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Maybe sports cars shouldn’t be co-developed between rival brands

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Don’t Drink And Write

The fifth-generation Toyota Supra sports coupe is officially out. A legend has returned, the Japanese automaker proudly announces. If you ask many fans of both the brand and the model, however, there is nothing legendary about this A90 version. That’s partly because the car is underpinned by a platform co-developed with BMW, but also largely because it is powered by the German car manufacturer’s 3.0-liter straight-six gasoline engine — essentially the same heart that toils under the hood of the equally new Z4 roadster.

In other words, the “purists” are accusing Toyota of simply re-badging a BMW sports car. While Toyota defenders are quick to label such critics as harsh fault-finders, the latter do have a point. Why go to a rival brand to help you create a new product that is supposed to be a flagship model — one that’s steeped in illustrious history? You could say: Well, BMW is technically not a competitor of Toyota since its positioning is more premium. Yes, but Toyota has a luxury division that stands toe-to-toe with BMW (you may have heard of Lexus).

You could then argue: Well, Toyota needed to stay true to the Supra’s rear-wheel-drive, in-line-six-cylinder-engine fabled combo, and BMW had already mastered this blueprint. But you have to ask if the new Supra’s credibility wouldn’t have been better served by a 3.5-liter V6 mill from Lexus’s RC coupe instead. I mean, is nostalgia more important than originality and independence? Toyota running to BMW to put together a new sports car is like Kevin Durant crossing over to the Golden State Warriors to win a championship. Or something like that. The achievement, if you can even call it that, is simply not as sweet or special.

Now, I get the concept of platform-sharing. Car companies do this all the time. The objective is to cut costs and save precious time in developing new vehicle models. Which is absolutely brilliant, to be honest. But platform-sharing, in my opinion, should be confined to regular passenger cars. You know. . . sedans, hatchbacks, minivans, SUVs, pickups. Sports cars — they that represent the pinnacle of motoring excitement — need to be spared from this. Sports cars are a different breed altogether. People don’t buy one for convenience — they do so for fun. They purchase a sports coupe not just to go from A to B, but to make sure that the journey is so exceptional that the destination is irrelevant.

Put another way, sports cars are personal, intimate, unique. Their buyers need to know that the car they’re buying has a soul and is legit — not the byproduct of a corporate handshake meant to improve the bottom line of the companies involved.

So, yes, I perfectly understand those who are dismissing the new Supra as a merely rebadged Bimmer. Fair point.




But here’s another interesting point: In which world would Toyota buyers complain about getting a BMW engine? In a world where Toyota’s brand is very strong, that’s where. You would think potential Supra owners might welcome the thought of having a tried-and-tested European power plant shoehorned under the hood of the Asian sports car they’re eyeing. But no, they’re upset. They want a Toyota car inside and out. They want a Toyota heart beating inside a Toyota car. Anything less is a travesty.

You might ask: But wasn’t the 86 with its Subaru engine a success? Yes, but the 86 isn’t the Supra. Plus, I don’t think automotive history will be very kind to the 86, seeing that it has had to share its identity with the BRZ. The Supra is another matter entirely. It has a solid cult following. It’s a two-door hero that makes grown men piss their pants. I don’t doubt that the new Supra is a hoot to drive. I just wish Toyota hadn’t given it Bavarian propulsion.