What Toyota's new Supra means for South African sports cars

Image: Motorpress
Image: Motorpress

Few cars have gifted their parent company the marketing nous of Toyota’s Supra. As the anchor star car for the hugely successfully Fast&Furious movie franchise, Toyota gained an incredible amount of exposure and brand equity from the Supra, for years after the A80 series was discontinued – back in 2002.

After an agonisingly long tease, the fifth-generation Supra has finally been revealed and it’s a stunning interpretation of Japanese two-door performance car art.

The appearance is striking and unique – it’s not a copy of something European, despite sharing a platform and many components with BMW’s Z4. 

Gallery: 2019 Toyota Supra

             
Toyota GR Supra

                                                                               Image: Motorpress

In a world where most of its business is servicing huge global demand for bakkies and SUVs, the reintroduction of a dedicated sportscar into the Toyota product portfolio is a daring, and admirable, move by the Japanese auto giant. For South African car enthusiasts, the Supra is a particularly interesting prospect.

The car will arrive at local dealerships mid-year and it offers a compelling alternative: conspicuous styling, a BMW engine, finely tuned rear-wheel drive dynamics and Toyota customer and aftersales service. 

                  Toyota GR Supra

                                                                        Image: Motorpress

In a market where performance cars are often a chore to own as challenging local fuel, climate and road conditions take their toll, Supra’s ability to reside within the Toyota dealer network and way of doing things, might be met with unprecedented approval by potential sportscar customers. 

The BMW switchgear and cabin bits might appear of place, but the 3-litre in-line six engine isn’t. Toyota’s most renowned sportscar has a tradition of running turbocharged 3-litre in-line six engines and the A90 series Supra is no different, with its BMW sourced powerplant good for 250kW. The car’s overall configuration is biased toward purist drivers too, with an electronically controlled differential instead of torque vectoring and only two driving modes: normal and sport.

A ducktail-type rear boot spoiler is the most pronounced aerodynamic feature and with compact dimensions and a 1495kg kerb weight, it’s everything 86 fans have been yearning for. Everything, that is but without a manual transmission. 

                 Supra

                                                                                Image: Motorpress

Toyota will initially only offer the Supra with an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission, although rumours abound of a possible lightweight evolution, to be introduced later in the model life-cycle, which could possibly feature a manual-gearbox. Possibly. Not certainly. Porsche’s 718 was selected as a benchmark engineering target during the Supra’s development and it shows in the car’s dimensions – which are the same as the Porsche, measured bumper-to-bumper.

The new Supra is a very compact sports car – with a wheelbase 100mm shorter than Toyota’s 86 – powered by a large engine, which means it is both very quick (0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds) and commendably agile. Where will the Supra sit within our local market? That is a very interesting question as the two-door performance car market has shrunk, alarmingly, in recent years.

In the sub-R1m segment for coupes which are also credible driver’s cars, there are very few rivals. Nissan’s 370Z is a very antiquated vehicle by 2019 standards.

There is Ford’s popular Mustang, which is not quite as fluid a driving tool on very technical roads. Audi’s TT-RS is brilliant, but it remains all-wheel drive, whilst most rivals are rear-wheel drive. And then, ultimately, Porsche’s 718, which served as inspiration for the Supra’s design team. 

Consider the competition detailed above and Toyota has read the market rather brilliantly, again, by producing a vehicle which is exactly what the market needs – and wants. A reliable sports car with real presence, and without bothersome ownership admin, which is a thrilling drive.

Supra sales volumes might be low, compared to everything we have become accustomed to from Toyota, but every single one on South African roads, will be deeply symbolic. 

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