Why you’d want a Toyota MR2 Mk2
Light, lively and fun in an edgy kind of way, the Mk1 MR2 gained a strong following, but Toyota made the Mk2 (the SW20 series) more grown-up.
It was larger and comfier inside, with more power and more weight.
With Ferrari-esque styling, it was still a real sports car that, in GT form, showed a clean pair of heels to most hot hatches of the time and had few direct rivals.
The slower, lower-powered entry model wouldn’t last long and the optional automatic is rare.
Mid-engined sports cars come with a health warning, though: in inexperienced hands, particularly in damp, slippery conditions, they can catch out the unwary and manufacturers have to balance sharp, sporty handling with reducing the tendency to swap ends.
The Mk2 MR2 was progressively improved through production so the last ones look the best bet – especially because they have 15bhp more than the original GT.
However, that extra power was higher in the rev range and peak torque was both lower and delivered higher up, too.
The result was a car that, if Autocar’s test figures are to be believed, was actually less capable than before and required more effort and gearchanges to give its best.
Was that a deliberate move, reducing torque and moving peak power further up the rev range so that only press-on drivers would discover it? Of course it was…
In Japan, a turbocharged MR2 was popular, with 221bhp at first, rising to 242bhp in 1993. The turbo was also sold in the USA, albeit with an emissions-checked 201bhp.
Quite a few JDM turbos have made it to the UK (badged GT or GT-S) and are enormous fun, with 150mph and 0-60mph in 5.5 secs, though they need careful checking for signs of abuse and past accident damage.
Japanese imports of all versions are common and generally cheaper: they can be a good option if well maintained, but finding correct parts, with different specs, can be tricky.
Modifications are so popular – body, wheels, exhaust, engine, suspension and more – that it was hard to find an unmodified car for our pictures, so every car you look at is likely to be different.
Make sure any mods are to your taste and well executed, or easily reversed – and that they haven’t placed excess strain on other parts.
Mechanically, the cars are durable – rust is what usually sends them to the scrapyard so, with values increasing, beware bodged repairs.
Images: Olgun Kordal
Toyota MR2 Mk2: what to look for
See above for trouble spots on the Mk2 Toyota MR2.
Engine and radiator
For once, a non-interference twin-cam means no bent valves if the belt breaks: the change point is 60,000 miles.
Engines are hugely durable if well maintained, though imported turbos need more care. Check for oil, coolant and exhaust leaks, smoke and big-end knock at high mileages (200k+ for NAs, 100k+ for turbos).
Rust and stones can damage the low radiator, so check for leaks: a new one is a good sign. Uprated aluminium items are available, as are twin fans.
Few original exhausts (such as this) are left. There are many aftermarket options, but some systems can cause undesirable noise levels at speed.
Turn on the ignition, check all warning lights come on, then go out when the engine is running.
If they don’t do both, budget to spend some money.
Condition and quality of tyres give an indication of how well a car has been maintained. Rear brakes are prone to seizing up due to infrequent use.
Toyota MR2 Mk2: before you buy
Even the very best mid-engined cars can catch drivers out in the wet, and poor accident repairs may leave an MR2 driving like a crab.
Look underneath and in the front/rear luggage spaces for signs of accident damage; keep it in mind on the test drive, too.
Suspension top mounts, bushes, ball joints and shock absorbers all suffer with age, also affecting the handling and ride. Power-steering faults are common, though solenoid replacement is often all that’s required.
Engine coolant condition is important (it should be red) and check for leaks around the radiator and the engine (especially on turbos), and for signs of oil in the coolant and vice versa. Coolant leaks can lead to head-gasket failure if they are not fixed in time.
The ‘check engine’ light on the dashboard gives warning of a range of faults from minor to major – if it’s on, or has been disabled, find out why before you buy.
Check all of the electrics, including windows, radio aerial, speakers, mirrors, wipers, washers, heater, central locking and headlights.
Transmissions are durable (and heavier-duty on turbos), but look out for a poor change or untoward noises (whines, clunks or grumbling). The oil should be changed regularly, and check for clutch slip or drag, too.
Test drive with the roof panels in place, to hear unwanted noises better.
A smell of damp or excessive misting upcan be wet carpets from leaking targa sections, which leads to rusty floors and failing electronics: new seals should cure it, but check the damage before buying.
Toyota MR2 Mk2 price guide
- Standard: £500/1500/5000
- JDM: £750/2500/6000
- GT: £1000/3000/8000
- Turbo, 10th Anniversary: £2000/5000/12,000
*Early cars 25% less, late cars 25% more
Prices correct at date of original publication
Toyota MR2 Mk2 history
1989 Oct Production begins: standard 119bhp (optional rear spoiler); GT 158bhp; hardtop, sunroof and T-top body options
1990 Apr UK launch
1991 Dec Rev 2: larger front spoiler, stiffer suspension, 15in alloys replace 14in, power steering, bigger brakes, optional driver’s airbag; GT gets catalytic converter; UK standard car (and auto) dropped early ’92
1993 Oct Rev 3: facelift, tamed suspension, round tail-lights, body-colour mouldings
1996 Jun Rev 4: indicators in bumper, new alloys; 10th Anniversary Special (250, UK only); limited-edition Spider (91 built from 1996-’99 by Toyota Technocraft)
1997 Oct Rev 5: clear indicators, new alloys, adjustable rear spoiler, red-ringed dials
1998 TRD 2000GT wide-body kit and tuning option from Toyota Racing Development
1999 Aug Production ends
The owner’s view
“I used to marshal on the RAC Rally and see Juha Kankkunen in the Toyota Celica GT-Four ,” recalls Colin Male.
“When the Mk2 MR2 came out, I bought one. Then it caught me out one day, I hit a wall and it had to be repaired but the local Toyota dealer did a bad job, so Toyota made them do me a special deal on this one. It’s number 62 of 250 10th Anniversary Special Editions and I have no plans to change it.
“My wife Eileen and I enjoy the MR2 Drivers’ Club and host local meets – we’ve done 78,000 miles in the car and I’ve never tired of the colour or the shape.
“I like the look from every angle, though I did add a silver pinstripe to break up the side view.
“Apart from servicing, it’s needed very little work – it had a new radiator when we were on a club trip to Germany, and it’s had a new power-steering solenoid, but that’s it.”
LOTUS ELAN (M100)
Sold 1989-’98 • No. built 4655 • Price now £5-15,000*
ROVER 200 COUPÉ
The ‘Tomcat’ could top 150mph and dash from 0-60mph in 6.2 secs in turbo form, and the standard 2.0 wasn’t far behind an MR2 GT; it had a T-bar roof, too. Rust has killed all too many.
Sold 1992-’98 • No. built n/a • Price now £2-8000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Toyota MR2 Mk2: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
It’s vital to learn your MR2s before looking at cars for sale because there is so much variation in specification and desirability.
Look at the MoT history for UK cars and check the rot spots really carefully – plenty of shiny cars hide horrors beneath.
Almost all examples will have had some rust damage, and few are repaired properly.
Good cars are worth hunting for, though, so take your time and seek out the very best you can afford.
- Great performance, handling and usability
- Factory options to suit most tastes and endless modification options
- Bombproof mechanicals if well maintained
- Keen, supportive clubs
- Rust can come back to haunt you even if it’s supposedly been repaired
- Mechanical neglect and damp in electrics cause costly issues
Toyota MR2 Mk2 specifications
- Sold/number built 1989-’99/130,732
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc, 16v 1998cc ‘four’, electronic fuel injection
- Max power 119bhp @ 5600rpm to 173bhp @ 7000rpm
- Max torque 130lb ft @ 4800rpm to 140lb ft @ 4400rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual or four-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering rack and pinion, optional power assistance (standard from 1994)
- Brakes 10-10¾in (257-274mm) ventilated front, 10¼-11in (262-279mm) solid rear discs, optional anti-lock (standard from ’94)
- Length 13ft 8½in (4180mm)
- Width 5ft 7in (1700mm)
- Height 4ft 1in (1240mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 10½in (2400mm)
- Weight 2676-2827lb (1215-1285kg)
- 0-60mph 9.3-6.7 secs
- Top speed 121-137mph
- Mpg 25-38
- Price new £19,955/21,493 (GT/T-bar,1995)