At the press briefing for the 2020 Toyota Supra preproduction drive, one of the car’s assistant chief engineers, Masayuki Kai, wondered aloud if any of the gathered journalists had driven its blood-brother 2019 BMW Z4. I raised my hand and looked around the room to find mine was the only one in the air. Suddenly, the Q&A and all eyes shifted. “What is it like?” Kai-san asked. “Different,” I replied. “Different, how?” he and his assembled team wanted to know. I was equally shocked that nobody on the Supra squad had driven the Z4, nor had any of BMW‘s team driven the future Toyota. Despite the international nature of the joint project, it turns out strict German anti-trust laws forbid it—especially in light of the recent, highly publicized “Dieselgate” case. The forthcoming coupe-only two-seat Supra and the convertible-only two-seat Z4 production cars share the same hard points, wheelbase, track width, engine, transmission, differential, tires, etc. As we learned, however, the cars were developed separately and have completely different software, systems calibrations, and tuning. Now it makes perfect sense that the two would drive so differently. They really are automotive twins separated at birth. Before we get to that, though, let’s take a quick detour on the poetically circular synchronicity of Kai-san.
German diplomat and philologist Wilhelm von Humboldt once wrote, “How a person masters his fate is more important than what his fate is.” What does a 19th century German philosopher have to do with a 21st century Japanese automotive engineer, you ask? Kai-san’s parents were concert musicians who lived and performed in Germany, where Kai was born. He lived there for 10 years and so speaks German natively. His family moved back to Japan, where Kai would enter university and later earn his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. While working at Toyota, he would be given the opportunity to work for Toyota Gazoo Racing, where one of his projects was to find a solution to cool the battery pack of the Toyota hybrid World Endurance Championship (WEC) race car—yes, that eventual 2018 Le Mans-winning race car. Soon thereafter, Kai joined the Supra team and moved his family to Munich, where they have lived for the past five years. So you see, Masayuki Kai is singularly equipped to accomplish the requisite synergy and translation between BMW and Toyota. The serendipity of Kai’s fate is fascinating, to say the least. Oh, and his benchmark, standout car in terms of dynamics is the first-gen 986 Boxster. He loves how stable and adjustable it is in corners. This all bodes well for the Supra.
A90 + B58 = ???
The internal name for the 2020 Supra is A90, succeeding the previous A80 Supra that ended production in 2002, but which we last enjoyed stateside in 1998 with its twin-turbo I-6 making 320 horsepower. As all Supras have had (A40 to A80, and even the 2000 GT spiritual predecessor), the newest version is powered by an inline-six. In fact, the engine is BMW’s B58 3.0-liter twin-scroll single turbo that powers a handful of cars and SUVs. As generous as our Toyota hosts were, they would not share with us any specifications—at all. Not engine output, fuel consumption, dimensions, or pricing. Nada. As it happens, we do know much about the new BMW convertible, and the B58 engine in the Z4 M40i is rated at 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque in U.S. spec. Rumor has it that Toyota wasn’t given the “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A” code to access full power. It won’t say what the final output will be other than “at least 300 horsepower.” We’ll know in December when the non-camo-clad Supra drive happens. But sadly, the Supras we drove in the hills outside Madrid and on the Jarama racing circuit didn’t feel as aggressively quick as the Z4 did. As with the BMW in Euro-spec, the B58 in the German-market Supra we drove is downrated due to an exhaust particulate filter. In the Z4, the filter chokes a significant 47 hp to result in a mere 335 hp. Perhaps that’s the difference I felt.
As with the Z4, there will not be a manual transmission with this engine (wait, what?), but the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed automatic leads to an electronically controlled clutch-pack differential. Both tuned/mapped by Toyota. The differential is two-way, meaning it’s adjustable on both the traction and drag sides and is steplessly variable from 0 to 100 percent. There’s a launch-control system, and Toyota says that Supra will run 0-60 mph in “less than 5 seconds.” We say that’s conservative and will go out on a limb and predict 4.5 seconds.
According to Toyota, the three keys to making a pure sports car are the right combination of wheelbase, track width, and center of gravity. Although we’ve never heard it applied to cars, Toyota is very proud that the Supra’s wheelbase-to-track-width relationship comes tantalizingly close to the golden ratio (1.62). In the Supra it computes to a 1.54 ratio. Our last two Best Driver’s Car winners (Lamborghini Huracan Performante and Ferrari 488 GTB) were closer still, with a 1.59 relationship. There might be something to this. When it comes to the Supra’s center of gravity, Toyota is equally proud to point out that it’s lower than that of the Toyota GT86. That’s impressive since that car has a low-pro flat-four Subaru engine, not a tall I-6. The front strut, rear multilink suspension’s spring rates, adjustable multimode adaptive shocks, anti-roll bars, bump stops, and single-ratio electric-assist power steering were all tailored by Toyota for the Supra. We’re told these elements are still open for final calibration—and the stories they will read from the international press corps will help steer them. There are Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, and full-off modes that affect stability control, throttle tip-in, exhaust tone, gear changes, suspension damping, and steering weight. Finally, we were told the car would be “under 1,500 kilograms” (3,307 pounds) and Toyota is aiming for 50/50 weight distribution.
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