The Knowledge: Why you should buy the Toyota MR2 nobody talks abo

Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.


You have to feel a bit sorry for the Mk2 Toyota MR2, don’t you? After all, its wedgy predecessor and drop-top successor both get talked about far more, with the car that fell between them being seen in some quarters as something of an also-ran.

But that doesn’t mean it deserves to be ignored. Because while Mk1 prices are starting to climb, the Mk2 is still proving affordable – and given it’s a retro mid-engined sports car you can have with turbo power, that means we should probably sit up and pay attention.

It’s a handsome thing, too, from the low nose with its pop-up headlights to the flying buttresses and concave rear screen. But the Mk2 doesn’t only appeal for its looks.

The standard car came with a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine that provided enough poke to serve up 60mph in 7.2 seconds. Brisk enough for most people, but of course the car everyone wants is the MR2 Turbo, whose boosted engine, with 220bhp, punted it to the same benchmark a second quicker.

Of course, the reputation that’s dogged the Mk2 MR2 is for wayward handling, and indeed, earlier cars (known as Rev – or revision – 1 and Rev 2) were a little snappy – especially in the wet. However, the 1993 facelift added suspension upgrades that helped bring the driving dynamics into line; a power hike also meant both turbo and naturally-aspirated models got even faster, and consequently these Rev 3 cars (as well as the later Rev 4 and Rev 5 models) are the most sought after.

Inside the Mk2, you’ll find a cockpit that’s more spacious than either the Mk1 or the Mk3; and with well laid-out controls and solid build quality, it’s as usable as you could wish for. What’s more, the boots – there are two of them – are surprisingly capacious, too.

This user-friendliness, combined with Toyota’s legendary reliability, is one of the reasons the Mk2 MR2 makes such a great thing to own. After all, it’s all good and well buying a modern classic, but if you’ve only got the space or cash for one car, you’ll want it to be dependable and easy-going enough that you can use it every day.

Why you should buy one now

So, it’s usable, modern, handsome and quick; in short, that makes the Mk2 MR2 a fabulously ’90s modern classic that’s well worth considering in spite of its reputation. And as we’ve already mentioned, it’s good value right now.

Flowers sold separately

Flowers sold separately

Prices start as low as £1,000, although as that’ll only really get you an automatic or an import of dubious history, it’s worth spending a little more. Reckon on £2,000 or so to get an average-mileage, unmolested non-turbo car in decent, though not concours, condition; a little more than that should get you a low-mileage car, and at this price point you’ll even find a few Turbos, though they’ll be daggy.

Decent Turbos aren’t easy to find and are often overpriced, but £4,000 should be enough to net you one of these cars when they do crop up – any more, and you’re getting into the territory of more desirable alternatives, so we probably wouldn’t bother.

What to look out for

Mk2s are known for developing leaky boots, either through the seal or the spoiler mounting points, so check for damp or mouldy carpets.

Engines can get tappy if they aren’t well maintained as the cams wear, so keep an ear out for knocking or rattling from the top end. Check for white smoke from turbo models; heat build-up within the engine bay can reduce the turbo’s life, more so on tweaked examples.

T-bar models tend to get leaky, so if you want one of these, budget to replace the seals at some point in your ownership; check the upholstery and carpets for moisture to work out whether the car you’re viewing is already affected.

Mk2 MR2s don’t rust as rapidly as Mk1s, but they still like to go crusty. Check the door jambs around the hinges, the sills, and the rear wheel arches – especially from inside the boot – in particular.

All said and done, though, the MR2 is an extremely reliable modern classic. So if you fancy something a little different – and you’re prepared to see past its reputation – go and give one a try.

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