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SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

Pure two-seat sports cars are a rarity these days, and they are about to get rarer. 1995 is the last year of American availability for Toyota's spunky little MR2. The MR2 is the only affordable mid- engined sports car currently for sale in this country, and one of the best-handling and most enjoyable cars presently made. But times, fashions, and consumer needs change. It costs a lot to sell a car in the U. S. If too few people buy it, it will be withdrawn from the market. So, if you've had your eye on a new MR2, buy now or forever hold you peace.

The MR2 was introduced in 1985, at the height of the hedonistic Eighties. It was the perfect entry- level sports car for that sports car-embracing time. It had the mid-engined layout of the high-dollar exotics and Toyota price and quality. Its distinctive angular styling was visually appealing and its 1.6-liter 112- horsepower engine combined spirited performance with good fuel economy. It was an instant sales success.

Mister Two, as it was nicknamed, grew in performance and price over the next few years. Performance got serious with the introduction of a supercharged version in 1988. The 1991 model year saw the introduction of the second generation MR2. This car, the current version, was a bit larger, better appointed, and featured new rounded styling and the choice of 2.2-liter normally-aspirated or 2-liter turbocharged engines. It was positioned somewhat higher up the socioeconomic scale than its predecessor, and was and is an excellent entry-level grand touring car. The MR2 got suspension upgrades and a minor face lift for 1993, and continues in that form today.

We spent a week in a non-turbo MR2 as a way of saying goodbye to an old friend.

APPEARANCE: The MR2 looks like a baby exotic. From the front it is very Toyota, with an oval air intake and pop-up headlights. Side and rear views have an Italian flavor. The 15-inch wheels introduced in 1993 give Mr. 2 just that little bit of aggressiveness needed in style and help the handling, too. The car's transverse mid-engine design makes for efficient space utilization with short overhangs. Our metallic gray example got plenty of compliments from bystanders.

COMFORT: The MR2 is a driver's car, and it is designed to keep its occupants relaxed and aware. Entrance and egress are surprisingly easy for a 4-foot high sports car. Inside, the driver is presented with legible instrument panel, thick, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, a left foot rest, and a slick-shifting gearshift lever. The seats provide good lateral support. As the hoary old sports car clich‚ says, the controls fall readily to hand. The air conditioner cools the cabin immediately, with no adverse effect on power. There is a surprising amount of storage space in the MR2. Soft luggage can fit in the front spare tire compartment. Inside are map pockets in the doors, a locking glove box, and a locking compartment behind the seats. Behind-the-seat storage is inversely proportional to occupant height, and people over six feet in height will feel cramped. The trunk will hold two sets of golf clubs or an equivalent amount of luggage.

SAFETY: The MR2 has the full complement of active and passive safety equipment. On the active side, excellent maneuverability, good power, and four-wheel vented disc brakes, optionally antilock, help avoid trouble. Driver and passenger air bags, height-adjustable shoulder straps, and impact-protection beams in the doors enhance passive safety.

ROADABILITY: The primary purpose of a sports car is pleasurable driving, and the MR2 excels at this. Handling is exemplary. The all-independent suspension and good weight distribution provide excellent cornering characteristics and ability along with a comfortable, well-damped ride. The last MR2 is a near- perfect sports car with quite possibly the best fun-for-the-dollar rating on four wheels today. It is a small, maneuverable urban warrior. During a recent comparison event at Sears Point Raceway we found that the only cars that felt better at speed cost two or three times as much.

PERFORMANCE: The non-turbo MR2's 2.2-liter, twincam, 16-valve engine produces 135 horsepower. It is not nervous or peaky at all. There is plenty of power at all engine speeds, with healthy midrange. The 5-speed manual transmission on our test car shifted quickly and smoothly and added to the pleasure of driving the car. A 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission is available. The normally- aspirated MR2 is a very well-balanced automobile.

CONCLUSIONS: There is a time for everything, and the time for sports car popularity seems to have passed. When the current inventory of Toyota MR2s is gone, there will be no more for the American market. Get it while you can.


       Base Price             $ 23,568     
       Price As Tested        $ 27,347
       Engine Type            I-4, dohc - 16v, efi
       Engine Size            2.2 liter/132 cid 
       Horsepower             135@ 5400
       Torque (ft/lbs)        145 @ 4400
       Wheelbase/Length        95"/164"
       Transmission           five speed manual  w/overdrive
       Curb Weight            2660 lbs.
       Pounds per Horsepower  19.7
       Fuel Capacity          14.3 gal.
       Fuel Requirement       Unleaded regular (87 oct)
       Tires                  Yokohama A022
                              Front - 195/55R15  
                              Rear  - 225/50R15
       Brakes                 vented disc/vented disc, ABS optional
       Drive Train            Mid-engine/rear drive
       EPA Economy - miles per gallon
         city/highway/observed     22/29/26.7
       0 to 60 mph                 7.9 sec
       1/4 mi (E.T.)               16.3 sec
       Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)   0.34