2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder new car reviews

The Mazda Miata has pretty much enjoyed a competitor-free life for the last 10 years. After all, the original 1.9-liter BMW Z3 was too expensive (and too slow) to be a real threat, the Mercury Capri convertible never caught on, the Honda del Sol was never really a sales success, and the new wave of performance drop tops--including the Honda S2000, BMW M roadster and Porsche Boxster--all cost tens of thousands of dollars more than the Mazda.

Well, after a decade of carefree living in the midst of the new-car sales wars, the Miata finally has some genuine competition in its market segment with Toyota's release of the new MR2 Spyder.

The Toyota MR2 name has been a favorite among driving enthusiasts since the car's first release in 1985. The original was a small, wedge-shaped, mid-engined, two-seat sports car, powered by a 112-horsepower engine, that quickly became a staple in many forms of motorsports, from autocross to professional road racing. In 1988, Toyota added the supercharged version to its MR2 lineup.

The early car's interior was a little on the techno side, but the driver's hands fell easily on all controls and switches--a trademark of many Toyotas.

In 1991, the public received a new MR2, one that was much, much sleeker than the previous model. While the original MR2 resembled the automotive equivalent of a computer nerd, this new car--especially in its 200-horsepower, turbocharged guise--was all athlete. From its Ferrari-inspired sheet metal and turbocharged engine to its awesome handling manners, the new MR2 became a budget supercar for the masses. Unfortunately, rising prices--and few changes in specifications--killed it, and the MR2 disappeared from our shores after the 1995 season.

After a brief hiatus, the MR2 name has returned to the U.S. for the 2000 model year, and it's on a car that gets back to the model's more modest roots. While still clad in swoopy bodywork, the new MR2--now officially known as the MR2 Spyder--is geared more toward the enthusiast of average means, meaning it's lower in price and power output. And since it is a two-seat convertible, the Spyder is a direct competitor for the popular Mazda Miata.

Like all MR2 models, the Spyder is mid-engined, but this time around a 138-horsepower version of Toyota's revvy VVTi inline four-cylinder resides under the rear deck. (This engine is nearly identical to the one that powers the new Celica GT.) That power finds its way to the rear wheels through a typically Toyota-smooth five-speed gearbox, while MacPherson struts are used at all four corners.

The Good

We would have to say that the best part about the new MR2 Spyder is merely the fact that the car exists. As we said earlier, there hasn't been much of a selection in this market segment for the last 10 years. In no way are we saying that the Miata is a bad car, but it's nice to have a choice in this price and performance range.

Speaking of price, the Spyder's $23,098 tag seems reasonable. It fits squarely in the middle of the Miata's price range, but unlike the Mazda, the Toyota comes only one way. (Sorry, this isn't Burger King.) There are no factory options available for the 2000 MR2 Spyder, meaning that the $23,098 price isn't for any budget, stripped-down version.

All Spyders come with niceties like an AM/FM/CD audio system, air-conditioning, tilt steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear glass window and some snappy-looking five-spoke wheels. (One wonders when the wheels will begin showing up on Civics, since the bolt circle appears to be correct.)

Aside from the standard equipment, we quickly fell in love with the MR2 Spyder's driving position. We would have to rate the relationship between the driver's seat, pedals, steering wheel and shifter as nearly excellent.

We also liked the soft top mechanism. The latches are very similar to the ones used on the Miata, but the Toyota's top folds in such a way that it forms its own tonneau cover.

Another plus goes to the car's light weight. In a world where a 3000-pound BMW M roadster doesn't seem like a big deal, we like the fact that the MR2 Spyder checks in at only 2195 pounds, even lighter than the beloved Miata. (The newest Miata weighs about 2300 pounds.)

The Bad

While there is much to like about the new MR2 Spyder, we did find a few sore spots. These items don't ruin the car, but they may be a major issue for some potential buyers.

For one, the automobile has practically no carrying room. Even though they were two-seaters, both previous generations of the MR2 had enough cargo capacity. The fact that there is none in the new car kind of shocks us, especially since Toyota is usually one of the more innovative companies out there.

There is a minuscule storage spot in the MR2 Spyder's front trunk, and Toyota also put another small compartment behind the seats. The EPA measures only 1.9 cubic feet of carrying space, which isn't much larger than the average backpack. You can get a week's worth of groceries into the trunk of an early Miata, while the MR2 would only carry home your groceries if your diet consists of nuts and berries.

And the Ugly

Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, but we didn't find the MR2 Spyder to be the most attractive car ever produced. From the front, it looks a little like those Nick Park cartoon cars that are featured in the Chevron commercials, while its flanks give a new definition to the term "slab-sided." Taken as a whole, it looks a little too much like a kit car for our taste, although Toyota's stylists did do a good job on the tail. (Too bad you don't drive down the road backward--at least not legally.)

Fortunately, once you slide behind the wheel, all other viewpoints are inconsequential. From that perspective, with your hands on the wheel and your feet on the pedals, the MR2 Spyder is beautiful.

Is the MR2 for You?

The answer to that question depends on what you're looking for and who you are. The MR2 Spyder makes a great weekend toy and could be the newest, best thing for SCCA B Stock autocrossing.

On the other hand, this new Toyota probably isn't the hottest ticket for a one-car family, even if that family is just one person.

All told, if you are only carrying yourself and one other person (or yourself and a box of tissues), then go for it. If not, you may try looking elsewhere. Besides, its cartoonish front means you may have trouble looking super-suave while driving it.

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