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Toyota takes on the Nissan 350Z

Toyota will blast back into the sports car market in 2006 with an all-new Supra – and a ground-breaking MR2 replacement could follow.

The Japanese giant is jostling with Ford to become global number two – and that's without a major sporting push. Until now. The Supra coupe has broken cover at the Nürburgring, along with an MR2 lookalike.

The Supra – which bowed out of dealer showrooms in 1996 – will largely follow its predecessor's blueprint. That means engine mounted up front, rear-wheel drive and six pots pumping under the bonnet. At launch the Supra will run a naturally aspirated V6, displacing 3.5 litres. Peak power is pegged at around 330bhp, transferred to the Tarmac via a six-speed 'box.

As the spec suggests, the Supra will clash head on with the 350Z. And like the Nissan, the Supra could be sold as a drop top too. If given the green light, the roadster is set to adopt an SC430-style folding tin top.

There's still some work to be done on the chassis, though. The prototype seen here is based on a cut down version of the new Lexus GS platform – but sources say engineers aren't yet happy with the dynamics. If the chassis doesn't come up to scratch, the Supra may get its own bespoke underpinnings. Either way, the aim is for 50:50 weight distribution and an impressive 1,200kg kerb weight, thanks to the use of lightweight materials including aluminium and perhaps even carbonfibre panels.

Meanwhile, Toyota also appears to be testing the world's first mid-engined hybrid, disguised as an MR2. Toyota showed such a sports car – the CS&S concept – at the 2003 Frankfurt show. The Prius' 1.5-litre was mid-mounted and drove the rear wheels, while two electric motors span the front axle.

'It's an area we are playing around with – it's my pastime,' head of R&D Dr Akihiko Saito told AM. With hybrid powertrains shrinking in size and weight, there's a chance the next MR2 could go hybrid. Today's car bows out of the US market at the end of 2005 although UK sales should continue. The company is clearly looking at a radical successor – but there is no definitive word on production yet.


Fixed head coupe will use aluminium and maybe even carbonfibre panels to keep weight down, while a folding tin-top roadster could follow


Rear-wheel drive is a cert, and engineers hope to achieve a 50:50 weight balance and 1,200kg overall weight


New Supra will run a 3.5-litre V6, yielding 330bhp peak power, and coupled to a six-speed 'box

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