The consumer has every right to feel confused, when confronted by a BMW engineered coupe wearing Toyota badges, states Iain Robertson, but, while he cannot fathom its logic, it does result in an intriguing automotive cocktail.
In monetary terms, Tesla is presently the highest valued ‘carmaker’ in the world, which makes its founder, the utter PR nightmare that is Elon Musk, the wealthiest man in the world. Naturally, this places him in either the most enviable automotive role, or the one that is next to be toppled; he might as well enjoy it for a wee while. Regardless, the speculative shareholders that must have wondered how safe their investment at times was, can now reap the benefits of top Dollar returns, many of them patting sweatily their own backs for sticking with the shares through thick and thin.
In volume terms, Toyota remains at the top of the charts, producing twenty times Tesla’s half-a-million vehicles annually (c. 10m vs 500k units), which might suggest that its profit-on-return is not quite in Tesla’s league, if you will pardon the understatement. While it would be unlikely to occur, Tesla getting into bed with Toyota, as its electric vehicle arm, might be a fascinating strategic partnership. Yet, for some reason, Toyota entered an arrangement with a very profitable BMW, the Bavarian and Chinese carmaker producing similar annual volume figures to Tesla.
My comprehension of this deal lies in the fact that Toyota wanted to resurrect its Supra model; a model possessing a strong sporting legacy. However, to design and develop a brand-new coupe could result in a retail price touching £90,000, which would be a touch too far, even for the most ardent of Toyota fans, were the Japanese giant to also engineer and develop a brand new 3.0-litre engine for it. Yet, Toyota already produces potent six-cylinder engines for its Lexus line-up, surely a shoehorn job would have been feasible with a different in-company bodyshell?
Toyota already holds a large stake in Subaru, a marriage that has resulted in the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ sister cars. Just as the original Supra grew from a steroided version of the Celica (notionally, if not actually the forerunner of GT86), Toyota could have turned its compact coupe readily into a hopped-up Supra version, even tagging it with its more recent Gazoo Racing (GR) denomination. Instead, it forged the BMW alliance back in 2012 and the Z4 offered what was considered to be an ideal platform for Supra, with the first fruit of the venture arriving in 2019, powered by the inline, 340bhp, Bavarian six-cylinder, capable of demolishing a 0-60mph benchmark in a cool 4.3s, while carrying a £53,000 price tag, at least £2,000 more than the equivalent Beemer…oh yes, that makes sense!
To be fair, the Supra is a good looker and avoids the Germanic sharpness of the Z4, with a more organically curvaceous, if slightly compromised coupe styling. If you want another comparative cross-border collaboration, look no further than Fiat’s 124 Spider, which relies on Mazda MX-5 underpinnings. Not exactly a marriage made in heaven, the fairly rare Fiat slogs along in the world-popular Mazda’s shadow but it seems to work superficially. Peering back into the early-2000s, Mercedes-Benz allowed its well-received SLK to be transformed into the Chrysler Crossfire; mind you, it had little choice in that ill-fated partnership, the latter surviving for just four years, which ought to (but probably will not) increase its value in the future classics stakes. Naturally, Toyota would argue that its technological exercise is more of a working partnership, although the swathes of scepticism from fans of either brand could be said to restrict any growth plans.
Broadening the model portfolio might achieve the desired results, decided on prior to the motor industry being landed with (in the UK, at least, but it does have impact on other territories) a 2030 shut-off date for new fossil-fuelled car sales. Mind you, a 2.0-litre Supra, even priced at a fiver less than £46,000, could be a beguiling prospect, especially as the 2.0-litre is a direct swap from the equivalent 254bhp Z4 German alternative. Acknowledged as one of the finest 2.0-litre lumps in the world, by relieving the nose-weight of the car’s platform by around 100kgs, a remarkably proficient 50:50 weight distribution results, which reinforces the much-lauded ‘driver’s car’ tagline that was always a strident BMW remit, even though, for obvious reasons, Toyota will not refer to it.
The result is lipsmackingly tasty. Boasting less mass, both spring and damper rates of the adaptive variable suspension, as well as ride height, demanded significant retuning. The total testing for both Supra and Z4, from early mechanical prototypes to production versions, was spread over a five years’ period, during which various test facilities and the inevitable lapping of the Nürburgring were balanced against the set-up for public roads. Both 2.0 and 3.0-litre versions were developed simultaneously to both firm’s exacting targets. However, at no stage were dynamic expectations compromised for the 3.0-litre’s little brother.
Beautifully weighted but high-geared power steering is matched by sportingly resilient ride and handling characteristics, on 18.0-inch diameter alloys. Assured brake performance supports the 8-speed fully automatic transmission (interestingly, the only gearbox option) and its shift mapping and, despite the cramped cockpit for drivers taller than six feet, there is just about enough elbow room to enjoy the frequent exploitative trip to favourite back-doubles.
Overall, the Supra 2.0-litre feels every bit as good as the Z4, as it should, the driver rewarded by the semi-dramatic bonnet curves that rise and fall with throttle depression. Much like the BMW, the Supra will scorch from 0-60mph in a modest 4.9s and onwards to a restricted top speed of 155mph, more than adequate for its sporting credentials. It can return up to 38.7mpg, while a CO2 rating of 168g/km keeps road tax liability in check. Finally, Toyota’s five years/100,000 miles warranty provides a somewhat better level of support than BMW does.
Conclusion: Inevitably, there is little to choose between either the Japanese, or German sportscar variations on a theme. If you prefer the ‘dragged-up’ body-styling of the Toyota and can accept the flying brickbats, the extra premium might be worth it.