Campbell samples the everyman Lotus – Toyota’s MR2 Roadster


Author: Russell CampbellPublished:

Having spent the week enviously watching other members of the team troop out to drive their choice of model for our £10k sports car feature, it was a nice surprise to end up with the keys to a Mk3 Toyota MR2.

A few days earlier I had been arguing for its inclusion as a cheaper alternative to the cars on test and Elliott, in a shock move, agreed with me – offering it up as a cut-price substitute for the Vauxhall VX220.

With such esteemed support I was clearly on to something, and so it proved when I took the Roadster out for a spin on an uncharacteristically sunny afternoon last month.

Having owned two original Elans and an Elise, Elliott takes the form of a chain-smoking Yoda when it comes to expressing the virtues of light sports cars. And, straight out of the box, everything I’d heard our leader wax lyrical about made sense in the MR2.

The Mk3 incarnation is the lightest that Toyota has built and it shows. It breezes through the gears in a way that makes other moderns feel like lumbering rugby props, while a pleasing exhaust note accompanies its revy nature.

The benefits of less weight also carry through to the suspension. I’m not going to say the MR2 rides as well as an Elan – no need to give Elliott a seizure just yet – but it is relatively softly sprung, absorbing bumps with panache while keeping a reassuring command of things in the corners.

The MR2 (which has a standard-fit Limited-Slip Differential) inspires confidence and in the dry it’s almost impossible to upset its composure, even at a spirited pace.

As the first mid-engined car I have driven, I sadly can’t compare it to others of its ilk, but the ease with which I grew comfortable with the Toyota serves only to demonstrate its accessibility.

The steering was probably the biggest surprise, light and with bags of communication, though it could feel nervous at first.

In the wet, things were different. The Mk3’s modest outputs – 138bhp and 125lb ft of torque – could, I'd hazard a guess, provoke oversteer, but in the interests of staying employed I was happier to avoid sampling the outer limits of the performance envelope. The balance was there to feel, though.

But does the MR2 deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as a Lotus? I would say yes. Within the constraints of a modern and cheap car, I reckon that it provides many of the thrills offered by a Lotus, but adds to them with an easy-to-drop roof and improved reliability.

Its watered-down Porsche Boxster looks could be better, as could its sea-of-plastic interior – and there’s no boot – but none of these could put me off ownership, especially at these prices.

So, when I handed back the keys to the generous man from Toyota I experienced a glimpse of Elliott’s heartbreak when he sold his baby Elan.

The best cars are more than mere transport – they get under your skin and form a character that make you want to drive them as much as possible, night and day.

That the MR2 shares this quality with James’ Elan is high praise indeed.



Totally agree Russell. When this MR2 came out It did very much seem to be a well built, reliable, water proof Elise, and if there had been a small boot in the front, or behind the engine to suppliment the 'bins' I would have had one. (And I too speak as a former baby Elan, and Mk1 Elise owner. This lack of practicality, luggage wise, led me onto Porsches, where I have stayed for the last 13 years and 5 cars. If Toyota had a re-think about the GT86 rear aero design they might win my custom in the future, if investment income continues to dwindle!



At last, an article about the MR2. The classic car media continues to criminally overlook/ignore the only well built, mass produced, AFFORDABLE series of mid-engined Sportscars ever created! WHY???

As the delighted owner for eight years of a totally reliable and immensely enjoyable second generation MR2, I have been wondering for YEARS as to just when (and with whom) the penny would finally drop amongst you muttering rotters? Is this the moment I've been waiting for?

More features on the three generations of MR2 please. We've seen plenty on the less exotically engineered MX5!


John Harper


Pre 80s TVR

Going off topic a little, I was surprised to see that the Mk 3 is the lightest of all the MR2s. This goes against the way that cars have gone in recent years, has any other car launched in 1980s actually become lighter 20 years and 2 successors later?

Anyway, is one within your £2500 budget, Russell?



TVR Car Club Pre80s Editor

Coventry Climax

Being a grumpy old sod with no interest in anything built since the early 70s (at the very latest) I just can't get excited about the MR2 or the MX5, no matter how good they might be.


Dear CC

Could it be spending all that time trying to get your preferred old bangers to start and stay running that's turned you into a Grumpy Old Sod?

The Joy Of Jap is being able to get into your Sunday Car and actually be able to go for a DRIVE in it after the first turn of the key in a fortnight or so. I cant figure what's not to like...



C&SC have already done a feature on MR2's a year or so ago covering series 1 - 3. Agree they are a hoot, I prefer the original 1st gen myself. Recently looked at a Series 3 for Mrs McKiwi, but she preferred the MX5 in the end.

Russell Campbell

McKiwi is right the full range of MR2s was tested in the April 2011, with the MK3 being described as a 'mid-engined car distilled to its bare essentials', which sounds perfect in my book!

Your not the the only grumpy old sod Coventry Climax, the C&SC office has your kind in it, too! Maybe as the youngest member of the team the moderns appeals more to me than to others. Also, the MK3 fills the brief of a sports car as being both light and (relatively) simple, while the mid-engined makes it a tad more exotic than an MX5!

Pre 80s TVR, yep there are plenty in budget and it was already top of my shortlist before I drove it. Some are up for sale for around £1000, but most of those have suffered from a pre-cat that falls to bits and ends up in the engine. Not good.

I'm hoping to get something around the £2k mark and then fit a de-cat pipe.


In the states the 3rd series has held very strong residual values so I suppose that indicates they are well appreciated here. In general among the majority of enthusiaists badge snobbery is generally less a factor in the USA although we certainly have a 1% wealthy group that worships at the altar of "the great marques".


If you don't go for one Russell, I will happily be the mags MR Correspondent...


Coventry Climax

While I can see the appeal of reliability, Dadio, I just can't get excited about bland modern styling, injection-moulded interiors and a chassis with too much grip.

The MR2 is undoubtedly a good everyday car, but it just has none of the appeal of an older car. Give me a sidescreen TR on crossplies and a box of spanners any day!

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