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Toyota MR2 Spyder (2000)

by Carey Russ

The original Toyota MR2 coupe was a success story when it was introduced in 1985. It brought exotic-car mid-engine, rear- wheel drive chassis specification and handling to the real world. Light weight, combined with an energetic but not overpowering 1.6-liter, 112-horsepower engine gave it quick acceleration to go with its nimble handling. Its combination of style, performance, and value was just what sports car buyers wanted.

But, as time went by, the MR2 grew. More power, more weight, more complexity, more money. A supercharged version was offered in 1988. The second-generation MR-2, introduced in 1991, had exotic car looks and rather amazing performance capability, especially in 200-horsepower turbo form. It could also have a rather amazing price - the last MR2 I tested, in 1995, was pushing up against $30,000. Like many other high-tech, high- performance Japanese sports cars of the day, the MR2 exceeded what the market wanted, and disappeared from the American scene.

But, there is a new mid-engined sports car from Toyota. It has the MR2 name and a mid-engined chassis design, but it is really a completely different car. It is a car very much in the back-to- basics spirit of the original MR2. Unlike the original MR2, the new one is a convertible, the MR2 Spyder. Toyota is bringing 5000 of them into the U.S. for the 2000 model year to test demand.

"Simplicity" seems to be the key word for the new MR2 Spyder. There is one model, one drivetrain, one trim level, and six exterior and three interior colors. The standard equipment list is extensive, and the only options are dealer-installed accessories including a tonneau cover, front protective mask, and wheel locks.

Don't think that means Toyota skipped on the fun. The Spyder's 1.8-liter engine makes more horsepower than the last MR2's non- turbo 2.2-liter, 138 to 135, and benefits from VVT-i variable valve timing as well. I've just spent a sunburned week in one. I'll be sorry to see it go away, it's been a joy to drive just about anywhere.

APPEARANCE: The new MR2 Spyder combines contemporary and classic design cues for a distinctive appearance. The friendly- looking front face is heavily influenced by contemporary Japanese animation, while the rear, with its louvered deck lid and mesh grille, is reminiscent of some Italian sports-racers from the 1960s. While the air vents behind the doors have been compared to those of a certain contemporary German sports car, the MR2 is closer to that car's ancestor in overall shape - just round off the edges and corners. It's a very functional, minimalist design.

COMFORT: Because of its relatively long wheelbase, there is more passenger room inside of the MR2 Spyder than you might expect. But, no matter how tall you are, you'll sit way down inside. It's not at all claustrophobic, and visibility is average for a convertible - great with the top down, and less so with it up, although a large heated glass backlight ensures decent visibility even then. The top is manually-operated, and a bit trickier than some but still quick and convenient. Two manually-adjustable, well-bolstered, cloth-covered high-backed sports seats provide comfortable accommodation for driver and passenger, but the luggage capacity makes airlines look generous. There are small storage areas in the doors and in the instrument panel, and a locking glove box. A small locking area behind the seats and a little room in front above the spare tire are it for storage. This is a sports car, not a minivan. Pack light. Golf clubs are not in the program, driving gloves are. The thick-rimmed tilt-adjustable steering wheel and shift knob are placed just right, and the seats provide plenty of support, and the aluminum-trimmed pedals complete the contemporary sports ambiance. But it's not Spartan at all, with standard equipment including power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD stereo.

SAFETY: The MR2 Spyder has many active safety features including good acceleration and handling and four-wheel antilock vented disc brakes. The passenger side airbag may be disabled in order to carry a child seat.

ROADABILITY: Handling is what makes a sports car a sports car, and there is not doubt that the MR2 Spyder is a serious sports car. With rear-wheel drive, the concentration of mass within the wheelbase that is the hallmark of its mid-engined design, and a low center of gravity, the MR2 Spyder turns in quickly and easily, sticks extremely well, and gets its power to the road. The tires may seem small, but are well-suited to the car's mass and power and don't "tramline", or follow rain grooves on the highway. Because of its relatively wide track and long wheelbase, the Spyder has good straight-line stability, although its light weight is apparent in strong winds.

PERFORMANCE: The MR2 Spyder's 1.8-liter twincam four- cylinder engine is shared with the new Celica GT, but the MR2 is 200 lbs. lighter. Its 138 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque may not seem like much by today's standards, but there is only 2200 lbs. to move. Toyota's "VVT-i" variable valve timing system gives the engine great flexibility, with good low-rpm torque, plenty of midrange power, and a heady top-end rush. It has a classic four- cylinder burble at low speeds, and a contemporary race-car scream at the top. The five-speed manual gearbox has excellent linkage for fast, smooth shifts, and control effort is very light. Toyota has definitely found the formula for fun with the new MR2 Spyder.

CONCLUSIONS: The new MR2 Spyder has the spirit of the original coupe in contemporary roadster form.

2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder

Base Price                $ 23,098
Price As Tested           $ 23,615
Engine Type               dual overhead cam inline four-
                            cylinder with VVT-i variable valve timing
Engine Size               1.8 liters / 109 cu. in.
Horsepower                138 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)            125 @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission              5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length        96.5 in. / 153.0 in.
Curb Weight               2,195 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower     15.9
Fuel Capacity             12.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement          unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                     Bridgestone Potenza RE040 185/55 
                            VR15 front, 205/50 VR 15 rear
Brakes, front/rear        vented disc / vented disc
Suspension, front/rear    MacPherson strut / Chapman strut
Drivetrain                transverse mid-engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      25 / 30 / 25
0 to 60 mph                   6.9 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)              15.7 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)      0.35

carpet floor mats          $  62
Destination charge         $ 455