Top 25 Everyday Classic Cars: 14. Toyota MR-2 W20

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While most MR-2’s you’ll find today have been heavily modified by chavs and other lowlifes, the car was essentially a budget Ferrari; half the performance, half the styling, half the price, but double the reliability!

The Toyota MR2 (or Mid-engine, Rear-wheel-drive, 2-seater) was originally conceived as the perfect driver’s car; a machine that provided performance, handling and speed while maintaining an aura of fun and excitement. It was specifically built to be maxed to the limit and thrown around corners, but at the same time was aimed to be both cheap and reliable when compared to cars of similar performance. The original MR2 of 1984 was likened to the Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer in terms of styling, with the MR2 range being dubbed the ‘Baby Ferrari’.

In 1989, the second generation model, the W20, burst onto the scene with new styling, upgraded handling, better performance and slew of new 2.0L Inline-4 engines that upped the speed and, by extension, the fun. The car was the perfect mid-engined sports care for the masses, styled like the Ferrari 348, but delivering just as much excitement for a quarter of the price.

The MR2 became a smash hit across the globe, a perfect mixture of sporty styling, reliability and performance which appealed to everyone with a less than stellar budget. The car was also a touch bigger than the previous MR2 model, making it a practical little machine as well for people who wanted to use it everyday. The car gave a sense that it wasn’t just some cheap sports car that would only be used to impress the ladies, but was also a car you could take to work and liven up the daily commute with.

The following for these cars is truly something to behold, with thousands upon thousands of MR2 W20’s left on the road to this day; many going for as little as £1,000.

However, while £1,000 for a Japanese mid-engined sports car sounds like the bargain of the century, don’t let the smoke of your burning heart blind you because you could be in for a lot of trouble.

The biggest issue with the MR2 isn’t so much the car itself, as that’s near enough perfect, but the people who’ve owned it. It’s low cost meant that most of these cars ended up in the hands of testosterone riddled youths you’d more often than not find doing doughnuts in empty car parks or racing between the lights. As such, you’ll find most MR2’s of this era have been modified as the owners felt that they needed to add to perfection.

However, their idea of perfection greatly differs from the rest of us as what they considered to be ‘improvements’ ended up instead being a case of not leaving good enough alone.

Whether they were lowered, tuned, had stupid bodykits added, painted vibrant purple or had neon lights stapled to their running boards, some truly butchered examples of MR2’s came to pass during this era of motoring. However, while you’d hope that many of these cars eventually ended up being repo’d by the police and promptly crushed to put them out of their misery, more crudely modified examples than you think still prowl around the streets of Europe.

While some owners have chosen to de-modify their cars and attempt to get them as close to stock as possible and increase their resale value, you need to be extremely careful when it comes to buying MR2’s of this era. A good paintjob and some cleverly worded car-talk may be the tip of a very dangerous iceberg; like plastic surgery gone wrong.

At the same time, the somewhat exuberant driving style of MR2 owners, both in the past and present, means that many of these cars have been through at least one major accident in their lives. While the abundance of spare parts makes cosmetic repairs easy and cheap to hide the damage, underlying structural damage, which can go unrepaired for years, could leave you either broken at the bank or broken into several pieces when the car chooses to disassemble itself right out from under you!

The easiest way to smell out a battle-damaged MR2 is to look at the panels. MR2’s were put together with precision technology on computer aided production lines, therefore any misaligned panels or notable panel gaps are likely the result of a botched repair job after an accident. You may think that a misaligned panel here and there may be the result of wear and tear; the occasional minor bump or scrape while parking or negotiating an especially narrow lane. However, any owner who has even a hint of love for their car would have had these properly repaired either by a Toyota dealership or a trained mechanic, so panel gaps and misalignment should be minimal.

The only other issue of note when discussing the MR2 is its propensity to slide in the wet. The reason why the MR2 was such a popular buy for yobbos trying to impress their girlfriends was because the car has very poor adhesion in moist conditions; having a propensity to spin around or skid out of control when presented with even the smallest of puddles. The best thing you can do is simply drive carefully in the rain and anticipate stopping distances or cornering speeds. My advice would be to find an empty parking lot on a particularly rainy day and see how the car performs on the wet asphalt; just so you can get to grips with your car’s behaviour and know when you’re about to enter either a spin or a skid.

Apart from that, the MR2 is a legend for a reason. It may be seen as the poor-man’s Ferrari by certain groups of enthusiasts, but that makes it no less of a car. It’s a special machine you could use everyday and can easily bring some spice back into your driving experience. 🙂


Scores

  • Comfort – 5/10 – Not sublime, but that’s to be expected from a car of this type
  • Practicality – 9/10 – Rear hatch makes for useful interior space
  • Reliability – 9/10 – If you play your cards right and avoid any bangers, this car is superbly reliable; like a Toyota should be
  • Speed – 8/10 – Nimble and quick, the reason why the yobbos love it
  • Handling – 5/10 – Slides like a bar of soap, the other reason why yobbos love it
  • Looks – 10/10 – Styled to look like a Ferrari and people often fail to see the difference
  • Equipment – 5/10 – A touch sub par, but that’s once again to be expected for a car of this type
  • Price – 10/10 – Grab yourself a minter for less than £3,000
  • Value – 5/10 – But don’t expect to sell it for anything more than that!
  • Total – 66/90 – A classic Toyota and a staple of British subculture.

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