Introduced in 1984 during a time period of close co-operation between Toyota and Lotus, the MkI, first-generation MR2 was an angular car with a unique look. The MR2 was a designation chosen by Toyota which stood for ‘Mid engine, Rear drive, 2 seater' vehicle. If France the MR2 is actually designated ‘Coupe MR'. In France the name is shortened to only the MR, as the name MR2 sounds like est merdeux which means ‘terrible, shit and hell' in French. The MR2 is often called the ‘Mister Two'. The MR2 is often compared to more exotic sports cars due to its small size and mid/rear engine.
Some enthusiasts believe that the MR2 was an abandoned Lotus design that was assembled and distributed by Toyota. But this is a common misconception. The Lotus M90 project was ended after a single prototype was designed. Lotus was later bought out by General Motors which ended its relationship with Toyota.
Designed with a goal of a vehicle that was enjoyable to drive, yet also capable of producing decent fuel economy, Toyota began the MR2 project in 1976. The vehicle was not originally intended as a sports car. The placement of the engine transversely in the middle of the car changed this in 1979, when Akio Yoshido from Toyota's testing department attempted to find other alternatives for the engine placement and drive method.
The SA-X was the first prototype in 1981 and was the first inclination that the vehicle would be an actual sport car. Other models were severely tested on tracks in both Japan and California.
In 1983 at the Tokyo Motor Show Toyota introduced in SV-3 concept car which resulted in a large amount of publicity. The designation MR2 was originally meant to stand for ‘Midship Rear-drive, 2-seater' was originally scheduled to be released in the spring of 1984 into the Japanese market. The MR2's claim to fame is in becoming the first mass-produced mid-engined vehicle to arrive from a Japanese manufacturer.
The Japanese have always been known for their practical economical vehicles, which is why the small and lightweight MR2 of '86 was such a surprise to consumers. With a design criteria different from that of most previous vehicles, the two-seat MR2 was not considered to be a practical as a family car. The codename AW11 featured a light body with a small displacement engine that was lightly powered and exemplified superior handling. Much of Lotus' legendary design technique can be seen in the AW11 during this prototype phase.
For the first generation of the MR2 Toyota used the 4A-GE 1587 cc I4 engine as a powerplant with two overhead camshafts. These camshafts allowed the use of 16 valves for a better gas flow through the combustion chamber. The engine had a maximum power output of 128 hp (95 kW) and was equipped with a Bosch L-Jetronic type multi point fuel injection. While US engines were rated at 112 hp, Japanese were at 130hp and European at 124 hp. The first mass-produced 4 valve/cylinder engine this engine had been showcased earlier on the Toyota AE86, much to the publics delight.
Both looks and performance were updated for the following year on the AW11 prototype. The available option of a removable t-top was one of those, along with a modified exterior with color-coding on the bumpers and side stripes. Small side skirts and a translucent spoiler were also added to the rear of the roof. A leather interior was now added to the AW11 along with a four-speed automatic transmission. The exterior was also update slightly and this included new wheels and tail lights. A stronger heavier C52 transmission was added in place of the older C50, along with larger brakes, these were considered the most notable exterior changes. Following 1985 models also lacked a rear anti-sway bar now.
For those wishing for more power, they were rewarded in 1987 with the new MR2 SC. The valve timing, ports and compression ratio were modified also this year. The 4A-GZE was based on the same block and head, and was equipped with a Toyota SC-12 roots-type supercharger and Denso top mount intercooler. This engine was capable of reaching a maximum power of 145 hp. The MR2 SC also received stiffer stabilizer bars and reinforcements in the bodyshell which greatly improved rigidity. This model was never marketed in Europe, though some cars did make private import.
The AW11 was greatly received by the press due to its responsive engine, great energy and innovative nature. Blindsiding the competition, the AW11 was chosen by American car Magazines Road & Track and Car and Driver on their list of ten best cars. The 1998 AW11 was picked as the Australian Wheels magazine favorite sports car. For 1985 the MR2 was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year. Sports Car International chose the MR2 as number eight on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980's in 2004. For both '86 and '87 the MR2 was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list.
A much heavier version, the second generation MR2, MkII came with a larger wheelbase, 94.5 in wheelbase, and designed with a much more graceful body shape. The MkII also had larger powerplants than the previous model. Almost completely hand built, Toyota subcontracted the building to Yamaha who produced them at a build rate of about 2000 per month.
Receiving a complete new redesign in 1989, the second generation of MR2 was produced on the new Mark II body. Designated as SW20, the new MR2 was a much wider, longer, heavier model than the previous generation. The new model also featured smoother bodylines. Considered to be a pure sports vehicle, the AW11 was created in the spirit of Lotus while the SW20 more closely related as a GT-car. The MR2 closely resembled the Ferrari 348tb and Ferrari F355, and because of this, the SW20 was at times referred to as a ‘poor man's Ferrari'.
Featured in the spring of 1990, the SW20 was available with four different engine choices dependent on the market area. These engines were 1998 cc I3 engines with DOHC and 16 valves, which excluded the naturally-aspirated US model which utilized the 2164 cc 5S-FE engine. The turbocharged 3S-GTE was the most powerful engine available.
The MK-II was available with various options in roof type for U.S. sale, much like the Mk-I. The hardtop coupe was standard in the lineup, with the option of the vehicle being ordered with either a T-top roof or a moon roof option. Unfortunately the T-top option on early model MK-II vehicles had a reputation for leaks after several years of operation.
Unable to hit the market as smoothly as the AW11, the SW20 came with excellent cornering abilities, but the penchant for inexperienced drivers to make a mistake, leading to sudden oversteer. Unless the driver was quite adept at reacting both quickly and correctly, this would result in a spin. The MR2 was priced affordably so that even ‘average people' could purchase the sports car, so the press did not consider this trait to be a desirable one due to its level of danger.
Due to this negative feedback from the press, Toyota chose to change the '93 model to include wider rear tires and an updated rear suspension. The car was now less capable of over-steering due to the vehicle's height, shock absorbing properties and longer rear toe links. The SW20 also received new 15' wheels which fit better with the larger brakes along with the new suspension updates. Stronger dual synchronization rings were also added from 1990 to 1992 to compensate for shifting problems which affected the first revisions.
In 1994 the Japanese SW20's received all new engines for each individual model along with considerable exterior changes. The 3S-GTE was swapped to the use of a MAP-sensor for Japanese market vehicles. The T-VIS was also removed for smaller intake ports and new Ceramic CT20b turbocharger which ran an increased turbo boost pressure which increased the maximum power to 245 PS. Few changes were received on the normally aspirated 3S-GE though it was still improved its maximum power to 172 hp.
The 200hp variant was received in the US market from '91 to '95. The old square-shaped lights and the rear grille was replaced with new round taillights and a color-coded center panel. A lighter one-piece spoiler, attached only to the trunk-lid was new replacement for the original three-piece rear spoiler. Also newly color coded was the side stripes and skirts and the solid patter replaced the ‘dot matrix' pattern on the glass. A slightly smaller steering wheel replaced the one from before, and now the Toyota models were universally shared across many models. At this same time the ‘MR2' insignia was replaced with the Toyota symbol.
1995 was the final year that Toyota sold the Mk II in North America. Clear lens were updated in the front and side signals the following year, but these were the only modifications made. The ‘Revision 5' model was released in 1998 and featured 5 spoke 16' alloy wheels, a spoiler that was much more aggressive, and a red style baseball stitching and a leather shift knob.
1999 was the final year for production on the SW20. The car featured few significant changes, while the turbocharged engine remained the same. JDM models, the normally aspirated 3S-GE engine came equipped with Toyota's VVT-i system which allowed the timing of the intake camshafts to be modified according to the engine's rotation speed and load. The engine's power output was improved to 198 PS (148 kW).
On the SW20's last production year in 1999, the car was updated with a few significant changes. While the turbocharged engine remained the same, in JDM models the normally aspirated 3S-GE engine was equipped with Toyota's VVT-i system which allowed the timing of the intake camshafts to be modified according to the engine's rotation speed and load. This, and some other changes improved the engine's power output to a respectable 198 PS (148 kW). All models also received new wheels, optional Recaro seats, and a three-way adjustable rear spoiler.
The SW20 has become a major collector's car since the 2003 Ultimate Street Car Challenge win of Brad Bedell and his yellow V6-powered MR2. The 1MZ-FE motor, that comes from the V6 powered Solara and Camry, has quickly become a popular modification as the expense of switching to the V6 motor is roughly in line with installing a turbocharged motor into a formerly naturally aspirated vehicle.
The newest version of the MR2 was the MK3 MR2 or MR-S, the third generation of the vehicle. In Japan the vehicle is known as Toyota MR-S, in the U.S. the Toyota MR2 Spyder, and in Europe as the Toyota MR2 Roadster. Weighing just under a ton, the MR-S was a lightweight car that could reach 0-60 in 7.6 second and a 1794cc engine that produced just 138bhp. Inspired by the success of the Lotus Elise, the MkIII was a vehicle with style, quality and great desirability.
The newest MR2, designated the ZZW30 was a return to the design concept of the AW11 as the weight of the car was reduced to just under a metric ton, and significantly smaller than the SW20. The replacement of the solid, T-Top, along with sunroof roof options with a true convertible soft top was the largest change. This gave the car the ‘Spyder' designation. The pop-up headlights found on the SW20 were removed due to the new car design rule from SAE (the Society of Automotive Engineers).
Seemingly inspired by the 1996 Porsche Boxster which looked very similar to the ZZw30 the first prototype of the MR-S actually appeared in1997 at the Tokyo Motorshow. This first prototype was more slightly angled and had a rigid appearance in comparison to the current production model. Additional curves for a more aerodynamic look the production model was featured as a much more appealing vehicle.
The model was called MR-S in Japan, a derivation from the aforementioned designation. The American name was changed by Toyota to ‘MR2-Spyder'. An element of Toyota Project Genesis, the 1999 MR2 Spyder was a failed attempt to bring younger buyers to the marque in the U.S.
The ZZW0 sported an engine with the brand-new all-aluminum 1ZZ-FED, a 1794 cc I4. Similar to models before, the engine used dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. Introduced earlier on, the ‘98 SW20 had the VVT-i system that was adjustable to the intake camshaft's timing. The engine was placed onto the car the other way round, unlike previous models, which made the exhaust manifold point towards the rear of the car. The car was light, and accelerated quickly, which made up for the 138 hp maximum power a drop from the SW20 GT. The car could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.0 to 8.3 s depending on the transmission option. Only weighing 975 kg (2150lbs), with the 5 speed manual, or 997kg (2200lbs) with the SMT. This MR2 model was the lightest of the MR2 series. SMT was a 5-speed or 6-speed Sequential Manual Transmission controllable from two pairs of buttons on the steering wheel was an available option in addition to the 5-speed manual transmission. Air conditioning was optional, and SMT was a standard feature in the Australian market. The 6-speed SMT was an option after 2003.
The response for the vehicle was somewhat mixed. Many preferred its return to the AW11's design concept, while others that enjoyed the SW20 wanted this new model to continue along the same path of the previous model. All were in agreement that the ZZW30 had basically perfect handling that allowed one to brake into corners and throw the vehicle through the corner in slight drift. Considered by all, the ZZW30 was the best-handling MR2 yet.
Toyota announced in July of 2004 that the MR2, along with the Celica would be discontinued in the US at the end of the '05 model year. This decision was made due to the increasing competition and lack of sales. A total of 7,333 ZZW30 units were sold during its debut year.
For more than 20 years the MR2 has been an exciting addition to Toyota's lineup. It was an affordable way of experiencing a mid-engine sports vehicle.By Jessica Donaldson