Torture? Unnerving? Comical?
These are just some of the words that have popped into my mind over the last week or so as I’ve seen more and more press drives of the new-gen Supra hit the internet.
Now, I don’t want to be smug or anything but while some media were let loose in the A90 for the first time, I had already driven the world’s first modified version… and I couldn’t tell anyone.
It all happened at the Gunsai cycle track in Gunma, while everyone was off on their Golden Week vacation. The track was closed, in theory, but inside some tests were being run.
Like other great adventures behind the wheel of a car, it all started with a phone call: “Dino, now this is pretty top secret stuff, but would you like to shoot and get behind the wheel of a modified A90 Supra?”
On the other side was Saito-san at HKS, the man behind the company’s coolest projects to date, and this one sounded like a big one from the get go.
Like a very select number of drivers in Japan, Manabu Orido has been given a pre-production version of the Supra to do what he wishes with.
Orido has been synonymous with Supras since forever, and it makes sense that he should spearhead the tuning movement with this much anticipated car and to do so he’s teamed up with HKS.
This day was all about getting some baseline tests sorted, starting off with an exhaust system, an entry level suspension package and tires.
Lots of tires.
The idea here was to kick off a comprehensive series of modifications that will spawn HKS’s first line up of parts that will be unveiled at next year’s Tokyo Auto Salon, a few months after the car officially goes on sale in Japan.
The car that all of this will be developed around is the number 4 pre-production car. It’s 99% the same as a production car, so rather than crash testing the cars I suppose this is the best use for them, helping Toyota hype the hype.
After seeing a couple of 2JZs in this chassis, it was a breath of fresh air to actually see the B58 that the top of the range car will come with. Yes, it’s all very BMW under the hood, but they’ve put at least some effort into hiding it, with Toyota plastic covers featuring a pair of red accent lines.
With regards the looks of the engine bay, I don’t care, I’ve come to terms with the fact that engines will never be pretty again so my expectations are zero in this department.
What I did like seeing was a charge cooler connected directly to the electronic throttle, which should mean awesome throttle response. It also means is that it will be a pain to upgrade when tuners eventually go for larger turbos, but where there’s a will, there’s a way, as they say.
With the hood partly blending into the top half of the front fenders, there’s a plastic shroud running the entire length of the section, and it then fades into a rubber lip that falls on top of the headlights.
The first thing I asked myself was if this will manage to pass the test of time, I hope it doesn’t dis-color and crack. That said, it still blows my mind that so much has already been done with the A90, and the damn thing isn’t even on sale yet.
Away from the two 2JZ-swapped drift spec cars used as publicity stunts, this is it. This is the car that the whole tuning world is really interested in.
The day was kicked off with a few hot laps behind the wheel from Orido who familiarized himself with the stock Michelin rubber that comes on this RZ version of the car.
He threw the car around the bumpy and massively challenging Gunsai tarmac, and he was obviously having a good time as he clocked up countless laps.
After a good half hour behind the wheel, it was time for a quick chat with the mechanics.
He stepped out smiling, praising the car and the current set up.
He was generally very happy with how HKS’s suspension modifications had transformed the car.
HKS’s take on handling centers around the stock active damper, which is retained. The spring perches are removed and the dampers get sleeved with a threaded section onto which a new spring is fitted. This gives you the ability to play with ride height and the stiffer spring to tighten up handling.
Orido was content with how the front and rear spring rates were matched and how the slightly lowered height worked great at making the car feel more reactive through the twisties.
As the conversation continued I felt this natural lure towards the bright red JZA80 causally sitting along the main straight at Gunsai. Orido had brought his personal Ridox machine as it continues to be a car he is working and developing.
It was also possibly the best possible car to bring on the day, and it certainly beats my white Toyota in the background.
It was then on to the next part of the agenda – the first tire change of the day.
The mechanics quickly got the car on axle stands to remove the stock wheels. One thing to note here is that these wheels are the 18-inch versions that will actually come with the 2.0-liter entry version of the car. The RZ with the B58 will come with 19s.
The idea here was to test out the best Yokohama has, a tire manufacturer that has always collaborated closely with both Orido and HKS.
The tire of choice for test two was the Advan A052, a semi slick tire that was fitted in exactly the same stock sizes the A90 comes with.
In a matter of minutes the Michelins came off, and the A052s were thrown on.
Yokohama had brought a massive rig with all the needed equipment, including a tire changing machine…
…and a balancer.
With the wheels off it was the perfect time to have a little nose around inside the wheel arches.
Here you can see exactly what I was talking about before. The stock active damper (you can see the connector at the bottom with two wires coming out of it) has been sleeved with a threaded lower section on which the anodised spring perch can be positioned, which gives your ride height adjustment.
This is only the very first iteration of what will eventually become their entry level suspension upgrade for the A90, so it’s cool that HKS let me have a look at it and post pictures.
One thing I noted and something everyone was commenting on around the car was the obvious “fatness” of the front calipers. These things are pretty massive for what they are, and they will no doubt create some headaches for wheel manufacturers trying to come up with the right offsets and designs for this car.
It’s a beautifully engineered car, lots of attention to detail right down to the closed and sealed wheel arch which has venting for the driver’s side mounted oil cooler and an air guide feeding the rotors for decent brake cooling.
Like modern day BMWs, the rear dampers and springs are separated, so it was easier to swap in the new spring.
Orido took some time to talk suspension geometry with the engineer in charge of handling.
In what must have been 30 minutes the A052s were mounted on all four corners and it was time to resume testing.
Orido shot off under full acceleration, the HKS exhaust making all sorts of delicious sounds as the ZF 8-speed swapped cogs up to fourth.
This was actually my first time to Gunsai and I was blown away at the location and the track. If you though this place was tight, bumpy and scary when watching the battle on Hot Version, it’s about twice as intimidating when you are there.
You need balls of steel to drive a car hard on a course like this.
Orido felt right at home, shooting by me on the back straight at silly speeds before getting hard on the brakes to tackle another technical corner. Every time he came in he kept commenting on how much faster the car is through the corners with proper track rubber. The thing looked properly planted.
This is was about when I decided to get myself positioned on the famous hairpin corner of the track, where so many Hot Version Battles have been held.
Orido properly put the car through its paces and from a bystander’s perspective it was visually obvious just how much grip this set up was developing.
He pushed and pushed, the crackles and pops of the HKS exhaust resonating through the Gunma mountains. Until all of a sudden, a very familiar sound started approaching in the distance.
Orido took out his JZA80 for a few laps while the HKS engineers took the A90 on a few test laps of their own. I can’t even describe the awesomeness of seeing an ’80’ and ’90’ out on such a special track together. It was like JDM poetry right in front of my eyes.
Old meets new, legend meets the future.
It was about at this point that Orido said “Hey Carbonara, why don’t you go take the car for a lap?” What is a guy supposed to say to that?
Luckily I had my GoPro with me and a head mount, so you can see what happened next. Apologies for the crappy positioning of the camera but I’m tall, the car is small and the seat seems to be set pretty high, but you sort of get the idea…
What did I think of the new Supra? Impressed all the way. As soon as you get going in it, all the months and years of criticism that Toyota did a co-development thing with BMW vanish from your memory. This is a new Japanese sports car and we should celebrate it.
It’s very BMW in the way that it feels and drives, but Toyota have definitely tried to give it as much of their own character as possible. Through the bumpy sections it stays composed, the HKS suspension enhancing that pointy and reactive nature. There is good feedback and communication from the steering and it loads up beautifully on the cambered turns.
The motor is potent, full of torque and response across the range but especially so in the low to mid-range where you want it the most. It almost doesn’t feel turbocharged, it just gets up and does its thing unleashing a linear delivery in every gear.
I only had a few minutes with it but I came away positively impressed and wondering how the aftermarket will perfect it. It seems to be an exceptionally well balanced package, so it will be tough to improve on that without upsetting that balance but good tuners will be able to do it.
Most, I assume, will end up ruining the car, but we shall see.
After that surprise was over and done with, and with a smile stretching from ear to ear, it was onto the second and final tire swap of the day.
This time it would also include a set of aftermarket wheels, a set of 19-inch Advan GTs in white to contrast against the satin finish of the body.
Like everyone there I was really keen to see how the car would look and sit with proper wheels.
The jack slowly lowered the car onto its new wheels and, well, it was JDM awesomeness right there.
Before the white rims got caked with brake dust we decided to move the car to do some static images, and with the sakura still in bloom up in the Gunma mountains, the backdrop couldn’t have been prettier.
So, what do you think? This is just a sample of what’s to come with this car, and again I’m blown away that we are getting to play around with it months before it hits the dealers.
Toyota has shown us how you handle the launch of a much anticipated enthusiasts car, a halo model of the line up, by allowing the very industry that has called for it enough times to play and prepare themselves prior to its release.
Come January 2020 when TAS hits, we’ll be seeing these cars offered up in all sorts of flavour. I would be surprised if there aren’t at least 100 at the show. In fact we should probably make a friendly bet on it?
As the cherry on top, I got to shoot a few frames of the JZA80 and A90 together. The end to a very special and amazing day.
As I packed up my bags and got ready to return to Tokyo (and the Golden Week traffic) Orido and the HKS guys stayed on to get some time behind the wheel with the 19 inch GTs. I hung around a few more minutes longer just to see the car shoot by a few times with the white wheels fitted, smiled in satisfaction and was on my way.
Yes, that was a good day. The Supra is a good car.
Well done Toyota, and thank you Orido and HKS for the opportunity.
Dino Dalle Carbonare