The new Toyota GR Supra has been a long time in the making; it’s been in excess of five years since the first concept debuted. Fans all over the world have been anticipating the launch of this sports coupe. The South African launch took place earlier this week and we sampled the newcomer in the Eastern Cape.

Arresting good looks

First up, let me just say that this car’s appearance is not done any justice in images. Up close it is so much more dramatic, more detailed and more pleasing to the eyes. Those dominant LED headlamps and bulging bonnet set the tone. Aero detailing in the shape of bumper canards, a double-bubble roof and flicked up boot lip tell of time spent in the wind tunnel (incidentally, it also has a flat undertray). The impressions of speed and performance created elsewhere are underlined with those muscular rear haunches.

We zipped through several small towns of the Eastern Cape and in each you would think the locals saw a UFO, such were the expressions on their faces. Of those that we spoke to, few could believe that the low-slung sports coupe was a Toyota.

Powerplay

Under the clamshell bonnet is an inline six-cylinder engine. The 3,0-litre turbocharged unit produces 250 kW with peak torque of 500 N.m. Our sources within Toyota SA tell us that in local testing, the engine produced around 10 per cent more power than quoted… and that’s at the reef. Expect a few more ponies at oxygen-rich sea-level.

Drive is fed exclusively to the rear axle, in true sportscar fashion and in keeping with Supra tradition. Torque is transmitted via an eight-speed torque converter automatic that is then fed through a limited-slip differential (LSD) before meeting tar.

On the open road

Toyota SA laid out an exceptional driving route for the Toyota GR Supra ride and drive event. From Port Elizabeth, we made our way inland and traversed some of the finest driving roads in the Eastern Cape, and quite possibly in SA, to eventually end in Grahamstown.

The open highways leading away from the Windy City were easily dealt with by a supple suspension that can be altered via adaptive dampers. In “normal” mode the car was easy to pilot and has an easy-going nature thanks to long gearing in top gear (60 km/h per 1 000 r/min) and electrically adjustable seats (there are only two) that are comfortable and supportive in all the right places.

Twisting away

After several kilometres, we turned off the national road and headed inland. There we could let the Toyota GR Supra’s turbo six off its leash a bit. Snapping down a few gears elicits a punch of torque and a hard-edged howl. The shove from the motor, which we already stated makes more power than advertised, is quite impressive. Subjectively, it feels stronger than the numbers quoted.

The short wheelbase and wide track mean that the Toyota GR Supra responds with immediacy to steering inputs and direction changes. Incidentally, the wheelbase to rear track ratio is close to 1,55 – which is considered ideal for a sportscar. The front Michelins grip and track the driver’s chosen line and the wide rears follow obediently. There’s no hint that the Supra will suddenly snap away, not at fast road speeds anyway. If there is one criticism I could level at its dynamic repertoire, is that the electrically assisted steering action isn’t the most communicative I’ve experienced.

Olifantskop Pass is an entertaining piece of tar that, in many ways, reminds me of the Nurburgring Nordschleife (click here to watch our ‘Ring drive video). Testing work carried out by Toyota Gazoo Racing on the famous racetrack and surrounding area really paid off. With the variable dampers turned to the less firm setting and all other parameters (throttle response, shift pattern, steering weight and LSD response) on the sportiest, the Supra was extremely gratifying to pilot – even if my co-pilot looked a little ‘green’ at some points… This pass is a real-world test of a performance car’s ability to handle a wide variety of driving conditions and the Toyota GR Supra came away with flying colours.

Sideways fun

The chosen route would have been enough indication of what the Toyota GR Supra can do, but we were also given a half a dozen laps to experience the car on Aldo Scribante Racetrack. Within the confines of the short but technical circuit, we could really approach and exceed the car’s limits. An entire morning of rain ensured that those limits were reduced somewhat…

However, as the rain eased I found that the car has a playful side that will be appreciated by enthusiastic drivers. With the electronic safety net set to a less restrictive, intermediate mode the tail can be flicked out with a stab of the loud pedal and held in a quick slide. Later on, we were all humbled when we got to ride shotgun with expert wheelman Giniel de Villiers. The former Touring Car champ and Dakar Rally winner showed us just why he is so highly rated. Mr De Villiers extracted the car’s full performance potential and managed to hold the most lurid oversteer slides with armfuls of opposite lock.

Summary

Plenty has been said about the new Toyota GR Supra. And even more about its shared underpinnings as well as not ‘living up to its predecessor’s lofty reputation’. I can’t help but wonder how many of the naysayers have actually driven the Supra they lust after, or any Supra for that matter. Having spent the better part of 500 km learning about the new car, I have come away thoroughly impressed.

There have been comparisons between the Toyota GR Supra and the BMW M2 Competition as well as the Porsche Cayman. This trio are natural rivals as all compete for the same buyer (click here to see the Supra’s pricing). Sadly, I have not driven either of the German cars, so I do not feel qualified to comment. I will say this, however, the Toyota GR Supra is being compared to a BMW M car and a Porsche, and that really should tell you all you need to know about how good it is…