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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Feb 12, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Toyota MR2 Spyder


This was the first time that I have tested the Toyota MR2 sports car and I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed the ride.

© All photos by Harvey Schwartz

I haven't really paid that much attention to the smaller sports cars, only testing the newest Mazda Miata because I see so many on the road. I am 6ft.3in. and I like to feel comfortable behind the wheel. After my test of the Miata, which is very tight for anyone over 6ft., I stop testing compact 2-door cars. This year I decided to change and go for a test in a new Toyota MR2 sports car because I am now starting to see more of them on the roads of Southern California . It could be because of 'word-of-mouth' since I don't see or read many advertisements for the MR2. If you turn your ear the right way maybe you can catch the good words being spoken about this compact 2-seat sports car with several exotic car cues that makes it truly unique.

The MR2 is the only affordable 2-seat sports car that offers a real 6-speed sequential manual transmission (SMT). Add to that a peppy, mid-engine mounted,1.8liter, 4-cyclinder engine that makes 138hp, a 4-wheel MacPherson independent suspension, power-assisted rack & pinion steering, 4-wheel vented disc brakes riding on 185/55R15in. front/215/45R16in. rear tires, while sitting in a very well appointed and comfortable interior. What you have is a real honest-to-goodness sports car that weighs in at only 2,215lbs. I said it was affordable with prices starting at just $24,645.00. My fully loaded road test model stickered at $26,645.00.

The MR2 Spyder is a pure sports car based on a concept of low weight and a racecar-inspired mid-engine configuration. It is also a well-equipped roadster with true everyday usability and comfort. It is a budget exotic!

The model name is derived from Mid-engine, Rear-wheel drive and 2-seats. The MR2 is appealing to driving enthusiasts of all ages because it fulfills the definition of a no-compromise sports car. The MR2 Spyder delivers the performance and handling excitement of more expensive sports cars yet with proven Toyota quality and durability. The MR2 Spyder is capable of 0-60mph in just over 7sec. It is also easy to own with low maintenance and fuel costs.

© Harvey Schwartz

The look of the MR2 Spyder up front is bold with big dual-bulb projector-style headlights behind clear lens and integrated standard foglights at the sides of the wide-mouth front intake on the lower bumper. The hood has a good looking V-scalloped in the center from the low front end up to the raked windshield. From the side is a flat-running beltline with a nicely scalloped character line running from behind the air-intake to the flared front fenders. The side air intakes are color-keyed instead of black The rear features a combination of lamps and with cylindrical turn signals and reverse lights that mimic the dual-bulb look of the headlights. The rear grille garnish combines body-color ribs and mesh, to emphasize the midship engine design. The 2in. oval chrome tailpipe accents the car's performance capability, and a retractable power antenna contributes to the car's clean line.

© Harvey Schwartz

Inside, the instrument cluster's white on black graphics use fine gradation in the gauges for a sophisticated appearance. The triple pod cluster consists of a centered 8,000rpm tachometer, 150mph speedo to the left, and fuel/engine coolant temperature gauges to the right. Bright LED readouts warn of system or safety failure. The big Heater/AC control dials also feature similar fine gradations, as well as chrome rings. Chrome also accents the air vents. The newly available 6-speed sequential transmission is also chromed with an easy to grip ball-topped stick shifter. The big door pulls are made of aluminum tubing while the handles and stereo speaker bezels are chrome. All the buttons, dials and levers are within easy reach. The standard aluminum-faced pedals further adds to the neat, race inspired interior.

© Harvey Schwartz

The optional Toyota SMT is a true clutchless manual transmission similar in concept and operation to those offered in Ferrari, Maserati and some BMW models. It is not an auto-matic transmission that merely offers a manual control mode, as seen in performance cars like the Porsche Boxster. With the Toyota SMT, you shift gears by moving the floor shift to the "+"(upshift) or "-"(downshift) positions. Computer-controlled actuators perform the clutch disengagement/engagement and gearshifts as quickly as a highly experienced racecar driver. I took my foot off the throttle for just a second after up-shifting and got fantastic response. It reminded me more like real shifting but with no clutch pedal push.

The electronic throttle control even reduces torque during upshifts and 'blips' the throttle to match engine speed during downshifts. You can also shift gears via steering wheel-mounted buttons-downshift front and upshift in the rear. When you slow down the SMT automatically takes the gears down to second when under 10mph, and first when you are stopped. The SMT provides you with great interaction and performance just like a manual transmission, while the absence of a clutch pedal makes the car more convenient and comfortable to drive in traffic.

The MR2 Spyder is powered by a 1.8 liter twin-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine that produces 138hp at 6,400rpm and 125lb.ft. of torque at 4,400rpm. Toyota Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-I) continuously varies intake valve operation to optimize torque at all speeds. As a result the MR2 provides very responsive everyday performance without requiring high rpm to enjoy sporty and exciting driving. An aluminum engine block with an aluminum-alloy cylinder head helps keep powertrain weight low. The MR2 Spyder gets an estimated EPA fuel mileage of 26mpg/city and 32mpg highway with the standard 5-speed and 25mpg/city and 33mpg/highway with the 6-speed SMT. That's excellent for so much fun getting to where you want to go.

© Harvey Schwartz

The mid-engine layout gives the MR2 Spyder quick, precise steering response because it concentrates the car's largest mass-the powertrain-as close to the car's center as possible. The configuration gives the MR2 Spyder what engineers refer to as a 'low polar moment of inertia'. That means the MR2 Spyder is less resistant to changes in direction and therefore very responsive to steering input. Just a flick of your wrist will turn the car left or right. Just like when you are piloting a real racecar.

The exceptionally stiff unitized body structure, including a rear strut tower brace, and a MacPherson strut based four-wheel independent suspension with front/rear stabilizer bars, give the MR2 Spyder both high-performance cornering ability and a very compliant ride over rough pavement. The rack & pinion steering system uses an electric-powered hydraulic pump, which saves weight and reduces parasitic drag on the engine. This system provides excellent responsiveness and feedback with just 2.7 turns lock-to-lock. The 'staggered' wheel and tire setup further enhances balance and response. The 15X6in. front alloy wheels have 185/55R15in. tires, with 16X7in. alloy wheels and 215/4516in. tires in the rear. Big, power-assisted four-wheel vented disc brakes help to ensure confident braking and fade resistance.

Low vehicle weight does not necessarily mean sacrificing comfort in the MR2 Spyder.

The combination of bolstered, high-backed sport bucket seats and a generous 42.2in. of legroom ensure comfort for spirited, fun jaunts and longer trips. The leather wrapped steering wheel and leather shift knob on the 5-speed manual shifter are traditional sports car touches and impart a quality feel to the interior. The manually operated convertible soft-top quickly folds completely out of sight yet has a glass rear window with defroster. A standard wind deflector is deployed behind the seats helping to reduce air buffeting in the cockpit. There are storage compartments under the front hood and behind the seatbacks giving adequate storage space. The extensive standard equipment includes a powerful 3-in-1 AM-MF/cassette/CD audio system with 4-speakers, A/C, power windows/door locks, electronic cruise-control, dual exterior mirrors, tilt wheel, keyless entry and security system with immobilizer.

Safety is important at Toyota and the MR2 Spyder comes with driver/front airbags, optional side airbags, 3-point seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters, side impact door beams, energy absorbing steering column and energy absorbing front/rear crush zones.

My loaded MR2 Spyder came with a limited-slip differential, power side mirrors, side airbags, electrochromic rearview mirror, tan leather trimmed seats/door trim, and a tan color top.

I was very impressed with the MR2 Spyder and it is one of the best performing and affordable compact 2-seat sport roadster's on the road today. You don't have to 'break-the-bank' to own and drive a near exotic sports car.

© 2004 Harvey Schwartz

For more on Toyota products, go to To see more of Harvey's photos, go to

© Harvey Schwartz


Name of vehicle: Toyota MR2 Spyder Price: Staring at $23,650.00 Engine type: 1.8liter DOHC 16-valve EFI 4-cylinder with VVT-I Horsepower: 138 at 6,400rpm Torque: 125lb.ft. at 4,400rpm Drive configuration: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive Transmission type: 5-speed manual/6-speed sequential shifter Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts with 0.79in. stabilizer bar Rear suspension: Independent dual-link MacPherson strut with 0.50in. stabilizer bar Wheels/tires: 15X6in. front/16X7in. rear alloy wheels, 185/55R15in. front/215/45R16in. rear tires. Brakes: Front-10.0in. vented discs, twin-piston caliper/rear-10.3in. vented discs, single piston caliper. Overall length: 153in. Overall width: 66.7in. Overall height: 48.8in. Curb weight: 2,195lbs./5-speed manual, 2,215lbs./6-speed sequential 0-60mph: 7.1sec.

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