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Toyota MR2 Spyder (2001)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 23,098
     Price As Tested                                    $ 23,615
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 1.8 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 109 cid/1794 cc
     Horsepower                                   138 @ 6400 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               125 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   96.5"/66.7"/153.0"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2372 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  12.7 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                185/55R15 front/ 205/50R15 rear
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                     Mid-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                         Two-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.35

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            25/30/27
     0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.0 seconds @ 88.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           120 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

After a long absence, the Toyota MR2 is back. The model it replaced (1991-95) had become too expensive and too high-tech to compete, but Toyota never planned to abandon the true sports car market.

It is built as a ragtop and today there are no plans for a coupe.

OUTSIDE - The shape of the MR2 can certainly be described as unique, with an almost '60s style European sports car look. The large, bug-eyed headlights stand out and the sweeping lines on its sides which continue into a pair of engine intake scoops are quite striking. A wide but low grille sits just below a set of V-shaped creases in the short hood. Louvers on the rear deck lid look like they might be aids for engine cooling but they're only for show. Toyota extended the wheelbase out to the edges of the car in order to open up more space inside. An interesting piece of engineering information is that most of the exterior sheetmetal can be unbolted and replaced if an MR2 is damaged or if its owner wants to use bolt-on aftermarket custom body panels and suspension pieces. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, and are mated to relatively "grippy" but not terribly expensive tires. Most buyers will elect to upgrade to more sporting units.

INSIDE - The interior is no-nonsense, which is in keeping with the sports car genre. The new MR2 has cloth upholstery in one of three colors, large buttons and knobs for the ventilation and stereo are convenient and easy to use, and the small center console doesn't take up much space. The steering wheel telescopes, but doesn't tilt, and the dash top is low, so visibility is good. Anyone, from tall to short, should be able to find a comfortable driving position. A set of competition-style white-faced gauges include a central tachometer flanked by a speedometer on the left and comprehensive ancillary gauges on the right. The form-fitting, deeply contoured bucket seats keep the body firmly ensconced, while storage consists of a shallow, covered box on top of the dash and a fold-down lid at the passenger's knees. Standard features include power windows, mirrors and door locks, air conditioning, a wind deflector behind the seats and a quality AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo.

ON THE ROAD - The MR2's engine is mounted transversely behind the driver. This midships design makes for a nearly perfect weight balance. A 1.8-liter 16-valve four cylinder engine provides the power, and it features twin overhead camshafts which utilize Toyota's variable valve timing technology, called VVT-i, to produce 140 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. This all-aluminum engine is borrowed from the new Celica (but without its 180 hp) and, due to MR2's extraordinarily light weight, gives it excellent performance all the way up to its 6800-rpm redline. Power is good down low in the rpm range as well, thanks to that same valve train, which helps provide plenty of torque at low engine speeds. The five-speed manual transmission is a joy to rip through the gears, especially on twisting country roads that require frequent shifting.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The MR2 is agile and light. It darts through traffic with ease and turns lightning quick. It's possibly the stiffest cars in its class, helped in part by thick box sections along the rocker panels and a tall bulkhead behind the engine. It also incorporates tubular steel stiffeners. Cross braces tie the front and rear strut towers together, making the MR2 solid and sturdy. Four-wheel independent strut suspension gives the expected tight ride of a sports car and it's just short of being so stiff as to transmit every bump and jolt it passes across. The new MR2 is not a boulevard cruiser for those who want to look sporting but still want a cushy ride. It grips corners tenaciously, and gives a predictable outcome when exiting even the tightest turns. Fortunately, it's not a car you have to "learn" how to toss around and when forward motion needs to be retarded, large vented disc brakes with a standard anti-lock braking system (ABS) stop straight and true time after time with little, if any, brake fade.

SAFETY - Dual frontal airbags, ABS and side door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Floor mats, $62.