective segments, the manufacturer was criticized for its lack of passion.
What better to fan the flames of its legions of fans than to bring back the Supra, a sports car that first hit our shores in 1978? The Supra lasted four generations, ending with the fourth generation in 2002.
The nameplate got a huge boost as one of the major automotive stars in the original Fast and Furious movie franchise in 2001.
Ever since then, Supra fans had been asking for the car’s return.
With any other nameplate, it would have been simple — just take an existing platform and bolt on a sufficiently powerful engine. But the problem is that Toyota no lonher had any suitable front-engine, rear-drive platforms. Add to that was the lack of any available straight-six engine to go under the hood.
But rival BMW had both, and was willing to share — as long as they would get a child out of the marriage.
Presto, BMW got their Z4 convertible and Toyota had a coupe to offer to the masses.
The 2020 GR Supra (the GR stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s performance and racing division) was introduced to the public a year ago at the Detroit Auto Show.
But instead of happily driving off into the sunset, the Supra has attracted both admirers and detractors.
I was fortunate to drive the Supra on both a closed track and the open road, and can say that it is one heck of a performance car, with a 0-100 km/h time of around four seconds.
A four-second sprint time puts it on par with some fast company, such as the Porsche 718 Cayman S, Ford Mustang GT or the BMW M2 Competition (it’s also faster than its Z4 sibling).
You would think that fans would be happy.
Unfortunately, some fans have criticized Toyota for the marriage, calling the offspring the Zupra, among other monikers.
They might have a point, as all of the mechanical bits (that includes the suspension as well) come from the BMW parts bin.
The powertrain consists of a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Although Toyota advertises it as developing 335 horsepower, independent shops have verified that it delivers more, perhaps as much as the 382 hp claimed by BMW for the identical engine in the Z4.
There are only two drive modes — normal and sport. Press the latter and you will be rewarded with a distinctive growl on acceleration and pops and gurgles upon deceleration.
I love manual transmissions, and was initially disappointed when Toyota said that a manual was not available.
For a stab at a short course (with many tight turns) on a race track, I stubbornly put the car in manual mode for my first run. It was a disaster.
I reluctantly relented and left the transmission in D for my second attempt, and I sailed through the course.
The car, on Sport mode, would literally could read my mind on the race track, upshifting — and just as importantly, downshifting — when appropriate, leaving me with concentrating on the course itself.
Toyota benchmarked the Porsche Cayman as the Supra’s handling goal. That’s a lofty goal, given that the Cayman has the advantage of being mid-engined and lighter.
Still, I would say that the Supra is 9/10ths there — and that is quite impressive as this is the first year on the market. Porsche has had decades to refine their cars.
While playing on the track is every enthusiasts’ dream, the reality is that the Supra will have to serve as an everyday driver, and that’s where it really shines.
It comes equipped with an adaptive suspension. Pressing the normal button softens the suspension and silences the exhaust (unless you mash the pedal again). It absorbs rough roads and makes highway travel relaxing.
The black headliner and narrow windows give the interior a cosy feeling. The seats are supportive, and there are bolsters to hold you should you like to take corners at speed.
The steering is very communicative and responsive.
In Canada, the Supra comes fully loaded, with active safety features such as pedestrian detection and lane departure warning.
The over-the-shoulder blind spot is large, so relying on mirrors and sensors is a must. The rear window is narrow, so the inclusion of a back-up camera and proximity sensors is appreciated.
The quality of the build is comparable to BMW, which is of course as expected, as the majority of the interior also comes from BMW as well.
The whole of the Supra is greater than the sum of its parts. Toyota has gone on at length to explain how it would have cost millions more to develop their own car and add years to its introduction.
By striking an alliance with BMW, it also sees another, significant advantage: Cost.
In Canada, the Supra comes with a list price of $64,990, fully loaded. A Cayman S will set you back more than $79,300, before options (the regular Cayman is closer in price, but it is also less powerful). Even the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is $76,425.
Consider that Nissan kept the production of the GT-R in house, and it lists for just two dollars under $130,000. The starting price for Acura’s halo car, the NSX, is even steeper, just $100 shy of $190,000.
Toyota’s strategy is to keep the Supra affordable (in comparison with its peers), so as to get more cars into the hands of enthusiasts. It’s a strategy that seems to be working, if worldwide sales are any indication. Canada got an allocation of only 300 cars for the first year, with some customers waiting for up to a year in Victoria.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Compact two-door, two-seat sports coupe, front engine, rear-wheel-drive
Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six cylinder, 335 hp at 5,000 r.p.m., 365 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 to 4,500 r.p.m.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,381; width, 1,854; height, 1,294; wheelbase, 2,470
Curb weight (kg): 1,541
Price (base/as tested): $64,990/ $66,835 (includes $1,745 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Tires: 255/35 R19 front, 275/35 R19 rear on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Premium
Fuel economy (L/100km): 9.9 city/ 7.7 highway
Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain