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Just shut up about how much BMW is in the Toyota Supra

By Andy Enright, 16 Sep 2019 Opinion

Toyota Supra

If you’re not buying the Supra because ‘it’s a BMW’, you’ve probably crossed the line from car enthusiast to car bore

OKAY, we get it. Most of the oily bits underneath the new Toyota Supra are actually made by BMW. If you’re being harsh, pretty much all of them. Software calibration of the A90 Supra’s engine, transmission, and steering and some changes to bushings and other minor suspension parts are about the extent of Toyota’s involvement.

Jump inside and it’s easier to spot BMW fonts and parts rather than identify Toyota-specific bits of the fascia. This has made a lot of people Very Angry Indeed. What temerity. Imagine paying Hungry Jack’s prices and then being served a three-course Rockpool meal. You’d be furious wouldn’t you?

Personally, I can’t get too aerated about this perceived sense of injustice. Toyota has done a brilliant job in cost-effectively bringing a great-looking rear-drive coupe with a straight-six twin-turbo 3.0-litre to market. If you want the current car to echo its predecessor even more closely then you’re living in the past.

There’s an inconvenient truth that many have ignored here too. The A80 Supra wasn’t that great. I know a tarring and feathering in the comments section is sure to be incoming after that one, but it’s a fact. Wheels put a Supra RZ up against a Lexus SC400 in a March 1996 comparo. The Supra lost, Bob Hall criticising its “Stone Age suspension” and noting that a Mazda RX-7 SP was about as rapid and 50 grand cheaper.

Read also: The Toyota Supra makes a lot more than its published 250kW

Prior to that, it appeared in another head-to-head, in this case up against an Aston Martin DB7. Roger Bell opined that “heroically dynamic the Supra undoubtedly is. Enchanting it is not. Despite its sensational looks, the Supra is little more than fast transport – coolly efficient, uninvolving.” So it’s zero for two in head-to-head comparison tests. And it’s not just Wheels who struggled to see the appeal. Car and Driver was left perplexed by it. “We wonder whether the new Supra faces an identity crisis. It is fast, but it is not a pure sports car like the RX-7. And it offers neither the styling, the luxury, nor the prestige of the 300ZX,” wrote John Phillips in March ’93.

It was only the bombproof tuning potential of the 2JZ six that burnished the Supra’s legend, tales of Smokey Nagata and the Mid Night Club, hero status in The Fast and the Furious and increasingly rose-tinted memories of the original cemented its legacy. Truth is, a BMW E36 M3 was a better car in virtually every regard.

So now we arrive in 2019 with this strange amalgam of BMW engineering and Toyota styling. Chris Harris gnashed and wailed in a recent Top Gear editorial. “Japanese motor cars have something indescribably appealing about them,” he reckoned. “The sense that they’ve been wrought through a combination of a brain-frazzling rigour that most would find totally pointless and also simultaneously touched by some level of creative madness. Rigorous madness; that’s Japanese sports cars.”

Monkey isn’t keen on what’s happened with the new Supra. “However much Toyota says its DNA is embedded in the joint project as it has been from the start, it doesn’t stack up,” he opines before noting that the Supra’s hazy identity is “nothing short of a tragedy” and sniffily dismisses the car as “a competent, restyled BMW”.

He’s wrong and here’s why. Given what we know about the original Supra, it’s a reasonable assertion to make that the company has no track record of building a class-leading high-performance coupe. Granted, perhaps a company with Toyota’s resources ought to have, but take any manufacturer outside its meat-and-potatoes comfort zone and it often falters. Aston Martin Cygnet? Lamborghini LM002? BMW M1? Lexus LFA? All commercial disasters.

So we have no right to expect the Supra to be a class-leading car had Toyota resourced and developed it themselves. Plans were already in place with BMW for vehicle co-development so it was only natural that the Supra project was floated. We know that Herbert Diess, who was then BMW Group’s member of the board of management for development, repeatedly knocked back Tetsuya Tada’s idea for a Supra collaboration on the grounds of it not making commercial sense.

It was only when Diess moved to Volkswagen and Klaus Fröhlich took over, that a pure sports car development project was given the green light. Chris Harris’s claim that Toyota “should have been shouting louder in the meetings” ignores the nature of the power structure between the two companies. The Japanese company has bigger fish to fry in this collaboration, especially around hydrogen fuel stacks, to risk souring the relationship over a low-return sports coupe.

All of this also ignores the fact that the new Supra is an extremely good car. We all know those nerds who fetishise Japanese cars and who’ll look down their nose at the Supra as being too BMW. For every one of them lost to Toyota, the Supra will attract two or three customers exactly because the interior has the polished feel and functionality of a BMW. Its ride and refinement make it a far more versatile proposition than its predecessor, and it’s seriously quick on a challenging road.

Read also: Australia’s Toyota Supra sold out in minutes

Yes, it’s a strange car and if, like us, you’re so immersed in car culture that it can feel a little disorienting, you might not warm to it. But most of its target clientele aren’t. They don’t care for heritage. They were in short trousers when the A80 Supra was in dealerships. All they’ll see is a sharp-looking car with a fantastic powertrain and a quality interior, being sold for an aggressive price. Shout louder in meetings? By buttoning it, I reckon Toyota has played an absolute blinder.