A look at the legacy- and return of one of the most respected nameplates not only from Toyota, but the automotive world.
Sports cars. Coupes, Saloons, Hot-Hatchbacks, whatever form a sports car may be in, it can easily be under scrutiny, due to market trends and the financial condition of the company, which can be effected by the economy overall. In the 80’s and 90’s Europe and Japan where literally on fire with what cars they were turning out, especially Japan due to a strong economy, resulting from pioneering and innovating with electronics and hardware their domestic companies which had become household names. With disposable income, there was a demand for sports cars in wide varieties, with brands such as Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Honda dominating the market in all automotive segments, let alone sports cars.
The high-tier sports car which were initially simple, smaller, cheaper, more economical alternatives to established European and American nameplates in the 60’s and 70’s such as the Toyota Celica, Datsun Fairlady Z and 240Z.
They would pitch against cars such as the Porsche 911 & 912, BMW 3000 CS & 508, Ford Mustang & Capri, Chevrolet Corvette & Camaro, payed off being efficient. As years past, environmental standards would press on harder year by year, the efficient Japanese offerings not only lived on, but flourished and evolved. By the 1980s they had been now been well established brands and nameplates, but in the 90’s, everything was twin-turbo madness. These newly established nameplates from Japan had evolved into performance icons.
The higher end of sports cars from Japan included the MR2 & Supra from Toyota, the RX7 from Mazda, the Fairlady Z (Z-car) & Skyline from Nissan, the S2000 & NSX from Honda and the 3000 GT VR-4 from Mitsubishi. However with pressing environmental regulations, increasing sales in more contemporary hot hatchbacks and in general declining sales, as well as a recession in Japan, higher tier Japanese sports cars died off in the early 2000s. The larger end of sports cars such as the Nissan Z-car lived on directly, while others haven’t. The Mazda RX7 died in 2002, succeeded by the Mazda RX8, which had died off in 2012. However with smaller, more compact sports cars are progressing strong enough in the market. Toyota revived a compact sports car coupe in place of the Celica, but heavily influenced by the Sprinter Corolla AE86, called the GT86 in 2012- mainly pitched at the Mazda mx5 Miata; it was developed by Toyota but built by Fuji Heavy Industries, or Subaru to most- as a result of this joint venture development, Subaru had their own version, with a different front bumper, called the ‘BRZ’. Enthusiasts as a result have come to coin these two cars, the GT86 & BRZ as the ‘Toyo-baru’.
The Supra was Toyota’s large sports car, lasting four generations, originally as a trim of second-gen Celica; it diverged and became its own car in it’s third generation while the Celica went into it’s fourth generation. And it served as Toyota’s purist sports car, as in the late 80’s, the Celica in the fourth generation had become a transverse, Front wheel drive compact based off the Corolla, while the Supra going into its third generation Supra (A70) served as Toyota’s leading and only front engine, rear wheel drive sports car. It was pitched at the likes of Nissan’s Z-car, which lives on as the 370z (Z34), though is in dire need of a replacement.
It was also pitched heavily against the Mazda RX-7, though the Mazda’s higher tier sports car offering, though that died off in the early 2000’s, replaced by the RX8 which while it was great to drive, it didn’t exactly live up to its status among enthusiasts as the RX7; there is reciprocating word on Mazda making a higher tier sports car (a making it a rotary), though the Mazda MX5 (ND) Miata has been selling strong as a smaller, simple- driving basics appeal sports car, which seems to be Mazda’s main focus for a mainstream sports car for now- if so, it is likely true that according to reports, that a modern RX7 successor would be pitched at exotics like the new Honda NSX and Nissan GTR (R35).
Toyota had made word about 2009 that they would be producing a new sports car, in succession to the Supra. The FT-HS concept was revealed in 2007 at the North American International Auto Show and demonstrated the possibility of it being a Hybrid, which incorporated a Toyota V6 paired with electric motors; a similar hybrid setup found in Lexus at the time. This concept was set to produce about 400 BHP.
However most of the design cues of this car went into the smaller GT86, along with the FRS and the FT-86 concepts that went on to be the GT86/BRZ, in which there was probably more focus on developing; Toyota noted they were initially going to focus on the smaller GT86 before working on a Supra successor. In 2010 Toyota claimed the trademark for the Supra nameplate again; Chief Engineer of the Mk V Supra Project, Testsuya Tada, stated that the president Akio Toyoda had requested that he produce a new Supra as soon as possible- no surprise considering Akio Toyoda automotive enthusiasm. At the 2014 North American International Auto Show Toyota revealed the FT-1 concept, providing a more realistic, detailed scope of what a modern Supra would look like meanwhile Testsuya Tada had also hinted at a return of other iconic nameplates such as the Celica, MR2 & 2000GT.
However Toyota didn’t give much word on the FT-1, other than it was front engine, rear wheel drive; they even noted that it may not wear the Supra badge. Toyota also renewed their application of the Supra Trademark in 2014 for North America- and applied for the trademark in Europe in 2016. Though in 2016 Testsuya Tada had stated the car would bear the ‘Supra’ nameplate for recognition and historical status.
Reports from the automotive press, in 2016 hinted that the engines would include straight-4 & straight-6 power plants supplied by BMW, in which they would be based on the same platform. This was due to Toyota and BMW partnering up in 2012 for a new ‘environmentally friendly sports car’ project, in which Toyota was in charge of. However when the final Supra was revealed in 2018, it was announced that it would have a BMW platform, engine and that it would be even made in the Magna Steyr plant, in Graz, Austria. Toyota had announced that the new Supra was co-developed with BMW, who were making a new Z4 (G29) in which BMW themselves wanted to be a more pure, driver-oriented sports car. The news of this had concerned die-hard Toyota and ‘JDM’ fans, while understandable to most automotive enthusiasts to have skepticism and question this move by Toyota. However the fact that it didn’t have a ‘2JZ’ engine and didn’t produce much more power than the previous A80 Supra, also upset die-hard fans even further.
However I (& many others) would take a fresh perspective on this. Initially, the Supra has been reintroduced, also which it is also a coupe, not a dumb crossover suv. Following that, is the point on which it was co-developed with BMW; it is a more central reason for defending the car, rather than criticizing it (blindly), when taking realistic factors into account at the end of the day. At the end of the day, Toyota Motor Company is, well, a company. A company that manufactures and produces products, in which they sell for profit. Products, such as cars aren’t cheap to make- they are not conceived and approved for production easily, with light thought- they are dependent (heavily) on markets and consumer trends. Toyota and other car companies aren’t there to just make stuff for a (sadly) niche proportion of the consumer market- car enthusiasts. And this is where the Supra comes in. It’s a sports car. A high tier of a sports car. And sports cars aren’t the strongest contenders in the automotive market currently- unlike crossovers. Aside from all of that, while BMW will probably not have the reliability status of Toyota, they build great engines straight-6 engines in particular (a rarity of which nowadays), which the Bavarian automaker is known for. They also are renowned for great driving cars, with good platforms, class leading handling and a highlight of BMW being 50/50 weight distribution. And let’s be honest, while 2JZ engines where great, it’s an engine that is from the 1990’s/ an 80’s design- it isn’t going to be feasible to put that in a modern production car, with strict, pressing regulations. And it probably isn’t reliable when modified and tuned to 1000 BHP odds. Also, it is worth noting that many loved sports car nameplates have shared platforms with less desirable manufacturers and models; the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Starion and 3000GT where co-developed with Chrysler, the (Z33 & Z34) Nissan Fairlady-Z shares it platform with the Nissan Murano and even the previous Supra (A80), it was based of the Lexus SC (Toyota Soarer Z30)- yes a great car but inherited a large mass and size characteristics from that of which. While the (A80) Supra was great, no doubt, it is worth noting when new, it wasn’t as agile as smaller, lighter or more balanced competitors such as the Mazda (FD) RX7, Honda NSX, Porsche 968 or even it’s smaller sibling, the Toyota (SW20) MR2 Turbo, which is why it is maybe a good thing for the Supra not being a large sized sports car, with more emphasis on handling than outright performance.
Chief Engineer of the Supra (GR) A90 project stated that on the launch of the Supra A90, that he was aware of peoples concerns with the BMW-Toyota collaboration. He also has expressed how at Toyota, they are proud of their heritage and an automotive-enthusiast company. Toyota, while having a strong heritage in motorsport and performance cars, the company’s President Akio Toyoda is a die-hard enthusiast, with a real passion for driving and racing, which is just refreshing and great to see, that he isn’t just the average automotive giant who is just interested in the business aspect of the company. Testsuya Tada was an engineer; under the wing of the Chief Engineer of the A80 Supra- he highlighted how that car especially had influences on the new A90 Supra.
He also explains from the side profile, the silhouette of the new A90 GR Supra’s design was heavily influenced by the Toyota 2000GT. With regards to the BMW-Toyota partnership, he highlighted that they didn’t have the factory or facilities to produce a new sports car, in which to do so would have extended the launch for the Supra; it would also have nearly doubled the price of the car also. He stated that the car’s focus is on driving, especially with the experience of driving. He believes people will really appreciate the engines sound, with the burble, pops & crackles on the over-run of the exhaust note; Testsuya Tada stated that with sound regulations getting stricter each year, it was a real challenge to produce.
Hopefully people’s perception of this new car change over time, when they see how it drives, how it looks in person, when examples of it are tastefully modified, when it enter motorsport evens, such as drifting or touring car racing, people’s views will hopefully balance out. After all, if you go to read reviews, especially comparison reviews from the 90’s of the previous, coveted (A80) Supra, it was seen as quick but was not seen as some blisteringly-fast monster out of the box. While it was seen as fast and great handling and high-tech for the time, it was seen as relatively heavy and grand-tourer like, especially in comparison to it contemporary, the Mazda (FD) RX7. It wasn’t even really the tuning culture however, as the prior (A70) Supra of the 80’s was popular for tuning. It was only until ‘The Fast and Furious’ film franchise, featuring a orange, modified targa-top Toyota Supra RZ Twin-Turbo modified, being raced by Paul Walker against Vin Diesel, in a modified black 1970 Dodge Charger R/T in the ‘Fast and Furious’, ingrained an image in the minds of many, of this Ferrari-slaying peoples- hero car, with incredible levels of tuning available. However regardless of modifying cars, the new (A90) GR Supra is something many people should take a step back and acknowledge the positive aspects of this car, with what challenges Toyota had to overcome, rather than look at it with a linear, immature mind-set. After all, Toyota didn’t have to make a new Supra. And in doing so they could have reintroduced the Supra nameplate in a more lucrative market, such as crossover suvs- but they didn’t, asides from which there is a lot to be grateful for.