The Toyota MR2 was a mid-engine sports car in production from 1984 to 2007. The name “MR2” can stand for “mid-ship, run-about, 2-seater” or “mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-seater”.
The origin of the MR2 dates back to the release of the economy-conscious 1981 SA-X prototype. Later, this idea was expanded further to result in the SV-3 concept, which made critical acclaim at the 1983 Tokyo Motor Show. It was this vehicle on which the first generation production MR2 would be heavily based. The first generation W10 Toyota MR2 rolled off the production line in Sagamihara, Japan in June of 1984. The MR2 found its way into the North American market for model year 1985 – one year after the debut of another compact, mid-engine sports car, the Pontiac Fiero.
Keeping to Japanese dimension regulations for compact vehicles, the MR2 measured 3950 mm in length and kept its width below the 1700 mm limit. It had a wheelbase of 2320 mm (91.4 in). The engine lineup was also kept compact: the choices for Japan were either a 1.5-liter 3A or 1.6-liter 4A-GE. As for North America, the only engine option was the 4A-GE. The AW11 MR2 was fitted with the first-generation “Blue Top” engine producing 128 horsepower and 109 ft/lbs of torque. American power sat at a lower 112 horses and 97 ft/lbs.
1986 saw the release of the supercharged model in Japan. This new supercharged model was not yet available for North America, so the MR2 lineup had remained unchanged since its 1985 model year debut. The 4A-GZE engine was a supercharged variant of the 4A-GE, and could produce 143 horsepower and 140 ft/lbs of torque.
Model year 1987 saw the upgrade of the 4A-GE engine in American-market MR2s. The unit pumped 115 horsepower, versus the prior 112 horses. Also new were the revised front and rear suspensions and larger brake rotors. North American 1988 models finally gained the supercharged variant. For 1989, all models got color-coded door handles and side mirrors. The supercharged model gained a rear anti-roll bar. Up to this point since its 1985 debut, the North American MR2’s production run amassed 89,246 units.
October 1989 saw the launch of the second generation W20 model in Japan. Despite remaining within compact specifications regarding its increased wheelbase (2400 mm) and exterior length (4170 mm), it appeared large and Ferrari-like. This generation of MR2 has been nicknamed the “baby Ferrari” or “poor man’s Ferrari”. The W20 generation can be split up into production cycles called Revisions. Revision 1 was the 1989 debut model. American production of the second-gen W20 commenced for model year 1991. The USDM base models got power from the 2.2L 5S-FE, an engine shared with the Celica GT and Camry.
The Revision 2 model of 1993 gained a viscous limited-slip differential (LSD) for the Turbo models. The Turbo was essentially the American version of Japan’s GT-S model, which got power from the 2.0L 3S-GTE. Japanese units turned out 218 horsepower while American Turbos got 200 horsepower. These turbocharged models have the VIN code SW20.
Model year 1994 saw the release of Revision 3. Updates included a one-piece rear spoiler, color-coded trim, and an acceleration sensor fitted to the revised anti-lock brake (ABS) system. The Japanese-market GT-S amped up its power to 242 horsepower, while the USDM Turbo retained the prior turbo’d engine still producing 200 horsepower. With sales declining year after year, the USDM ceased importing the MR2 after the 1995 model year – that year, only 382 were sold. Production in Japan soldiered on…
1996 saw the release of “Revision 4” in Japan and Europe. Modifications to the MR2 included improvements to the anti-lock braking, traction control, addition of passenger-side airbags, and turn signals on the fenders. November 1997 saw a slight revision to the final series of this generation, such as clear turn signals, adjustable rear spoiler, and red interior stitching. The base model got an improvement in its new “BEAMS” 3S-GE engine, which utilized aluminum alloy pistons and compression rings made of steel and cast iron. With exhaust-gas efficiency increased, this engine now made 200 horsepower. This generation of MR2 would remain in production until 1999.
October 1999 saw the debut of the third generation W30 in Japan, and spring of 2000 in North America. Although the car stayed true to its mid-engine configuration, it was altogether very different from previous generations. For one thing, the exterior dimensions were altered drastically to provide a different stance and driving dynamics. The wheelbase was extended by 50 mm (to 2450 mm versus the W20’s 2400) and the length and width were reduced to 3886 and 1695 mm, respectively. For another, this generation was marketed differently worldwide; in Japan, it was the MR-S, and in North America, it was named MR2 Spyder. It ditched the coupe body style of MR2s past and produced as a convertible.
Power for the Spyder came from the 1.8L 1ZZ-FED shared with the Celica, pushing 138 horsepower and 125 ft/lbs of torque. For shifting gears, only a 5-speed manual was available until the addition of a sequential manual transmission in 2002. Japanese motorsports firm Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA) entered an MR-S in the GT300 category of the All Japanese Grand Touring Championship (JGTC), which they won 1st place that year. This racing victory briefly proved the ZZW30’s worth amid declining sales figures in the US. The MR2 discontinued American production after the 2005 model year, still being produced as the MR-S and MR2 Roadster in Japan and Europe, respectively. Production halted worldwide altogether in 2007. For what it was, the MR2 was an intriguing car to ever derive from the economy-conscious 80’s into the Japanese sports-car enthusiast community.