The Toyota MR2 arrived in the mid-1980s with the intention of offering exotic car looks and driving excitement for a fraction of exotic car prices. While the driving excitement bit might have been a wee bit of a stretch, the midengine, rear-wheel-drive MR2 showed that Toyota could build entertaining sports cars as well as sensible-shoes sedans.
The first-generation Toyota MR2 was sold in the United States from 1985-'89 and featured a wedge-like body, low curb weight and handling massaged by Lotus. With a 112-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-4 engine, the little MR2 could go from zero to 60 mph in a little more than 8 seconds. A supercharger was later added to increase power by 33 horses, which lowered 0-60 times by a second.
The basic premise of the MR2 continued into the second generation. Larger, heavier and vastly more powerful, the new MR2 boasted curvier '90s-era styling that did a fair impression of Ferrari's 348 and F355. A turbocharged engine was the big news, making 200 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. This put 0-60 times in the mid-6-second range -- very quick for a car in its price range at the time.
Despite a loyal following, the two-seat coupe failed to set the market on fire and the MR2 eventually disappeared from the U.S. market in 1995. Its spiritual successor, the MR2 Spyder, was also a midengine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater, but was offered only as a convertible. It, too, disappeared after a five-year run.
Most Recent Toyota MR2
The second-generation Toyota MR2 was produced from 1991-'95 and was available in standard and Turbo trim levels. There were minor changes made throughout its lifespan, including subtle styling updates and the latest safety equipment. The base model came equipped with a 2.2-liter inline-4 engine making 130 hp. The MR2 Turbo's 2.0-liter inline-4 made 200 hp. The base car could be had with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. The Turbo came with the manual only.
Standard features included a driver-side airbag, 14-inch wheels, a tilt steering wheel and an AM/FM audio system. Alloy wheels and power windows and locks were options on the base model, but standard on the Turbo. Options on both trim levels included antilock brakes, a T-bar roof, air-conditioning, cruise control and leather upholstery. Those features became standard on the Turbo in 1993, with the exception of leather and ABS. The latter became standard on both trims the next year, along with a passenger airbag.
The MR2's midengine placement created a finely balanced chassis. Cornering was flat and handling in general impressive, although getting too friendly with the accelerator could easily snap the tail sideways -- especially on the Turbo. Suspension and wheel-and-tire modifications in 1993 made the car easier to drive fast.
Although the 200-hp turbo made the MR2 very quick, the base motor was hardly a lump, providing Toyota-quality smoothness and decent acceleration. Downsides to this car were its choppy ride, excessive noise created by the engine located just aft of your kidneys and limited cargo room -- all traditional MR2 trademarks. There was a small 5.5-cubic-foot trunk behind the engine and a tiny hold under the "hood."
Given that even the newest year of the second-generation Toyota MR2 is more than a decade old, the odds of finding a pristine example are low. MR2 Turbos are obviously more desirable but have also been a prime choice for performance enthusiasts. Most examples you'll find have been used and abused. As with any performance car of this vintage, a comprehensive background check and test-drive is essential before making a purchase.
Past Toyota MR2 models
The first Toyota MR2 was produced from 1985-'89 in base and, later on, supercharged models. Base MR2s had a 112-hp, 1.6-liter engine. The Supercharged model with its 145 hp arrived in the 1988 model year. A rare sight today, the original MR2 was highly praised by the motoring press for its nimble handling and precise shifter.