Toyota MR2 (SW20) | Spotted

Toyota MR2 (SW20) | Spotted


Mid-engine, Ferrari looks (ish), Toyota reliability. The perfect blend, and all for less than £10,000…

By John Howell / Saturday, 20 August 2022 / Loading comments

There’s a fella near me with a Mk2 Toyota MR2. It’s a bit scruffy and has a dodgy set of white, five-spoke rims, but he often parks it outside my place and it makes me happy. The MR2’s a car I never fully appreciated in its heyday. Sure, I liked it, but the more I wander past my neighbour’s black one – and the more I’ve studied it, the way you do with old cars you see regularly that become like friends – the more it’s grown on me. Really grown in me, actually. It really is a fabulous-looking car.

One of the very best-looking Japanese sports cars, I reckon. Now, let me qualify that. Sure, a 2000GT is as beautiful as a magnificent sunset in Alps, but those are going up in price at the same stratospheric rate as energy companies’ profits. The original NSX is also a looker and as iconic as Andy Warhol, but there are more than a few of those pushing £100k or more. So if we’re talking Japanese cars that the average Jo can buy – you and I – then is there anything more handsome than Mr. MR2 Mk2?

I like it because it does what Japanese cars do best. It’s a copycat car. A bit of a rip-off design, just like the MX-5 was. Only here the styling’s not a faux British but Italian. It’s very Pininfarina, don’t you think? This is why it was often referred to as the poor man’s Ferrari. Whatever, it pulls off the look brilliantly, which isn’t always the case with fakes. It’s so lovely and compact and there really isn’t an untoward angle anywhere. In fact, the proportions – in terms of wheelbase and length – are just spot on, and sit so right on its relatively dinky 15-inch wheels. Even the details, like the light clusters – an area where Japan’s stylists often become overwrought – look restrained and dignified and perfectly in keeping. Bravo Uchida-san, who is the fella what penned it.

And of course, it’s got those vents in front of the rear wheels. Vents that signify it’s mid-engined. A proper sports car, in other words, in a way that the front-engined, front-wheel drive Lotus Elan from this era wasn’t. Some will tell you that the handling is a bit spikey thanks to the weight being concentrated in the middle. It’s true, it was. But if you go for a post-1993 Rev-2 model or later, that was addressed with longer rear toe links, different anti-roll bars and wider tyres. This car’s even later than that, so I reckon you should be fine.

It also has Toyota’s 3S-GE twin-cam 2.0-litre, with 173hp when you ring out to 7,000rpm with the short-throw, five-speed ‘box. And it’s a non-interference engine, so should you have the cambelt ping the valves won’t be embedded in the pistons, which brings us onto reliability. It’s a Toyota. Look after the mechanicals with a modicum of respect and it’ll never die. The main issues to look out for include stone damage to the low-slung radiator at the front and rust. Rust is the thing that kills MR2s, so check everywhere. The inner and outer sills, the boot floor, around the seatbelt mounts, the arches, the rear subframe and the A pillars.

This one has low miles, which even with Toyota’s legendary reliability is no bad thing. And it’s not red – the paint on red MR2s nearly always fades. The diamond-cut alloys look like they’re due a refurb but the bodywork looks tidy and so does the interior. And it’s leather, which adds an extra element of swishness, as does the T-Bar roof. What a great way to enjoy what’s left of the summer, for not a huge amount of cash.

Specification | Toyota MR2 GT T-Bar (W20)

Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive 
Power (hp): 173 @ 7,0000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 140 @ 4,400rpm
CO2: N/A 
Recorded mileage: 48,000
Year registered: 2000 
Price new: £21,500
Yours for: £9,995

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