The 2020 Toyota Supra is one of the most anticipated automotive debuts of the year, and we still have a couple of weeks to wait before we can get behind the wheel to see if the fifth-generation Supra — the MKV — can live up to the hallowed reputation of its predecessors.
In the meantime, Toyota recently opened up the Supra and made a few of its engineers available for questions at the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s SEMA Garage in Southern California. It was a rare chance to see the car sans all of its underbody panels and engine cover. There was no hiding anything in this compromised state (including a few BMW logos that I found). I also got to speak to the people who developed the new Supra and express our excitement — not to mention a few of our worries — about the resurrected sports car.
It was a chance to get to know it in the most intimate way possible — at least without driving it. Here are five things we learned when we saw the 2020 Toyota Supra naked:
1. Sharing Is Glaring
It’s widely known that the new Supra was developed alongside the BMW Z4 for a time and that the two cars would have a lot of DNA in common. But when you climb inside, it’s striking. The interior is very clearly from BMW; small details, from the switches to the typeface used and even down to the shift knob, stand out for being rather German. Look up and the screen runs on a reskinned version of BMW’s iDrive multimedia system, which frankly might be a good thing given our mixed feelings about Toyota’s multimedia offerings.
Under the car, it’s the same. Look up on the shock absorber and you’ll even find a BMW sticker still on it. We knew that the Supra and Z4 would share a lot of components on the mechanical side — they have the same turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine, the same eight-speed automatic transmission and the same adaptive suspension setup.
2. Toyota Says It Should Drive Differently
Despite all the shared components, Toyota engineers seemed confident that the two cars would drive differently, and after my time in the 2019 Z4, I had hoped that would be the case. The Z4 is quite capable and balanced, but it lacks the killer instinct of a true sports car; the Supra needs to have that to be successful.
At a certain point in the development of the two vehicles, BMW handed over what it had made to Toyota and the companies went their separate ways. Toyota says that, after the car was handed over, it handled all on its own the wind-tunnel testing, throttle mapping, transmission and differential control, steering weight, brake-power boost, spring and anti-roll bar rates, shock-absorber tuning, and bushings and bump stops. The only time after the handoff that Toyota engineers got in contact with BMW was to discuss the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, whereas the rest of the car’s performance systems got their own testing and adjustments.
The Supra will sort of serve as a litmus test for how different you can make two vehicles that, for the most part, have the exact same mechanical components. With so much of the car being controlled by computers these days, will the changes Toyota has made to how those systems interact with the hardware make a difference? We’ll have to wait to find out about that one.
Toyota also stressed that this also wasn’t a rebadge job for legal reasons. German antitrust laws don’t allow for a company to simply slap its logo on another company’s product and sell it. As an example, the automaker pointed to a vehicle out of its own lineup: the Toyota 86. That car was similarly developed with another company — in this case Subaru, which sells a different version of the vehicle as the BRZ. That would not have been allowed under German antitrust laws, but this one has been. And it won’t be built by BMW; it will be built by Magna Steyr, a third-party coachbuilder in Austria.
3. Roadster Roots Give Supra an Edge
When it comes to performance, one advantage that the Supra will enjoy over the Z4 is its fixed roof. The two cars were developed with a roadster in mind (the Z4 is a soft-top convertible), which means adding a lot of extra reinforcement to the chassis and body structure so the car will be stiff without having a roof over the top to help keep everything in place.
Starting with that and then adding a roof back into the equation stiffens the car up even more. With the roof giving an extra allotment of stiffness, it provides a good starting point for the Supra — which also needs to feel sharp to be successful.
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4. Fitting Inside With a Helmet (It Can Be Done)
I brought my helmet along to the session, as well. This will be a car that people take to the track (although it doesn’t seem that you can fit another set of tires to bring along with you), so fitting in the tight cabin with a helmet seemed questionable. My preference is to drive as close to the floor as possible, so I lowered the seat as much as I could and set it up how I’d drive on the track, a few inches closer to the wheel and pedals than I would in day-to-day driving.
The bubbles you see in the roof are actually pretty far forward; the roof does slope down as you move backwards. For reference, I’m 5 feet, 11 inches tall and I slipped the helmet on before I climbed in, as there isn’t really enough space to do so once inside. There was a small bit of space between the top of the helmet and the ceiling — less than an inch, just barely enough to put my hand in the gap.
Since I’m not that tall, we did another test: One of the Toyota engineers on site was a solid 6-foot-4, so we got him in a helmet and had him try. To my surprise, he also fit inside (although with an even smaller gap than mine). Sideways visibility is still bad; if you turn your head to the left all you’ll see is an eyeful of roof. But you can fit with a helmet.
5. CarPlay, No Pay
Toyota did clear up one of my nagging questions, with BMW moving to a subscription model for Apple CarPlay with one year free, then $80 annually after that. Since the Supra has what is, in essence, a BMW multimedia system, I wondered if a subscription situation might be in the cards for the Supra, too, but Toyota clarified that it has no intention of implementing that sort of payment structure. Wireless Apple CarPlay will be available with the larger 8.8-inch multimedia screen, which comes standard on 3.0 Premium models, though it’s also available as part of a package on base 3.0 models.
Check back in with Cars.com over the next few weeks, as we’ll get to drive the 2020 Supra and see how all of this shakes out. I really hope it’s good — nay, great — and that this comeback is one that was worth the wait.
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