Some car historians contend that the MR2 was Lotus-designed. This is a reference to the Lotus M90 (a.k.a. the X100) project, but this was scrapped after a single prototype was built. This used the same engine and gearbox as the MR2. At the time, Toyota, along with the Chapman family was a major share holder in Lotus, but General Motors later aquired majority control. Lotus Engineering, a prolific consultancy company forming part of Group Lotus but separate from Lotus Cars, were heavily involved in the designing the 4AG series Toyota engines (in the first MR2s) and the ZZ series engines in modern Toyotas. However, the MR2 was designed by Toyota with Lotus engineer Roger Becker involved on its suspension and handling.
The loose association of the MR2 with Lotus and its mid/rear engine cause it to be compared often to more exotic sports cars. However, some performance car enthusiasts deride it for its lack of four-wheel double wishbone suspension. It is also widely noted that its weight is comparable to a Mazda Miata, despite its lighter powertrain and suspension components. Some take the view that a sturdy chassis is no bad thing, and the MR2 is rarely if ever faulted for reliability or build quality; it is remarkable as a sports car to 'live with'.
The MR2's life began in 1976 when Toyota launched a design project with the goal of producing a car which would be enjoyable to drive, yet still provide decent fuel economy. Initially, the purpose of the project was not a sports car. The actual designwork began in 1979 when Akio Yoshida from Toyota's testing department started to evaluate different alternatives for engine placement and drive method. It was finally decided to place the engine transversely in the middle of the car. The result was the first prototype in 1981, dubbed the SA-X. From its base design, the car began evolving into an actual sports car, and further prototypes were tested intensely both in Japan and in California. A significant amount of testing was performed on actual race circuits such as Willow Springs, where former Formula One driver Dan Gurney tested the car.
Toyota made its SV-3 concept car public in the autumn of 1983 at the Tokyo Motor Show, gathering a huge amount of publicity both from the press and the audience. The car, scheduled to be launched in spring 1984 in the Japanese market under the name MR2, which stands for "Midship Runabout 2-seater" and also refers to the vehicle's mid-engine rear-drive configuration, was to become the first mass-produced mid-engined car to come from a Japanese manufacturer.
The small and light MR2, code named AW11, was something no one had expected from Toyota, known for their economical and practical cars. The two-seat MR2 was definitely not practical as a family car, but the design criteria were different from that of most previous cars. Cars with a similar design and the same concept were the Lancia Beta Montecarlo, Fiat X 1/9 and the exotic Lancia Stratos, all produced in the 70's.The most important features of the AW11 were its light body (as low as 2,200 lb (998kg) in Japan and 2,350 lb (1066kg) in the US), superior handling and lightly powered, small-displacement engine. Toyota's cooperation with Lotus during the prototype phase can be seen in the AW11, and it owes much to Lotus's legendary sports cars of the 1960s and 1970s.
As a powerplant, Toyota chose to use the 4A-GE 1587 cc I4 engine with two overhead camshafts which allowed the use of 16 valves for a better gas flow through the combustion chamber. The engine was also equipped with DENSO electronic multi-point fuel injection and a variable intake geometry (T-VIS), giving the engine a maximum power output of 128 hp (95 kW). US engines were rated at 112 hp (84 kW), European engines at 124 hp (93 kW), Australian engines at 118 hp (88 kW) and Japanese engines at 130hp (97 kW). The engine had already been introduced earlier on the Toyota AE86, gathering a lot of positive publicity. There was also a JDM model AW10 which used the more economical 1452 cc 3A-U engine, but it didn't gain too much popularity. Some versions were also fitted with automatic climate control.
For the 1986 model year, the AW11 went through several changes which affected both its looks and performance. The most important addition was probably having the option of a removable t-top, not available in the US and Europe until the next model year. The exterior was modified by color-keying the bumpers and side stripes and adding small side skirts. Other new options included a leather interior and a four-speed automatic transmission. Some further changes were made to the exterior for 1987, such as new tail lights and wheels, but more notable were the addition of larger brakes and a heavier and stronger C52 transmission which replaced the older C50. The significance of the introduction of this newer transmission is readily apparent today, as the C50 is known to develop a fifth gear popout problem as it ages.
Also noteworthy is the lack of a rear anti-sway bar after 1985 (although the 1989 supercharged model was equipped with one again). Models with the rear bar are considered more valuable to those who enjoy racing. Toyota reportedly continued manufacturing strut towers with the proper rear sway bar mounting tabs until well into the 1986 and possibly 1987 model years, but no actual numbers or cut-off dates are available.
In 1987, (1988 for the US market) Toyota brought a new choice for an engine for people longing for more power. Based on the same block and head, the 4A-GZE was equipped with a Toyota SC-12 roots-type supercharger and Denso top mount intercooler. The compression ratio, valve timing and ports were modified. The engine produced a maximum power of 145 hp (108 kW) and accelerated the small car from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in 6.7 to 7.0s. In addition to the new engine, the MR2 SC was also equipped with stiffer stabilizer bars and reinforcements in the bodyshell to improve rigidity. Unfortunately, this model was never sold in European markets, although some cars were privately imported.
The press received the AW11 with open arms and praised its innovation, great feeling, and responsive engine. American car magazines Road & Track and Car and Driver both chose the AW11 on their lists of ten best cars which included some tough competition, such as the Ferrari Testarossa. The Australian Wheels magazine chose the 1988 AW11 as its favourite sports car. The MR2 was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1985. In 2004, Sports Car International named the MR2 number eight on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980s. The MR2 was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1986 and 1987. This vehicle was often referred to as a "Pocket Rocket". Silver models were often called "The Silver Bullet".
The MR2 went through a complete redesign in 1989, when the new Mark II body was produced. No 1990 MR2s were produced for North America. The new MR2, designated SW20 (in America the chassis codes were SW22 for the turbocharged model and SW21 for the naturally-aspirated model), was longer, wider and heavier than its predecessor and had smoother bodylines. While the AW11 was a pure sports car, made in the spirit of Lotus, the SW20, being quite larger, could be classed as a GT-car. Since the resemblance between the Ferrari 348tb and the Ferrari F355 and the new MR2 was quite striking, the SW20 is sometimes referred to as a "poor man's Ferrari". Indeed, many bodykits became available to make the SW20 imitate the Ferrari F355 with, sometimes, almost indistinguishable results.
When the SW20 went on sale in spring 1989, it was offered with three different engine choices depending on the market area. All engines were 1998 cc I4 engines with DOHC and 16 valves, excluding the naturally-aspirated US model which used the 2164 cc 5S-FE engine. The most powerful engine was the turbocharged 3S-GTE, which was available in Japan at (as the MR2 GT) and the USA at (as the MR2 Turbo). Europeans had to settle for the naturally-aspirated 3S-GE or the 3S-FE engine. The Japanese MR2 GT model was able to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 5.6 s.
Keeping with the unique styling cues of the MK-I, the MK-II was offered with several choices of roof type for U.S. sale. Standard in the line up was a hardtop coupe. Optionally the car could be ordered with either a T-top roof (commonly referred to as the T-bar option) or a moon roof option. The SW20's entry to the market was not quite as smooth as the AW11's. Toyota's goal was to make the car's suspension geometry work the same way that true supercars do. This made the SW20's cornering abilities quite excellent, but it was much too easy for an inexperienced driver to make a mistake, leading to sudden oversteer (also called "snap oversteer") which can result in a spin unless the driver reacts both quickly and correctly. This trait was not considered very desirable among the press, because the MR2, unlike expensive supercars, was priced so that even "average people" were able to buy one. Some magazines stated that the SW20 was downright dangerous to drive.
To respond to the feedback they had received, Toyota changed the 1993 model to include wider rear tires and changed the rear suspension, so that the car would be less prone to "snap oversteer".
The next big change occurred in late 1993, when Japanese SW20s received some small new engine mods for each model. A slightly smaller CT20b turbocharger replaced the CT26 unit, however the CT20b provided better flow and allowed an increase in power. The Japanese market 3S-GE was upgraded to , and 3S-GTE upgraded to . New round tail-lights and a color-coded center panel replaced the old square-shaped lights and the rear grille. The original three-piece rear spoiler was replaced with the lighter one-piece spoiler which attached only to the trunklid. The side stripes and skirts were also color coded, and the "dot matrix" edge pattern on the glass was replaced with a solid pattern. The steering wheel was also replaced with a slightly smaller model, now universally shared across many Toyota models (the "MR2" insignia was replaced with the Toyota symbol). 1995 was the last year Toyota sold the Mk II in North America. In 1996, the front and side signals were changed to use a clear lens but no other modifications were made. The 1998 model, known as the "Revision 5" model, came with more modern looking five spoke 15" alloy wheels, a more aggressive spoiler, and a leather shift knob with red stitching. 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.
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 car.
In order to ensure exclusivity, a high price tag was charged and total of just 35 factory car conversions were completed by Toyota Technocraft Ltd. Each official Technocraft car converted was made using lightweight fibreglass components (in place of heavy steel original parts: front fenders, trunk lid extension, rear quarter panels, gas door, front and rear bumpers, 3-piece wing) and re-classified as completely new cars (with their own specially numbered TRD vin plate riveted to the body to indicate their authenticity and rarity).
The Toyota Technocraft Ltd. TRD2000GT had a 60 mm (2.4 in) wider front and rear track (due to the addition of wider wheels and tires) which improved handling considerably over the original equipment. Virtually every car converted also had other TRD parts fitted too including extensive changes to both the suspension and engine. Most cars left the factory making more power due to TRD bolt-ons, some cars even left the factory boasting up to 500 PS (493 hp/368 kW) and less than 1100 kg (2425 lb) for a very impressive power to weight ratio.While TRD Japan only offered a small number of kits with all body parts required for third-party conversion, Toyota Technocraft Ltd. offered complete car conversions.
Only 3 complete Toyota Technocraft Ltd. cars are known to have been shipped into Europe with only 10 complete cars allocated to TRD USA for the entire American market. This makes these officially built Toyota Technocraft Ltd. TRD2000GTs the rarest of all MR2s and ultimately the most sought after and difficult to find. It is unknown how many original Toyota Technocraft Ltd.(non factory replica) cars still exist today, but it is known that a small number of conversion kits were imported from TRD Japan into the US for USDM Conversions. Now there are officially no more TRD 2000GT body kits sold on the TRD USA website, so finding one may be difficult (The alternative to this kit is said to be the TD3000 bodykit by Extreme Dimensions). In many respects the extended body can be compared to that of a Porsche Turbo widebody. The car track width is extended and body dimensions dramatically changing the cars overall visuals, giving the car a "supercar" look, and also better handling and weight reduction. Very little is known about these cars outside of Japan.
The Sard MC8-R was a modified and lengthened version of the SW20 built for GT racing by Toyota's works team SARD (Sigma Advanced Research Development). The MC8-R housed a twin turbo version of the 1UZ-FE V8 giving out 600bhp. Eligible for the GT1 category, the MC8-R lacked pace against the new generation supercars and homologation specials such as Porsche 911 GT1, but did compete alongside a similarly modified Toyota Supra. Later that year the car attempted the 1000km Suzuka, this time managing to finish. The MC8-R made its first outing in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans where it retired after 14 laps. It reappeared at Le Mans the following year, finishing 24th, the second last position of cars that were still running. The car would attempt the 1997, only for it not to make it past pre-qualifying stage. Two cars were entered in the FIA GT Championship round at the 1000km Suzuka, but neither car managed to finish. It was replaced for the following year with the GT-One.
One MC8 road car was built in order to meet homologation requirements, but its current whereabouts are unknown.
After having been in the market for almost ten years, the SW20 had to move aside as Toyota released the new MR2, designated ZZW30. The new MR2 was in line with Toyotas latest tactic of making more economical cars. The Toyota Supra was scrapped and the MR2 almost received the same fate. The car received a complete makeover compared to the two previous models. One of the biggest changes was the replacement of the solid, T-Top, and sunroof options with a true convertible soft top, giving the car the 'Spyder' designation. Due to a new car design rule from SAE (The Society of Automotive Engineers), the pop-up headlights as seen on SW20 had to be removed.
Many claim that this car was inspired by Porsche Boxster which was released in 1996, due to its similar appearance. However, the first prototype of MR-S appeared in 1997 at Tokyo Motorshow, which had slightly more angled and rigid appearance than the current production model. The production model includes additional curves for a more aerodynamic and appealing look. The MR2 Spyder chief engineer Harunori Shiratori once said "First, we wanted true driver enjoyment, blending good movement, low inertia and light weight. Then, a long wheelbase to achieve high stability and fresh new styling; a mid-engine design to create excellent handling and steering without the weight of the engine up front; a body structure as simple as possible to allow for easy customizing, and low cost to the consumer."
In Japan, the car is called the MR-S, which purportedly is derived from the forementioned designation. Toyota changed the American name to "MR2 Spyder" reportedly because the idea of a car with the nickname of "Mrs." would sound funny. In spite of this effort, the car is referred to as the "Mr. 2" by some enthusiasts. The 1999 MR2 Spyder was an element of Toyota Project Genesis, a failed effort to bring younger buyers to the marque in the United States.
The engine of the ZZW30 was the brand-new all-aluminium 1ZZ-FED, a 1794 cc I4. Like its predecessors, the engine used dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. The intake camshaft timing was adjustable via the VVT-i system, which was introduced earlier on the 1998 SW20. Unlike its predecessors, however, the engine was placed onto the car the other way round, making the exhaust manifold point towards the rear of the car. The 138 hp (104 kW) maximum power was quite a drop from the SW20 GT, but thanks to the lightness of the car it could still move quite quickly, accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.5 to 8.3 s depending on the transmission option, the Sequential Manual being unable to launch and shift as quickly as the clutch operated manual. The car only weighs 975kg (2150lbs) with the 5 speed manual or 997kg (2200lbs) with the SMT, making this model MR2 the lightest of the MR2 series. In addition to the 5-speed manual transmission, a 5-Speed or 6 speed Sequential Manual Transmission (SMT) controllable from 2 pairs of buttons on the steering wheel was also available. SMT is standard feature in Australian market, however air conditioning was optional. After 2003, a 6-speed SMT was an option.
The feedback for the new model was somewhat mixed - some liked its all new design concept, while the fans of the SW20 would've liked it to continue along the path of the previous model. All agreed, however, that the ZZW30 had nearly perfect handling. The ZZW30 is considered to be the best-handling MR2. For example, Tiff Needell, a very experienced race driver and the former host of the BBC TV show Top Gear, praised the handling of the ZZW30. Although some complained of the relative lack of power the vehicle had, many owners have recently discovered a way to switch out the 1ZZ-FE engine in exchange for the 180 hp 2ZZ-GE. This drastically brings up the accelerating properties of the ZZW30. During a comparison test during a Japanese motorsports show, "NA vs. Turbo", the Techno Spirits ZZW30, outdrove several more powerful cars. However, the driver of the ZZW30, Manabu Orido, allowed the other vehicles (a much higher powered S15 Silvia, S14 Silvia, and Amuse S2000) to catch up (in an effort to demonstrate the difference between NA and turbo) and ended in the ZZW30 losing to the higher powered S15 Silvia. Although it lost, the ZZW30 proved the top-class handling abilities of the ZZW30. On race tracks, a stock ZZW30 has a superior handling around the corners but lacks power in the straights.
Another effective and typical modification to the MR-S is the addition of a turbocharger. Many companies such as Power Enterprise, Top Secret, Tom's, TTE, Monkeywrench Racing and Hass supply simple bolt-on kits for the MR-S. This simple addon can easily bring the car to 200bhp+, at only a low boost of 4-5psi. In a video by BMI, Tom's Turbo MR-S came only a split second behind the Techno 2zz MR-S at the touge. However, there is no doubt that the MR-S in turbo guise would easily outrun the 2zz MR-S in the straights.
In the JGTC/Super GT GT300 class, a Reckless MR-S driven by Kota Sasaki and Tetsuya Yamano won the 2005 championship. Previously in 2002, Morio Nitta and Shinichi Takagis' ARTA Toyota MR-S also won the GT300.
The MR-S was originally introduced in October 1999 to the consumer market and received a sequential transmission in August 2000. For 2003, the ZZW30 received some exterior changes, including a new front bumper, front and rear lights, a new rear grille, and the computer also received an upgrade allowing the gears to change and engage much quicker than the pre-2003 models which were equipped with the sequential manual transmission. The air intakes on the sides of the car were now color coded and the interior was modified with new seats and a gauge cluster. The rear wheels were increased to 16" with larger 215 mm tires, while the front ones remained at 15" and 185 mm tread width. The suspension was uprated with new springs and shock absorbers and a brace was added to the bottom of the car to improve rigidity. A limited-slip differential was also available from the factory. For 2004, the body was strengthened, adding 10 kg to the vehicle's weight.
In July 2004, Toyota announced that the MR2 (as well as the Celica) would be discontinued in the US at the end of the 2005 model year because of increasing competition and lack of sales. The ZZW30 sold 7,233 units in its debut year, falling to just 121 for the 2005 model, for a total of 23,868 through its six years of production in the US. However, it is still sold in Mexico, Europe and Japan. The 2006 model year is the last for the MR2, with the United Kingdom getting 300 final models in a special numbered TF300 series. A special 182 bhp turbocharged variant called the TTE Turbo (TTE standing for Toyota Team Europe) is available as a dealer installed package. This package is also available for fitting to older Mk. III MR2s.
For two decades, the MR2 has been popular among enthusiasts around the world, offering an affordable way to experience handling of a mid-engine sports car. Toyota is cutting down its selection of sports cars and replacing them with less aggressive "sports packages" offered on their more sedate cars. Many had hoped that Toyota would continue MR2 production because the leap along the price-axis to the next alternatives (Porsche Boxster, Lotus Elise and Exige) is so large that many enthusiasts would have to settle for a front-engined car, should the MR2 be discontinued. There was speculation that the 2005 model could be a hybrid car. However, the MR2 was discontinued after the 2005 model year. Sightings of Toyota testing a heavily disguised mid-engine roadster led some car magazines to speculate that a new MR2 was in the works.
|Japan MR2 Production car timeline, 1984–2006|
|MC 6 speed|
|MC Rigid Body|