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FMC Feature Car: Toyota MR2

Here at FitMyCar, it’s no secret that we love a good old fashioned mid-engined drivers car. We’ve already featured the Honda NSX in a previous article, which was a pioneering Japanese sports car which showed the world that Japan could match it with the likes of Ferrari. The NSX was not Japan’s first foray into the mid-engined sports car however. That came 6 years earlier at the hands of Toyota. 

In the early 1980’s as Toyota began to look into alternative drive line formats and car layouts, they decided on a mid-engined rear-wheel drive platform for a new economical car that handled well. In 1984, this was released as the MR2.

The first-generation model (known by its body code of AW11) was an instant success, winning Japan’s Car of the Year upon its release. Just as the legendary Aryton Senna helped to develop the NSX, another iconic race car driver in Dan Gurney was utilised for testing and development of the Toyota. The result was a strong-handling small car which due to its low weight (as little as 950kg) was more than fast enough. The AW11 utilised Toyota’s iconic 1.6 litre naturally aspirated 4AGE engine which had previously found a home in their much loved AE86 of Initial D fame. While this may not have given the MR2 the breakneck top-speed of the NSX, it certainly gave it a high-revving engine which was at home on twisting mountain roads. In 1986 a supercharged variant was released which increased output from a modest 88kw to a more than capable 108kw.

There’s little point in continuing to compare the NSX and MR2. In reality these cars shared the same engine layout but little else. The NSX was engineered for speed with handling coming almost as an afterthought at the hands of Senna, while the MR2 was never developed with outright speed in mind. Toyota weren’t trying to compete with the European heavyweights but instead aiming to create an affordable sports car which was cheap and reliable enough to drive around town. With the help of Lotus engineer Roger Becker, the MR2’s  handling was it’s top priority.

1989 saw the release of the second generation MR2 (known as the SW20). While the design was a little larger and beefier than the previous model it abandoned the hard-angled wedge designs of the 80s and welcomed a much more sleek and flowing design. Borrowing a number of design cues from significantly more expensive vehicles of the time, the SW20 was often referred to as the “Baby Ferrari”. 

While a little heavier, suspension geometry was improved to ensure that this generation kept the handling DNA which made the original such a success. While earlier 2nd-gen models could be susceptible to snap over-steer (when the rear can be prone to losing traction and control while cornering) Toyota continued to fine-tune the suspension in an effort to eradicate it on later models.

The biggest improvement in the SW20 came from its displacement. It needed a special engine to replace the mighty 4AGE, however the new 3SGE (co-developed with Yamaha) was up to the task. The NA 2.0 litre was just as happy at high revs, and if looked after they are regarded as an incredibly reliable engine. Instead of a supercharged alternative, the SW20 was released with a top-spec turbocharged variant. This gave the MR2 163kw and the one thing it had always lacked – serious speed. The turbo model (badged the GT or GT-S) was able to complete a standing start quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds which was faster than the Honda NSX, Toyota Supra RZ and even the Ferrari 348 it was often compared to. 

The Third generation MR2 (known as the Spyder) was released in 1999 and ditched the T-top for a more conventional removable soft-top. Power output was lowered, and a softer-look reflected a car less focused on enthusiasts but instead the youth-market in general. The Spyder is not a bad model by any means and still packs a punch, however as a true drivers-car, it is not comparable to the first two iterations.

This 1995 Toyota MR2 Bathurst in Dark Emerald Pearl is quite a special example. The reason being, in that it is owned by myself. The MR2 is a car which I have truly dreamed about since my adolescence and finally buying one was most-definitely a tick off the bucket list. The 100% original example is one of few left in the country that remain in such untouched condition. Mechanically A1 and with only 121,000 kilometers on the engine, I’m confident this one is a keeper. The car is fantastic on the road, and really does give you the sense that it’s been engineered for the enthusiast. I’ve driven many cars through the various lines of automotive work I’ve enjoyed, but I can’t say I’ve ever driven a car like this. Every piece gives you the feeling that it’s been designed with spirited driving in mind. 

The cherry on top of purchasing this model was finding it came with a set of FitMyCar floor mats inside it. If you’re like myself and lucky enough to own an SW20, take it from me and get a set for yourself!

Nick Williams

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