MR2, GT86, Supra: Toyota’s three-strong sports car lineup is coming

March 10th, 2017 by

By Adam Towler

‘To be honest, we did think it was a bit boring’; Toyota engineer, and Gazoo Racing chief, Tetsuya Tada isn’t the biggest fan of the kind of cars that drove Toyota to top spot in the global car manufacturing charts, but it’s all change now. Toyota has its sights back on the performance car market.

Echoing its line-up of 20 years ago, the heart of Toyota’s new sports car range will once again be ‘The Three Brothers’ – the Toyota GT86, the all-new Toyota Supra and a replacement for the Toyota MR2. ‘We hope to have the three brothers in place as soon as possible’ the legendary Toyota engineer told evo at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show.

This rebirth of ‘The Three Brothers’ means a new Supra, the GT86 taking the place once held by successive generations of Celica, and a spiritual successor to the MR2 in the form of a lightweight sports car. Tada-San expressed Toyota’s desire to have the trio in production together. With other performance “specials” like the new Yaris GRMN hot hatch also on the way, Toyota’s driver-focused offering should soon be unrecognisable from the barren period of recent years.

New Toyota MR2 replacement

The confirmation of a compact, MR2-sized car is fantastic news for driving enthusiasts, and should at last mean some competition for the Mazda MX-5 in the segment. It isn’t clear exactly what form this car will take, though it could be similar to the Toyota S-FR concept revealed at the 2015 Tokyo motor show.

That car, which featured subtle nods to the styling of the classic Toyota Sports 800 in a platform almost identically-sized to the current MX-5, took the form of a four-seater, front-engined and rear-drive coupe. Toyota subsequently showed the car in track-ready form as the S-FR Racing Concept. What was notable about both, particularly the brightly-coloured road-going model, was their production-ready feel – far closer than the concepts that originally previewed the GT86.

Given he was “Mr GT86”, it’s no surprise that Tada-San is trying to make the entry-level sports car as simple and light as possible. However, to meet forthcoming emissions regulations Toyota is working on incorporating the hybrid tech from its LMP1 racers into the car, which means an MR2-style mid-engined layout could still apply, as battery storage in the overall package is easier. While the car may not be a hybrid from the start, Tada-San says Toyota is ‘Working very hard’ to make the hybrid sports car a reality.

Toyota GT86 updates and new Supra

Expect the GT86 lineage to continue, although updates will be minor. Toyota built a very limited-run GRMN version of the car for Japan last year with stickier tyres co-developed with Bridgestone, but there’s no word on whether Europe will get anything more potent.

One big reason the GT86 isn’t gaining lots more power is the incoming Supra, a car that make’s Tada-San’s face light up at the very mention of its name. Telling evo ‘The car should be lighter than its rivals’, Tada-San’s admiration for the Porsche Cayman over the larger, heavier 911 gives a hint to the new car’s size and character. The new car is being co-developed with BMW; the German manufacturer’s Z4-replacing Z5 will be on the same platform.

Gazoo Racing is also considering building R5, R3 and R2 versions of the Yaris for private entrants in rallying, particularly after the strong start to Toyota’s WRC campaign this season.

Full interview with Teysuya Tada

Why is Toyota suddenly producing enthusiast-led cars again?

‘Some time ago Toyota became number one in terms of units sold, producing very practical and environmentally friendly vehicles only. I myself was chief engineer on one. But at shows or drives with journalists I’d be asked if I was enjoying these dull cars: to be honest, we did think it was a bit boring.

‘There was a period when, if we tried to create a nice car that we wanted as engineers there would then be instructions from higher up to hurry along to launch and reduce costs for more profit. Then Akio Toyoda became CEO, and it all turned upside down.

‘He said of course making many units is important, but perhaps more important – for engineers – is to have passion in creating a vehicle. That started some years ago and now you’re seeing the results of that.’

Will we see a return to the three-tier Toyota performance car range, as in the days of the Supra, Celica and MR2?

‘We hope to have the three brothers in place as soon as possible.’

What can you tell evo about the new MR2?

‘For a sports car, simple is best. But after 2020 there will be many environmental and noise regulations. It will be an era when it’ll be very difficult to create a simple sports car as you know it. But our underlying thought of going into Le Mans is that there are possibilities to use new technology to make such a (sports) car, and we’re working very hard to do it.

‘When it comes to installing batteries, the mid ship layout is an attractive one. We hope to come out with such a model one day.’

What about a fully electric sports car?

‘An EV Sports? That’s difficult to answer. For me the most important element of a sports car is how light you can make it. A Tesla is very good for acceleration, but very different to the light feel of a GT86 – and that’s my definition of a sports car. If there are further improvements to motors and batteries, then it could be made.’

What kind of car will the new Toyota Supra be?

‘A Supra should be lighter than it’s rivals. Personally speaking, my favourite Porsche is the Boxster and Cayman, although I am a little disappointed with the four-cylinder engine. The Cayman helps a lot of us here to make a sports car.’

Can we expect any more developments with the GT86?

‘The most important thing with a sports car is you must not stop development, every year, even if they are small things.

‘The concept of the GT86 was intentionally not to be obsessed with the tyres, like you normally would be with a sports car. We tried to take the contrary approach. However, last year in Japan we did launch a model that emphasised the tyre – the GT86 GRNM. We put out 100 units, cooperating with Bridgestone to develop a special tyre for it, with new suspension and bodywork to complement it. There was also some more power from TRD.’

Will you be expanding your range of rally cars, particularly given the strong start to the WRC campaign?

‘We are already studying the possibility of having R5, R3 and R2 cars ready for customers.’

Why produce the Yaris GRNM?

‘This is Toyota’s first rally car for 17 years, and right from when we had the thought of coming back we thought of producing a commemorative model. Of course, compared to the days of the (Celica) GT4, the gap between the road car and the rally car is quite big, but we felt we could get some of the ambience of the rally car and provide it to our customers.’

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