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The Supra’s Successor

Have you heard the news? Toyota is making a new Supra!

Except Toyota isn’t making it. And it might not be called a Supra. Or a Toyota.

Those oddities certainly dampen the surreal enthusiasm that has surrounded Supra rumors for well over a decade, and the optimism of years past has withered into a sort of cautious uncertainty. It’s like that feeling of walking into your first-hour classroom on the first day of your freshman year of high school. A few of your friends are there, so there’s potential for some great times, but wow, that textbook is big, and your assigned seat is next to Samantha. Yeah, that Samantha.

Some people, however, are already writing the car off altogether, calling it another NSX situation, and given the current batch of rumors, it’s tough to really counter their arguments. From the outside, it really looks like this is just another car that stayed in the engineering department for a few too many years.

Some people blame Toyota for this. Others prefer to cite all the hefty safety and environmental regulations that have made performance cars so scarce. More still look to the current market, where SUVs rule supreme and the number of Japanese two doors can be counted on a single hand.

Personally? I blame Godzilla.

This is not the Godzilla in question.

See, things weren’t always like this. As recently as the 1990s, dealer lots were stuffed with imported two-door sports cars with futuristic powertrains and sleek styling. Mazda had the RX-7. Toyota had the Supra and the MR2 Turbo. Mitsubishi sold both the Eclipse and the GTO. Preludes flew off of Honda lots, and the NSX glistened in their showrooms. Even Subaru got in on the action with the SVX.

Honda’s offerings aside, all these cars thrived somewhere in the 90s’ equivalent of the $40,000-$70,000 range, right in the meat of most mid-life crisis budgets. They were fantastic machines that each found their own happy balance between sports car and touring car. And, best of all, everybody had access to them. They weren’t necessarily affordable, but you always seemed to know a guy who had an RX-7, or at least a Prelude.

Today? Maybe the Lexus RC qualifies. And that’s about it.

These cars used to nip at the heels of the dentist-dollar Porsches and M cars. What the hell happened?

Market changes killed off some, and technological advances made others redundant. But the new NSX and Supra can put the blame squarely on Nissan’s shoulders.

Because everything changed when Godzilla attacked.

The Nissan Skyline GT-R, dubbed “Godzilla” by the Australians who watched the car annihilate the competition in every race series imaginable, dropped its Skyline nameplate and finally made a trip to the New World.

Remember how those old coupes nipped at the heels of the cheap Porsches? Well, the GT-R beat them around the Nurburgring. Along with the S models. And the Turbo models. And the Turbo S models. And the GT2/3s. You get the picture.

It wasn’t luxurious. It wasn’t beautiful, or even pretty. But it was fast. Really, really, really fucking fast. And it changed the automotive world.

Because, in 2008, the GT-R started at under $70,000.

The NSX was taken back to the drawing board. It wouldn’t do, after all, for a $70,000 Datsun to outperform Honda’s storied Ferrari-killer. The Germans reacted too, vowing to never again allow a Japanese car to beat their finest on the Nurburgring, and that opened up a whole different can of 0-60 obsessed worms that I’ll hopefully dive into at another time.

The GT-R made the idea of the Supra pretty much irrelevant. Toyota simply couldn’t have had the Supra realistically outperform the GT-R at that price point while maintaining their standards of build quality and comfort, and they only had so much wiggle room in the luxury department before the engineers risked cannibalizing Lexus sales.

Essentially, the GT-R killed the old market. Sports coupes polarized into either raw track-ready machines or luxurious, comfortable, kinda boring grand tourers. All the while, the tweeners all moved upmarket, well into six-figure territory.

The GT-R has since swollen well past its original price point, but the rest of the world has caught up. As ridiculous as it sounds, you now have a choice of 700+ HP vehicles for ~$70,000. As in, there are multiple options. Are we absolutely sure that Jeremy Clarkson didn’t die last summer? Because I think we might be living in his heaven.

The Supra was revolutionary at the time. It set a standard that other automotive manufacturers have since caught up to and surpassed, and Toyota has seemingly struggled to play catch-up. The nameplate and the legacy behind it are just too restrictive. They can’t build a comfortable, refined Supra that can contend with Camaros without corrupting the Supra’s legacy of semi-affordable performance, and they can’t go the luxury/grand tourer route without stepping on Lexus’s toes in both price and market.

What will the Supra even compete with? The M2? The 4 series? Lexus already has cars in those markets and there aren’t many buyers there to begin with.

That really left only one option. Find a competitor, any competitor, and improve it. Toyota saw Nissan’s ancient 370Z and did it better. They’ll probably also stomp out much of Infiniti’s G/Q/idfk coupe market as well. Maybe some German buyers will even consider one if it’s flashy enough. We’ll find out in New York next month.

That isn’t exactly a large target market, but it’s really the only one I can see them attacking. Any cheaper, and you just have a flashier 86. As mentioned earlier, you can’t go down the more expensive route, either. They’re stuck between a rock and hard place.

That is the story of the next Toyota Supra, penciled in before the car was anything more than a digital rendering on a forum post. I want the car to be great, and I want its success to bring the MR2, Celica, and the old, fun Toyota back from the dead.

Toyota, I hope you can prove me wrong.

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