The Toyota Supra is back. After leaked specs and many spins around the rumor mill, the first official evidence of the car’s rebirth came at this year’s Geneva auto show with the reveal of the GR Supra Racing concept, a race-car version of the eventual production model. We sat down with Supra (and Toyota 86) chief engineer Tetsuya Tada at the show, where he revealed more of the car’s secrets. There’s still much to learn, but the pieces are starting to fall into place. Here is what we learned.
• The production Supra will be strictly a two-seater. If you look carefully at the race car’s 97.2-inch wheelbase, it’s four inches shorter than that of the Toyota 86, a car that needed more space between its axles to package a rear seat and make other concessions to practicality. Tada said the Supra will make no such concessions.
• The concept version is set up to GT-class spec, although it doesn’t have a powertrain installed. If the Supra were ultimately to enter that racing class, rules specify a production engine—but not necessarily one from that specific car. So the GT Supra could use anything from a version of the turbocharged inline-six slated for the roadgoing model to the V-8 currently stuffed in Lexus’s RC F GT3 race cars; we did confirm with Tada that a V-8 would indeed fit beneath the Supra racer’s hood. He also said that the car could use different powertrains depending on the racing series.
• The racing version was developed in tandem with the street car. Doing so allowed Tada and his team to tweak the production model along the way to ensure it would be as suitable a base as possible for the race car. This is an approach shared by the Chevrolet Corvette development team, and it has paid off for them in big ways for both race and street models.
• The race-car concept is said to have (or at least is being shown as if it has) an automatic sequential transmission, but it has three pedals—what gives? As in many race cars with sequential ’boxes, the clutch pedal is needed to get moving from a stop and then makes like your appendix and isn’t used for anything the rest of the time.
• Toyota spoke to a large number of Supra enthusiasts, especially in the United States, to find out what was most important to them regarding a possible fifth-gen model, and the automaker came away with three key learnings: The car had to be front engined and rear-wheel drive, it needed to have a turbocharged straight-six engine, and the fans wanted it to be tunable. The first two have been checked off the list, and while Tada wouldn’t promise to match the tunability of the fourth-gen car—he says its ability to handle four-figure horsepower was more an accidental byproduct of trying to make it reliable than by design—we were told that having a close connection between car and driver is very important to him and his team.
• Tada tells us that there wasn’t much demand from Supra enthusiasts for a manual transmission in the street model—although we find that hard to believe, and he definitely didn’t ask us what we thought. Yet despite that fact and much reporting to the contrary, hope for a manual may not actually be dead after all. When asked if a stick could be added into the mix, he demurred and expressed his desire to make that happen, saying earnestly and with a bit of a twinkle in his eye that he will “try to do his best.”
• The Toyota 86 and its Subaru BRZ twin are renowned for their low centers of gravity, imbued in part by their flat-four engines, a powerplant type that is low and wide. Despite the production Supra’s use of a comparatively tall and long straight-six, we were told that the Supra’s center of gravity, incredibly, will actually be lower than that of the 86. Tada says the team is also considering a model that leverages Lexus’s latest hybrid powertrain as seen in the LS and the LC, although cost remains a worry there.
• We were also told that the Supra will offer 50/50 weight distribution. This and the low center of gravity were not achieved by using a transaxle, Tada confirmed, adding that hitting these targets was the most difficult part of the project. We’re still trying to work out the packaging, but we were promised all will be revealed when we get to drive the car sometime next year.
• The streetable Supra won’t have brake-based torque vectoring, instead being fitted with a true active rear differential.
• While everyone—including us—has cried for more power in the 86 since the moment it launched, Tada said that car couldn’t get more powerful without needing major chassis revisions. This was taken into account with the Supra, and its bones are prepared for more muscle right out of the gate. Those bones, by the way, are said to be twice as rigid as the 86’s.
• The Toyota/BMW partnership that produced this car—BMW will get a new Z4 out of it, too—was formed six years ago, and it took two years simply to overcome operational, cultural, and developmental hurdles to establish a comfortable working relationship.
• Toyota’s approach when developing the 86/BRZ with Subaru was to have the cars share as many components as possible, and it believed BMW would want to follow this same approach. BMW had other ideas, saying it was important that the resultant cars were ones that each company truly wanted, and so the Z4/Supra project began with each automaker laying out a set of parameters for its own model and then working out what could be commodified from there. The result is that the Z4 and the Supra, we’re told, will share almost zero visible parts. Among the Toyota’s differentiators may be the concept’s super-cool single rear exhaust outlet—it seems as if it may survive the transition to production.
• Tada wouldn’t divulge any specific benchmarks for the Supra, but he did say that whenever Porsche released a new model during the primary development phase, Toyota would buy an example to study. One thing Toyota won’t benchmark against Porsche is the Supra’s price, preferring to keep the car “affordable.”
• The BMW Z4 will go on sale first, with the Supra to follow probably by the middle of next year. Look for the Toyota at an auto show early next calendar year, likely Detroit. The Toyota will be offered globally in most markets almost simultaneously, including both right- and left-hand-drive versions.