Robert Bowen
Robert Bowen
4/15/13 8:00 a.m.

How would you like a sleek, mid-engined roadster for the price of a used minivan stinking of spoiled milk and dirty dogs? The Toyota MR2 Spyder may be your answer. As an added feature, it’s built like a Toyota.

The MR2 was the Japanese giant’s most notable on-again, off-again niche sports car. First introduced for 1985, it was an inexpensive, mid- engined two-seater based around the Corolla engine and transmission. A light curb weight and low polar moment of inertia made it thrilling to drive despite its low power and humble origins. A car this fun—and this impractical—was unexpected from Toyota and became an immediate media darling. Sales followed the praise, and the first MR2 sold well during the four years it was available in the States.

The original, sharp-edged car was replaced by a new, more aerodynamic MR2 for 1991. The second-generation model was also larger and more powerful than its predecessor. A powerful turbocharged variant was sold alongside the base model, and its 200 horsepower pushed performance to new levels. Unfortunately, the market was changing. Like the Mazda RX-7, the Nissan 300ZX, Toyota’s own Supra and the Mitsubishi 3000GT, the MR2 was too sophisticated, too expensive and in too small of a niche to win the favor of Japanese automakers. Their halos moved to more profitable, broad-market SUVs and other cars. The MR2 was discontinued after 1995, and that slot in the lineup was left vacant.

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