More details of Toyota Supra successor emerge

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Monster 353kW Supra replacement to sprout from Toyota-BMW collaboration

Ever since Toyota and BMW announced their technical collaboration in a joint-venture sports car program in 2012 both companies have been meticulously drip-feeding information about the progress of that development.

Just a few months ago, a senior Toyota executive confirmed his company's version of the car would be positioned above the 86 as a successor to Toyota's long-lamented Supra, while more recent reports have suggested delays for BMW's version, which is expected to replace the Z4 and could be called the Z5.

Now, from sources in Japan and Germany, we bring you the latest update on the joint project that will see Toyota and BMW deliver all-new sports cars by the end of this decade.

News of the project quickly gathered momentum late last year when photos of a BMW 2 Series prototype testing in Germany surfaced. It might have been plastered with camouflage trying the disguise the car’s shape and external secrets, but it was obvious from the surfaces and door gaps that this test mule was hiding something underneath.

Indeed, the unique shape of the vehicle revealed a few secrets, including its dimensions relative to the 2 Series coupe, since its wheelbase had been shortened and its roof, bonnet and driver's seat heights had all been lowered, dropping the car's centre of gravity, improving aerodynamics and resulting in a sharper, sportier design.

Then, at the Geneva motor show in March, Toyota confirmed it had completed its product evaluation with BMW and started the development process. A final confirmation came from a BMW boss in May when he confirmed the company had started R&D work and that we should expect to see two very different looking sports cars from BMW and Toyota.

A Toyota insider has told us details of the development mule were held under lock and key by BMW, the company in charge of chassis development for the joint project. Our brief chat with this source revealed the surprising frustration that Toyota engineers appear to be feeling with regard to the details of their sister car. He said only a precious few at Toyota are privy to the fundamentals of the two cars.

We do know that both companies announced they would be splitting development duties into four sections: joint sports car development, fuel-cell technology, electrification technology and weight-saving technology.

Inside this initiative called the 'Silk Road' project, BMW would take charge of the basic chassis and engine development, while Toyota would be responsible for the environmental technologies. What Toyota particularly wanted BMW to focus on was its tried and proven handling prowess and its acclaimed inline six-cylinder powerplant. This combination has already been lined up for the next-generation Z4.

To hybridise this new sports car, Toyota required significant time with BMW engineers to work out the optimum place to store the batteries, which hybrid system would be most appropriate and how to create an acceptable front-rear weight distribution. According to one source, the time needed was twice as long as that required for the development of standard road cars.

Our source says the platform being evaluated for the Silk Road project is not derived from the current Z4 but the i8 plug-in hybrid coupe because it is more suitable for packaging a petrol-electric powertrain.

Unlike the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, which are essentially the same cars with the same engines and bodies but different design touches and badging, the new Toyota and BMW coupes will sit on the same new platform but incorporate entirely different bodies.

"The reason that two completely different bodies can be used is because we are not employing a monocoque design but rather a ‘frame-based’ format," said our insider.

That's a further indication the two cars will share the same aluminium spaceframe chassis and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic body construction, which in the existing BMW i8 is dubbed 'LifeDrive' and consists of a CFRP passenger cell (Life Module) and chassis/powertain platform (Drive Module).

Additional information supplied by our source says that the two cars will be less than 4500mm in length, under 1840mm in width and no more than 1340mm high, with a wheelbase of less than 2500mm.

This means both coupes will be smaller than the outrageously styled Toyota FT-1 concept and even the old Supra, but a fraction larger than the current Z4.

“About the size of a 911,” says our source.

“The Toyota variant’s exterior styling was finalised in the third quarter of last year, but you’ll be surprised at how good it looks. The car does not look like a Toyota," he added.

Our artist’s impression shows an un-Toyota-like supercar-proportioned coupe with a huge front air-dam, heavily flared wheel-arches, 19-inch wheels and a tight two-seat cockpit.

Powertrains have also been locked in. BMW's Z4 successor will arrive in showrooms offering a German 2.0-litre turbo-four and 3.0-litre turbo-six, as well as a Toyota-built plug-in hybrid unit matched with the latter.

Meanwhile, the Toyota coupe will only get two engines: the 3.0-litre turbo-petrol and of course the plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Turbo-petrol versions will undercut 1300kg while the hybrid will weigh in at less than 1500kg, says our source.

While the entry-level BMW variant should offer the Bavarian brand's high-output 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four, both 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-petrol models will pack 250kW and more than 450Nm.

However, when matched with Toyota's hybrid power unit, the six-cylinder turbo plug-in version will pump out an impressive 353kW.

Of course, it will employ the Japanese giant's latest plug-in hybrid technology – rather than the i8's three-cylinder PHEV set-up or the 3.0-litre six-cylinder hybrid powertrain seen in BMW's (non-plugin) ActiveHybrid 3, 5 and 7.

And to help BMW develop the very best plug-in hybrid powertrain for the two coupes, Toyota has sent “a coupe of dozen” engineers to its headquarters in Munich.

Given that its design has been finalised, expect to see the first concept version of Toyota's born-again Supra at either the Detroit show in January or the Geneva show in March, ahead of its global release in 2018.

Image: Holiday Auto

By Peter Lyon – www.carsales.com.au

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