Sunday 22 September 2019

Toyota's new Supra: a matter of how sweet you want your sports car to be

 

Quality handling: the Toyota Supra two-door sports car
Quality handling: the Toyota Supra two-door sports car
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

A friend of the family was renowned for his observation that life is like a cup of tea - it's how you make it. Some like milk in their beverage (I like mine black - does that say something about me?). Some prefer to add the milk; others like it with sugar; and so on.

Now I'm venturing to suggest the same goes, with particular relevance, for sports cars. Some people like them to be all growl and grunt; others seek understated athleticism.

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This week's review motor, the Toyota Supra 2dr sports coupé, has a few flavours of its own blended in. I use the word 'blended' advisedly because there is a genuine mix of heritage here. Believe it or not, a good spoonful of BMW has been added.

That's due to a collaboration between the two companies which spawned the Supra from Toyota and Z4 from BMW. The two cars are even built alongside each other. Their big rival is regarded as the Porsche 718 Cayman.

Naturally, the Supra goes its own way on how the suspension has been tuned, how the car feels, drives, handles and responds, how it looks and sounds, how it is equipped and much, much more.

Yet there is no getting away from the fact that it is powered by one of the world's great straight 6cyl petrol engines - yes, from BMW.

And that is where I'll start. It is a wonderful piece of work and I love it in its own right. But in this Supra it was almost too smooth. I wanted more growl and grunt: a matter of taste I suppose. Don't get me wrong: in 'Sport' mode this flew, but I yearned for the accompanying signification of sound and that kick-in-the-back feeling when I snapped the foot down. I got it to a degree but I wanted more.

It was hard not to like this car but hard to rave about it too, which is what I should be doing given its lineage and price (from €81,000 or so).

With 50/50 weight distribution, the Supra is the epitome of balance. I loved the looks, the long bonnet, the short rear. I even liked the cockpit, though some feel it is far too BMW-ish. If you want to go looking for similarities, fair enough, but I took it as a comfortable ensemble. Getting in and out was awkward for my frame but I didn't care. All I wanted was to drive it as legally fast and safely as I could - and did so over as many road types as possible.

And my abiding memory was not the zip to 100kmh. It was the brilliance at pace over long, looping bends. Every car of this stature has a standout point. I reckon that's where the Supra's lies: I enjoyed the sense of grip, direction and velocity. Anything can give you straight-line speed these days. Nearly anything can give you a sharp, sport suspension. Not as many can dish out such power and still maintain equilibrium on long, awkward bends, where a car's ability and stability are truly tested.

I found myself repeating the exercise; all the more enjoyable as I liked the driving position, something not guaranteed in a small car either.

I mostly kept it in Sport mode to get as much edge as possible. I think the 8spd automatic gearbox could do with a bit more life. The upshifts were smooth but I wanted greater tangibility. How about a dual-clutch auto? Or a proper manual? All sports cars should have a manual. That's how you get properly 'involved'. Yes, there was the token of manual with paddle shifts on the steering column. I used them a lot to hold high revs and low gears but still felt I'd welcome more oomph.

There are all sorts of things you can do with the iDrive-based infotainment system which, like the digital instrument binnacle, was clear and easy to read most of the time - bright sunshine at an angle blurred them a little on one drive to the midlands.

As with all good cars, the quality of handling and ride impressed the more I drove. This has great underpinnings.

And yes I would probably buy it if I had the money. Why? Because it is the sort of car that grows on you as long as you realise it is more grand tourer than snorting hellraiser. For many that is a better proposition for comfortable everyday use on our roads, at our speed limits. I'd buy it all the quicker if it had a manual transmission - which would lower the price too.

I recall being on a previous-generation Supra drive with F1 genius Eddie Irvine. He drove me around Mondello at pace, with a nonchalance born of, and blended with, precision (his and the car's).

Funny how that sums up my take on this new Supra: it's a precisely impressive, rather than flagrantly awesome, drive.

Facts & figures

Toyota Supra sports car:

3-litre (2,998cc) 6cyl petrol, 8spd auto, 340hp, 0-100kmh 4.3 secs. Launch Control, adaptive suspension, 19in alloys, Brembo front brakes.

GR Spec (€81,260): black alcantara, 8.8in navigation/Apple CarPlay display, SupraSafety+ adaptive cruise control, pedestrian/rear-end collision alert.

GR Premium (€84,335): leather interior, 12 speakers, wireless charger.

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