If you are going to launch a new performance brand into the world, there is no better way than to revive an iconic sports car that the world hasn’t seen for the better part of the last 16 years. Not only will you get a healthy serving of brownie points from the enthusiasts, but it will stoke nostalgic memories of your glory days like a revived space opera franchise.
That was exactly the thinking behind Toyota’s move to introduce its new GR (short for “Gazoo Racing”) performance brand to the world with the fifth-generation Supra. While the press has been nothing but over-enthusiastic about the Supra’s debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show this week, opinion from the internet has been hugely divided.
Its bulbous looks certainly copped the most criticisms, though its BMW-underpinnings also attracted its fair share of detractors. Many fans saw the use of a BMW drivetrain as a travesty to the Supra’s reputation for dependable engineering. That being said, these same fans remember the last Supra as a cheap used car with a heart made of material from a dense star, instead of being a technological showcase that humbled its snooty European counterparts in the ‘90s.
Much of the mythos surrounding the Supra stems from its indomitable 2JZ engine that could be tuned to produce up to 750kW and is prized for its incredible refinement. Sadly, like the fourth-generation iteration, the 2JZ was a product of its time. Born from the optimism of the Japanese economic boom, the 2JZ came out just before the bubble brought that optimism to an end and judging by current trends, is highly unlikely the country’s automotive industry would return to such unbridled confidence anytime soon.
It is worth pointing out that despite 26 years of separation from its predecessor, the latest Supra is just a few kilos lighter and quicker to 100km/h by half a second than the export-versions of its predecessor. Progress? Not so much where it matters.
While the engine is less of a sticking point to the Supra for buyers who are actually going to buy it fresh off the lot, it will be an undeniable factor when we consider the Supra’s less talked about point of contention, its price.
Now there were no expectations that the Supra was going to be an affordable car in the same vein as Toyota’s other bargain hero, the 86, but when Toyota North America announced a starting price of $50,000 for the top-spec model with BMW’s 250kW/500Nm B58 3-litre inline-six engine, it is put into the firing line of some of the market’s heavy hitters.
Considering that the North American automotive market is not only one of the biggest, but one of the most open and fairest markets where every big-name manufacturer is present, it serves as a rough guide to just what the Supra is lining up against, and just at its border lies BMW’s junior M, the $60,000 M2 Competition.
Now, The Motor Muse has argued before that the image of superiority premium brands once held has gradually whittled away, but this is the M2 we are talking about. Even if you strap on a Kia badge the M2’s undeniable talent has car reviewers handing their firstborns over just for the down payment.
Even if one takes BMW’s habit of leaving neat options off its advertised price into consideration, that doesn’t change a base-spec M2 Competition’s prowess and would even offer the one thing enthusiasts would pine for, a proper manual transmission. The Supra would have to be something truly special in order to convince buyers to steer away from one of the most delectable M cars in recent memory. If you are adamant on limiting seating to just two, you could get a base-spec Porsche 718 Cayman for $58,000, which, badge notwithstanding, is also one of the best sports cars in the business.
Toyota’s decision to share the development of the Supra with BMW’s new Z4 might have put the new Supra into a precarious predicament. On the face of things, while its use of a BMW engine and transmission, and interior components might make it seem like a cut-price BMW, pundits are wary of it
A Toyota-derived engine might put the Supra in a more niche spot with a USP that the faithful can rally behind. Sure the 2JZ is long dead, but it is worth mentioning that just for $15,000 more, you could have an RC F coupe with Lexus’ naturally aspirated V8 engine that is said to be as dependable as…well, a Lexus.
So has the Supra’s positioning hobbled Toyota’s own plans in launching the GR name? Not really.
While the Supra is mixing with some true modern-day legends, initial reviews of the prototype showed plenty of promise. It might not boast the development input of the LFA’s late chief test driver Hiromu Naruse, but its development is helm by none other than Tetsuya Tada, former chief engineer of the talented 86. Furthermore, if reports are true, a more hardcore, GRMN badged version of the Supra is waiting in the wings.
Ultimately, establishing a brand isn’t going to be easy, which is why the GR Supra will be this year’s underdog in its quest to reclaim the glory of its forebearers, and it will be GR’s opening salvo. However, if you still aren’t convinced on the sincerity of the GR brand at catering to enthusiasts, consider that Toyota delivered the car most enthusiasts have been asking for, the supercharged-V6 powered rear-drive manual-only Mark X GRMN sedan.
Sadly limited to 350 units and only for sale in Japan. Perhaps pundits should be focusing their efforts on convincing Gazoo Racing to debut that to the world instead.