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The new Toyota Supra is not a BMW (according to Toyota)

The Japanese automaker explains why this is so

The Supra’s exterior is prettier than the Z4’s. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

In 2011, Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda unveiled his company’s new marketing campaign called “Fun to Drive.” This was a move to inject excitement into the brand, which at the time had been suffering from a not-so-flattering reputation of being an automaker that produced reliable but boring vehicles. Or cars that were about as exhilarating as vacuum cleaners.

Of course you know what happened next: The 86 appeared in 2012, and the Supra came back this year. In both cases, however, the Japanese firm was criticized for taking the easy route by choosing to enlist the help of other brands—Subaru with the 86 and BMW with the Supra—instead of developing its own sports cars from the ground up.

Detractors are particularly harsh with the A90 Supra, which is essentially the twin model of the third-generation Z4. The accusation is that the new Supra is nothing more than a rebadged BMW. But is it really?

Toyota chief engineer Tetsuya Tada is a rock star. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

At a media test drive arranged by Toyota for the Supra in Sendai, Japan, Toyota Gazoo Racing chief engineer Tetsuya Tada revealed that, at the start of the project collaboration with BMW, the design brief he gave the Germans was simple: He wanted a “supremely fun-to-drive car” benchmarked against a Porsche sports car.

“Toyota’s customers were expecting a car to rival a Porsche,” Tada-san recalled. “So that was what we were going to make.”

In other words, Toyota wasn’t interested in creating a BMW clone. What it wanted was, in fact, a Porsche equal. You could say that Toyota merely viewed BMW as a supplier—no different from the other companies that contributed to its supply chain.

The exterior design, the interior layout, the drivetrain tuning and the suspension tweaking were all done separately

And so, once the car’s basic architecture—specifically the engine, the transmission and the platform—had been finalized, Toyota and BMW agreed to part ways to finish developing their respective sports cars. The exterior design, the interior layout, the drivetrain tuning and the suspension tweaking were all done separately, with each team having zero knowledge of the direction the other was taking, according to Toyota’s car-crazy engineer.

The final Supra product, therefore, was perfected by Toyota, including its 50:50 weight distribution, its 1.55 wheelbase-to-track-width ratio, its super-precise steering, its crisp handling, its neck-snapping power delivery and its soul-stirring exhaust sound. So while BMW provided Toyota with the basic car configuration, it was the latter that ensured the vehicle would behave like a true Supra.

The car’s chunky rear haunches are the most attention-grabbing elements of the body. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

You’re probably still sneering and even laughing. That’s okay. You will have to drive the car yourself to know the difference. As for us, we like to think the new Supra is comparable to the basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo. He may have been born to Nigerian parents, but he’s very much a Greek citizen today. When he Euro-steps his way to the rim as a member of Greece’s national team, nobody from Africa cries in protest. Why? Because he honed his skills in his European motherland. He wouldn’t have been an NBA MVP-caliber player if he had grown up in, say, Abuja.

Yes, the Supra has BMW roots. But Toyota has adopted and embraced it like its own. Accept it or miss out on an exceptional sports car that’s worthy of carrying one of the most iconic automotive names to come out of Japan.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist since July 1995. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.