You can see why Toyota and BMW would choose the code name “Silk Road” to describe their collaborative effort to build a new generation of sports cars. East meets West and all that. We will forgive the companies the minor historical inaccuracy—the Silk Road trade route never extended to Japan or Germany—because we greatly prefer sports cars to silk. And this alliance will result in the next BMW Z4 and the return of Toyota’s long-lost Supra.
According to leaks out of Germany, the Supra coupe will appear in two years as a 2018 model. Why would the Germans be leaking Supra details? Because underneath the Toyota-specific body will be mounted a turbocharged inline-six BMW engine. And, if that’s not enough sacrilege, the coupe’s rear-drive chassis will be developed largely by BMW, too.
So what will Toyota contribute to the party, other than the body? Well, money, for one. Toyota also will let BMW in on some of its expertise in inexpensive hybrid technology, although there’s currently no indication that the Silk Road cars will offer hybrid options. BMW will certainly develop a four-cylinder variant for the Z4 while Toyota is unlikely to offer the smaller engine.
Toyota tipped its hand on the Supra’s styling with the FT-1 concept car it unveiled at the Detroit auto show in 2014. With its Viper-like dimensions, the FT-1 concept is larger than the eventual production car will be. Scale the concept down about 10 percent or scale the current Z4 up a bit and you’re in the realm.
There were early rumors that the Toyota-BMW cooperation also would result in a replacement for the slow-selling Scion FR-S, but it’s hard to imagine Toyota seeing enough demand in the U.S. for two distinct rear-drive performance coupes. That noted, the platform should have enough powertrain and dimensional flexibility to be used for other BMW variations and possibly a Lexus model.