A rain-soaked and water-pooled race track was not the way we really wanted to experience the much-anticipated NZ launch of the fifth-generation Toyota Supra but alas thanks to Auckland’s inclement winter weather, that’s exactly what we had to deal with.
Launched in 1978 under the Celica nameplate (before receiving its own identity in 1986), the Toyota Supra became an instant hit with those seeking true sports car performance combined with progressive Japanese design and luxury features. For the Toyota brand, it’s ultimately been one of their most desirable models and has essentially gone on to achieve a cult-like following. Unfortunately however, despite achieving lifetime sales of over 300,000 units, production of the Supra halted in 2012 and (aside from the leaked concepts) that’s where it has remained – that is until now.
Thanks to Company President Toyoda’s passion for motorsport, his personal affection for the Supra and a collaboration with German carmaker BMW, the Supra is back and better than ever. According to Toyota, the Supra is their pure performance sports car and its return is being heralded as a significant milestone for them, particularly in light of the recent launch of Toyota Gazoo Racing, the merging together of all their motorsport ventures under one banner.
Toyota New Zealand is releasing just one variant of the Supra and it’s the top of the line GR (Gazoo Racing). With a highly tuned 3L straight-six, twin-scroll turbocharged engine offering 250kW of power and 500Nm from as low as 1,600rpm. Its 8-speed transmission comes with paddle-shifters and an electronic active diff that will direct up to 100% of the torque to just one wheel if and when required. The suspension is active and variable and the new Supra offers a centre of gravity that’s lower than the GT86 from a chassis that’s more rigid than the iconic LFA’s.
Although the Supra has a short wheelbase, its fresh body design offers a longer overhang and a bonnet that pays homage to the 2000 GT. The headlights feature six individual lens LED’s and intensive cornering lights, while the large lower vents direct huge gulps of air to cool the engine bay. The Supra’s 19-inch alloys cover the ‘smart’ four-piston front brakes that automatically lightly apply should the wipers be used and are covered by Michelin Pilot tyres (that are wider at the rear than the front) that keep the sports car connected to the tarmac below. To complete the exterior design, the Supra’s tail features heritage rear flares, a ducktail spoiler, twin exhausts and an F1-style foglamp.
Overall, the ‘fighter jet’ style cockpit is instantly familiar should you have ventured inside a BMW recently, the centre console in particular. Despite being 2-seater snug, the cabin doesn’t feel cramped, maybe assisted by the headroom created by the double-bubble roof. The leather and Alcantara seats are multi-adjustable and when combined with the raise and tilt steering column you have no excuse not to be comfortable. Infotainment comes via an 8.8-inch touchscreen that includes a 12-speaker, 425W JBL sound system while the ultra-clear instrument cluster is digital and 3D.
I hit the Hampton Down’s racetrack with a highly competent although marginally nervous racing driver beside me. I was ‘lucky last’ and the weather had decided to get progressively worse during the day – this was not going to be the fun drive I’d hoped for.
Wipers on full and visibility still limited, we exited pit lane and pushed down on the accelerator. The response is immediate and the poise is excellent. Braking too early for my first right-hander (thanks to the Supra’s firm pedal), the turn-in was too quick but very positive. Being a little too enthusiastic on the accelerator next, had the tail wiggle a little but in a predictable fashion, it’s a car that inspires confidence (maybe not from my passenger though).
Regardless of the rivers of water that crossed over the track, the Supra made its way towards the 130-140km/h mark without batting an eyelid and as I said before, it felt in total control, albeit a little playful – however, we decided not to push too hard along the home straight, after all, NZ has only been allocated forty Supras at this time, so I didn’t want to make it thirty-nine.
As mentioned from the outset, a soaking wet race track is not the place to really experience a performance race car like the new Supra but that being said, I have to admit to being more cautious than maybe I needed to be. The Supra felt more than happy to be there and in so many ways, so did I. (Aside from packing a rain mac next time), my takeaway points from the experience are twofold, firstly the Supra’s exhaust note under revs is an awesome sound and secondly the fact that my racing driver passenger stated categorically that he’d own one in a heartbeat – oh and lastly, that the two-lap taste left me wanting much much more.