2005 Toyota MR2 SpyderEnlarge Photo
Toyota’s MR2 already had a following when the third generation, the Spyder, came to North America in 2000. The first generation was praised for giving a light, mid-engine sports car experience and Toyota reliability in an affordable package. The second generation gained weight, but became more refined, better looking car with an available turbocharged 2.0L engine. Then, after 1995, the MR2 ceased to be sold on our shores.
The MR2 Spyder’s design went from the concept car stage, with the 1997 MR-S Prototype, to production relatively unscathed. Only a fabric-topped convertible body style was offered, but like all Japanese roadsters an accessory removable hardtop was available. Power came in the form of Toyota’s 1.8L four-cylinder engines, the 1ZZ-FED, which produced 138 horsepower thanks to using the VVT-I variable valve timing system. Transmission options included a 5-speed manual and a 6-speed sequential transmission which was considered one of the best for its time.
When the MR2 Spyder first came out it was immediately compared to the recently updated Mazda Miata. For shear driving dynamics, the Toyota won most of the praise thanks to its mid-engine handling, steering feel and zippy 1.8L engine which could propel the car to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. However, the Achilles’ heel to the car was its practicality; there was little cargo space compared to the relatively nice sized trunk of the Miata. Because of this, sales couldn’t compete with the best-selling Mazda, and the car was pulled out of the market in 2005.
However, the lack of practicality is a silver lining—they were driven less often and now low-mileage examples are more plentiful than comparable Miatas. Cars with less than 50,000 miles can be bought for $10,000 or less, leaving plenty of money left over for performance parts to create a great track-day ride.