Toyota's Supra delivers potent performance

Peter Atkinson
The all-new Toyota Supra, developed jointly with BMW's new Z4 roadster

It looks like a BMW. It sounds like a BMW. And it most certainly drives like a BMW.

So it stands to reason that it can only be one thing. That's right - a Toyota.

No, it's not just some terrible mistake.

The Japanese maker really has joined forces with the fabled German marque to create a new, dazzling sports car, and in the process has turned the clock back a couple of decades.

Toyota, for so long the most reliable, yet least exciting carmaker on the planet, has suddenly got its mojo back and rediscovered its ability - misplaced somewhere in the early 90s - to make cars interesting and desirable.

And they don't come more interesting than this - the all-new Supra.

It's a nameplate that resonates deeply - a car that brought excitement and romance to the brand for a couple of decades until its sudden disappearance about 15 years ago. That disappearance, it must be noted, coincided with the "whitegoods on wheels" image that has beset Toyota ever since. Coincidence? Hardly.

But if Toyota had seemed to be shaking off the cardigan image in recent years - with cars like the funky C-HR, the nicely-styled Camry and Corolla and the sporty 86GT - that process has been turbocharged, literally, with the release of this new-generation GR Supra.

It's not Toyota's first joint-venture on a new model - they also collaborated with Subaru to create the 86 (and Subi's BR-Z) - but the Supra takes that partnership idea to a whole new level, sharing a chassis, drivetrain and other components with BMW's iconic Z4 roadster.

Suffice to say Toyota is keeping good company these days. But what's in it for BMW, you might ask?

Well, in addition to the rebirth of the Supra, the BMW deal has probably also saved the life of the Z4 - given that rival Mercedes-Benz has recently decommissioned its own two-door roadster, the SLC, citing development costs and lukewarm market response to these vanity machines.

By halving design and development costs - and greatly increasing combined volume - the two giants have helped the Supra and Z4 make commercial sense.

Yet while they're identical beneath the skin, the Supra and Z4 are different enough to provide a real choice to buyers with the best part of $100,000 to dump on a sharp little two-seater.

And the Toyota will only be offered as a coupe - leaving BMW clean air to sell the Z4 as a roadster with its cloth folding roof.

With identical proportions - long bonnet, pert behind and sweeping lines, but two cars each very much have their own identity. Both are powered by BMW's proven, potent 3-litre, turbocharged in-line six, brilliantly mated to an eight-speed ZF auto transmission.

It's a marriage made in heaven.

The Toyota styling is very strong, albeit lacking the classy restraint of the Z4. The Supra is more swoopy, with gorgeous rear flanks and a preponderance of vents and aero intakes which would be great except for the fact that they're mostly all filled with black plastic inserts.

The story is much the same when you lower yourself inside - the Supra follows the BMW recipe fairly closely dash and door panels are very similar as is the infotainment system - with the exception of the digital dash readout. In the Beemer it is a thing of beauty with gorgeous colour graphics and brilliant presentation, but in the Toyota it's somewhat dumbed down.

Likewise the Supra's steering wheel lacks some of the appeal of the Beemer (particularly the famous propeller badge) - yet in most other respects it shapes up pretty well against its German cousin.

But here's the real trick. The Supra will be offered in two trim levels - the entry-level GT and better-equipped GTS, tested here - at prices that would make a BMW buyer's tongue hang out.

The entry-level GT, at $84,900 plus on roads, seems like a steal when you consider the cheapest six-cylinder Z4 will cost you about $40,000 more.

That's despite standard kit on the GT running to keyless entry and start, carbon-look interior trim, eight-way power adjustment and heating for the sports seats, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, an electro chromatic rear-view mirror, LED headlights, electric folding and heated side mirrors, and 18-inch alloys.

It also offers autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control lane departure warning, automatic high-beam, speed sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a rear-view camera.

The higher-spec GTS model justifies the extra $10,000 spend with the likes of head-up display (identical to the Z4's, so you know it's good), 19-inch forged alloy wheels, upgraded sports brakes with red calipers, a 12-speaker JBL premium audio system, along with the option of red leather-accented or Alcantara upholstery ($2500).

One novel feature is the Supra's cargo space which, at a reasonably useful 300 litres, unusually has no bulkhead between the luggage space and the cockpit. No drama unless you hit those very good brakes hard - when you might find your shopping suddenly coming to join you in the front seats.

Where the Toyota doesn't miss out is in the performance department, where it employs that now-familiar BMW straight six-cylinder, 3-litre twin-turbo powerplant that packs quite a punch into that shapely design.

It delivers a very potent, very ample 250 kilowatts and 500 Nm - gaudy figures for such a small and relatively light machine. There is already talk of an even more ballistic Supra model on the way - although it's hard to imagine needing more oomph than the German turbo six provides.

In standard form it will reach the speed limit in a scowling 4.4 seconds - acceleration that will keep you competitive against all but the mightiest of supercars.

It's performance that probably makes this the fastest Toyota ever built. Well, the fastest car ever to wear the Toyota badge, at least.

TOYOTA SUPRA GTS

HOW BIG? Very snug indeed for two lucky occupants (there's no back seat). But even for a tall driver there's sufficient travel in the seats, and sufficient flexibility in steering wheel settings, to find the perfect driving position.

HOW FAST? Seriously. It will reach the speed limit in 4.4 seconds and it feels and sounds every bit of it.

HOW THIRSTY? Official consumption is 7.9L/100km which is technically achievable - although most drivers will be a little heavier with the right foot.

HOW MUCH? Prices start from $84,900, plus on road charges, for the entry level GT. The better-equipped GTS costs $10,000 more.