Classic Cool: Toyota MR2

Photograph Courtesy Toyota

Story by David S. Wallens • Photography as Credited

 

Ferrari looks, top-shelf performance, Toyota reliability: Yep, we’re talking about the second-generation MR2.

Like the original MR2, the follow-up, released for the 1991 model year, pulled from a similar formula: midship-mounted engine, minimal bulk, and room for just two. The fact that Toyota even made a second-generation MR2, though, should be commended. By this time in automotive history, lower-priced, mid-engined sports cars had become a rarity after both the Pontiac Fiero and Fiat X1/9 failed to make it to the beginning of the ’90s.

Despite the lack of competition, this reconstituted MR2 shined, especially when built in Turbo guise. Turbo? Yes, the MR2 Turbo. While the standard MR2 received a 130-horsepower, naturally aspirated 2.2-liter engine, the turbocharged, intercooled variant made an even 200.

The media, as expected, swooned. Road & Track’s initial review closed on a glowing note: “Consider that this newest MR2 is for those people who can appreciate the graceful maturation of the mid-engine light-heavyweight champion of the world.”

Our review, written by J.G. Pasterjak, appeared in our March/April 1991 issue. “The old car looked like a padded test mule, whereas the ’91 version looks complete,” he wrote. “Its organic contours look like they grew right from the sheet metal that surrounds the cabin.”

But this was more than a pretty face. “Perhaps the most timeless thing about the new MR2 Turbo is the performance,” our review continued. “Turbo lag is nearly non-existent in the lower gears; even off of the boost, the two liter is torquey enough to get the somewhat porky (2758 lbs.) MR2 out of its own way. Throttle action is extremely progressive, and throttle response is among the best of any turbo motor we’ve experienced.”

Practical Guidance

our expert:

David Hawkins 
Twos R Us twosrus.com

For collector values, the newer, the better and the more options, the better. From a driver’s perspective, I prefer the earlier cars without the big options like power steering and ABS. They’re more analog, and with some basic alignment changes the “dangerous” handling characteristics can be eradicated. Hard top cars were in the minority for U.S. sales and are my preference–mainly because I’m not a fan of convertibles and find the T-tops burdensome to remove and store for all but an extended trip.

There is a foam sound insulator low in the body pocket behind the seats, and it tends to collect water and rust the sills and rockers from the inside out. T-top cars are also prone to leakage–it’s more rare to find one that doesn’t, and my Turbo dripped on me on the way home from the dealership in 1993.

The S54 transaxle is geared to exploit the lower power of the non-turbo and pairs pretty well. I definitely wouldn’t walk away from a nice MR2 just because it didn’t have a turbo.

Transaxle synchros have been problematic since the beginning. Toyota upgraded the Turbo transaxle in 1993 with dual cones, but those are also prone to getting crunchy over time. The easiest Band-Aid fix is to put Red Line MT-90 in the gearbox.

Just about all of the mechanical parts are still available, and only within the last year or so have some of the plastic trim pieces been phased out by Toyota. Colored interior parts–for the blue, black/ivory and red interiors–have been gone for much longer, but we’ve been reproducing the higher-wear items and are always looking to repro more parts as the need arises. Body panels are harder to source, but the used market is pretty strong and there are a couple of companies reproducing the rockers to address the most common rust area.

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mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise Dork
12/19/19 1:13 p.m.

Yeah love me some 94-95 MR2. Had a 93 as well, but sold it for my 95. 

 

My favorite drives have been through Vermont and Redwood Forest in N. Ca, watching the rain pitter patter on the glass above my head. Such serenity. Quality is top notch. 

Tyler H
Tyler H UberDork
12/19/19 1:44 p.m.

My preference is for ABS and the electro-hydraulic power steering.  Without the ABS, the front right tire will always lock up first, yielding a flat spot or leaving traction on the table.  The power steering was variable-assist and supplemented a much quicker rack (especially useful for counter-steering inputs.)   

So I prefer it for the opposite reason from David Hawkins-- it makes the car feel a lot more modern and tossable, at the expense of being a little less analog.

I wish I had kept one of the many SW20 cars that I owned, especially the 95 Turbo.  The fastest was the 91NA with a Gen3 Turbo swap, and the best all-arounder was a 91T that was V6 swapped.  

These are great cars and I'd recommend grabbing one now if you're interested.  

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise Dork
12/19/19 1:52 p.m.
Tyler H said:

My preference is for ABS and the electro-hydraulic power steering. 

Yes, both mine have it. Electro Hydraulic is a $690 option (Just looked at my original sticker). I also prefer with them with leather. My 93T that I traded for my 95T, had cloth.  ONly thing I miss about my 93T, was the Turquoise Pearl color. Aside from the color, I love both my 94 and 95T a lot

L5wolvesf
L5wolvesf Reader
12/19/19 2:28 p.m.

I like Toyota's a lot. But I'm curious as to how these are to work on with the mid engine. I've only looked at mid engined cars never have wrenched on one. It looks potentially awkward.

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise Dork
12/19/19 2:35 p.m.
L5wolvesf said:

I like Toyota's a lot. But I'm curious as to how these are to work on with the mid engine. I've only looked at mid engined cars never have wrenched on one. It looks potentially awkward.

4 mid engine cars in my stable. The Mr2 is the easiest of them to work on. Only issue is I need a step ladder to do things from the top of its further back. Otherwise from the bottom very easy. 

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
12/19/19 2:55 p.m.

What has happened on this site?  It seems lately that every other thread is about MR2’s!

FuzzWuzzy
FuzzWuzzy HalfDork
12/19/19 3:06 p.m.

In reply to SVreX :

Maybe they're doing some sort of foreshadowing.

I forsee an MR2 build for 2020.

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
12/19/19 3:11 p.m.

In reply to FuzzWuzzy :

I foresee at least 3. I’m aware of 4 under construction, with 2 more maybes. 

dculberson
dculberson MegaDork
12/19/19 3:14 p.m.
L5wolvesf said:

I like Toyota's a lot. But I'm curious as to how these are to work on with the mid engine. I've only looked at mid engined cars never have wrenched on one. It looks potentially awkward.

With the 3rd gen, it is awkward. But it's not horrible, and access from underneath is pretty good. You don't need a stepladder like the 2nd gen but anything on the top front of the engine is a pain to get to. Filling the oil is a pain as the oil fill is under the cross-bracing on the car.

Carbon
Carbon UltraDork
12/19/19 5:12 p.m.

Wohoo! Mr2 content! Keep it coming!

Will
Will UltraDork
12/19/19 7:30 p.m.

"Just about all of the mechanical parts are still available..."

If anyone can tell me where to find a new right rear caliper for a 93, I'd sure appreciate it. Not available through Advance, O Reilly's, Autozone or Rock Auto. The websites of the first three will act as if they have it, then tell you it's not available.

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise Dork
12/19/19 8:00 p.m.

In reply to Will :

For my 93T, that had frozen right rear caliper I got it from Oregon Toyota dealer - Kendall 

L5wolvesf
L5wolvesf Reader
12/19/19 9:10 p.m.
dculberson said:

With the 3rd gen, it is awkward. But it's not horrible, and access from underneath is pretty good. You don't need a stepladder like the 2nd gen but anything on the top front of the engine is a pain to get to. Filling the oil is a pain as the oil fill is under the cross-bracing on the car.

It seems like the 3rd gen NA lost a chunk of horsepower vs 2nd gen. Yes?

dculberson
dculberson MegaDork
12/19/19 10:25 p.m.
L5wolvesf said:
dculberson said:

With the 3rd gen, it is awkward. But it's not horrible, and access from underneath is pretty good. You don't need a stepladder like the 2nd gen but anything on the top front of the engine is a pain to get to. Filling the oil is a pain as the oil fill is under the cross-bracing on the car.

It seems like the 3rd gen NA lost a chunk of horsepower vs 2nd gen. Yes?

Lost horsepower versus the turbo but also a ton of weight. A stock 3rd gen will run circles around a stock n/a 2nd gen and isn't that much slower than a stock turbo 2nd gen. Quarter mile times for a 3rd gen are in the low 15s, 2nd gen turbo in the high 14s. 2nd gen n/a does a low-16 second 1/4 mile. Curb weight for the 3rd gen is around 2200 lbs, 2nd gen is around 2600lbs for the n/a and 2800-2900 for the turbo depending on options. I think they're made of depleted uranium or something.

I've raced a 2nd gen on track and it was great but I daily drive a 3rd gen and really love it. Neither one is a bad choice. I just prefer the super light feel of the 3rd gen.

Jerry
Jerry UberDork
12/20/19 11:49 a.m.

I loved both my MK1 MR2's (the SC was definitely fun), and would take another.  Part of me thinks I should own an MK2 before I die.

Tyler H
Tyler H UberDork
12/20/19 12:20 p.m.
Will said:

"Just about all of the mechanical parts are still available..."

If anyone can tell me where to find a new right rear caliper for a 93, I'd sure appreciate it. Not available through Advance, O Reilly's, Autozone or Rock Auto. The websites of the first three will act as if they have it, then tell you it's not available.

Do you have the old one?  A rebuild kit is less than $10.

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise Dork
12/20/19 12:24 p.m.
Jerry said:

  Part of me thinks I should own an MK2 before I die.

absolutely!!! 

 

Nofive_0
Nofive_0 New Reader
12/20/19 2:05 p.m.

Le sigh. I sold mine i August.

It suffered from, I just have too many hours in this, problems. Time for something new. I miss how unique and different it was. I've had 3 2nd gens.

 

dculberson
dculberson MegaDork
12/20/19 8:49 p.m.

In reply to Nofive_0 :

That gray looks fantastic on it!

bmw88rider
bmw88rider UltraDork
12/20/19 11:01 p.m.

Sigh.....My 2G looked exactly like the one pictured. 91T converted to 94 spec w/o PS or ABS. Hated the t-tops but loved the car. So tempted to get a JDM one since almost all of the US ones have T-Tops. One of the few cars I miss. 

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