Toyota’s ascent

Japanese giant charting a course to rise above bland

JAKE GROVES

SAYING Toyota is on a roll is quite an understatement. Traditionally, understatement is a very Toyota quality – but that’s changing fast, and soon you won’t be able to avoid seeing the signs of Toyota’s newfound flair and confidence. In its engineering, styling and ambition, Toyota is getting loud and proud.

The company is going through fundamental and far-reaching changes in what it makes and how it’s made. Fuel efficiency continues to be a priority, but it’s now joined by vibrant motorsport and performance car divisions. Its previously deadly dull family hatch has just had a complete overhaul that ramps up its desirability, while its SUVs and crossovers are set to stand out from a packed field.

The brand’s latest platform – Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA – underpins most of it. First deployed in the current Prius, TNGA’s flexibility means it now features in the funky C-HR and will underpin the new Corolla and RAV4 SUV. It’s good enough for the Lexus UX baby SUV too. Toyota claims a 65 percent rigidity boost compared with its previous platform, and TNGA allows engine bay components and suspension mounts to be positioned lower, in turn lowering the centre of gravity for better handling.

The design of mid-size Toyotas has delivered equally radical changes. The quirky C-HR is making respectable numbers in Australia and the boldly styled Prius and Camry are anything but safe designs. The new Corolla hatch, due here in August, has drawn acclaim for its eye-catching lines. Toyota’s global design general manager, Simon Humphries:

“Our primary goal was to create the most bold and dynamic hatchback on the market, without compromising interior usability.”

The RAV4, meanwhile, was North America’s best-selling car in 2017. That sort of success might once have made Toyota play safe with its successor, but not this time around. Design-wise, it’s clearly inspired by last year’s maximum-lifestyle FT-AC concept, and it’ll come to market with petrol or hybrid power and allwheel drive in early 2019.

The pinnacle of Toyota’s rebirth, though, comes in the form of the new Supra – a car the Gazoo Racing team has had a hand in.

Gazoo Racing may only be a motorsport minnow, but it’s going from strength to strength: 2018 began with a podium in the Dakar rally, the Yaris has been competitive in the World Rally Championship, and Fernando Alonso will co-drive a Toyota at Le Mans.

Much of Toyota’s previous motorsport activity has occurred in a vacuum, but now it’s clearly joined up with the road-car range; the Yaris GRMN wasn’t just a quirky novelty. It’s understood there will be two versions of the Gazoo Racing performance car models. Gazoo Racing Meisters of the Nurburgring, or GRMN, are hardcore performance models: the Yaris has just had the supercharged GRMN treatment. More accessible will be the GR e accessible will be the GR models: think VW Golf R and GTI respectively and you’re close.

This is all feeding into next year’s Supra, co-developed with the next BMW Z4 and to be built alongside it by Magna Steyr in Austria. The fifth-generation Supra will deploy straight-six turbocharged petrol power, in a ballsy nod to the fondly remembered A80 model. Toyota’s European design boss Johan Van Zyl even fist-pumped the air when the wild-looking Supra GR Racing concept took the stage at the Geneva show. “This concept is a clear signal of our intention to bring back one of our most legendary sports cars to the market,” he said.

You can understand his excitement – after much tedium, Toyota is making its family cars exciting, majoring on clever tech and resurrecting an icon.

JAKE GROVES

Trayed war

Almost Almos as quickly as Mercedes-Benz could applly app y the three-pointed star to the NP300 N ssa Niissan Navara in the genesis of its X-Class ute, wa stalwart tuner of the Stuttgart marque Brabus has bas binned the Benz badges for its trademark B’. The Brabus ute brings quad tailpipes, dual ‘B’. Thoverhead LED light bars and 20in wheels. A plug-in tune-up brings an extra 15kW and 60Nm, taking the X250d to 155kW/510Nm. But with the forthcoming X350d poised to deliver 190kW/550Nm, it may pay to wait for the Brabus version of that variant, which is in the works.

Air to the throne

Porsche has unveiled its 911 GT3 R customer race car for 2019, which wraps carbonfibre exterior panels around a trademark rear-engined aluminium-steel composite monocoque featuring a 4.0 flat six fundamentally shared with the roadgoing GT3 RS, from which the R is developed. Key upgrades over the road car include the six-speed sequential paddle-shift gearbox, upgraded aero package and a weldedin FIA roll cage. And in a first for the R, there’s air-conditioning, which connects directly to the seat and the driver’s helmet. Cool.

Toyota’s fi ve-step path h to an exciting future

1 MAKE MORE POWERFUL HYBRIDS

If you think Toyota has been going big on hybrids, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Half its new passenger car range has a hybrid powertrain variant. The familiar 1.8 is being joined by a more powerful 2.0-litre option in the new Corolla.

2 SHUN DIESEL

Toyota’s investment in hybrids looks spookily prescient. It currently does not offer any oil-burning passenger cars in Australia, limiting diesel engines to its SUV/4WD line up, and its big-selling Hilux range.

3 GO WILD WITH THE STYLE

The next Corolla and RAV4, like the C-HR, may not be to everyone’s taste, but Toyota’s designers are turning heads not just with marginal models but with the big-sellers.

4 BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO THE LEGEND

We’re expecting a Supra with substance. Developed with BMW, the rear-wheel-drive coupe will be offered with four-pot and straight-six engines. It’s a co-development like the 86 and Subaru BRZ, but expect greater differentiation with the Supra; Z4 is a roadster, Supra is coupe-only and more hardcore.

5 GO RACING

The motorsport team has been taking on the Dakar, the World Rally Championship and the World Endurance Championship, with Fernando Alonso among the driver line-up at Le Mans. And there’s now a direct road car link; the hot Yaris GRMN.