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CATEGORIES (articles) > Donor vehicle information > Toyota > Toyota MR2 since 1984

Toyota MR2 since 1984

Second-generation Toyota MR2 Turbo
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Toyota MR2

The Toyota MR2 was a two-seat, mid-engined, rear wheel drive sports car produced by Toyota from 1984 to 2005. The latest version was called the Toyota MR-S in Japan, the Toyota MR2 Spyder in the United States, and the Toyota MR2 Roadster in Europe.

When said in French, the name MR2 [ɛm ɛʀ ˈdø] sounds like merde [ˈmɛʀd] (fr: shit). Thus, the car was sold there only as the MR.

It is a common misconception that the MR2 was Lotus designed, but assembled and distributed by Toyota. Actually the Lotus M90 (a.k.a. the X100) project was scrapped and Lotus was later bought out by GM. The MR2 was eventually designed by Toyota with Lotus engineer Roger Becker involved on its suspension and handling


The MR2's life began in 1976 when Toyota launched a design project with the goal of producing a car which would be both enjoyable to drive, yet still provide decent fuel economy. Initially, the purpose of the project was not a sports car. The actual designwork began in 1979 when Akio Yoshida from Toyota's testing department started to evaluate different alternatives for engine placement and drive method. It was finally decided to place the engine transversely in the middle of the car. The result was the first prototype in 1981, dubbed the SA-X. From its base design, the car began evolving into an actual sports car, and further prototypes were tested intensely both in Japan and in California. A significant amount of testing was performed on actual race circuits such as Willow Springs, where former Formula One driver Dan Gurney tested the car.

Toyota made its SV-3 concept car public in the autumn of 1983 at the Tokyo Motor Show, gathering a huge amount of publicity both from the press and the audience. The car, scheduled to be launched in spring 1984 in the Japanese market under the name MR2 (initially standing for "Midship Runabout, 2-seater" but later claimed to be "Mid-engine, Rear-wheel drive, 2-seater") was to become the first mass-produced mid-engined car to come from a Japanese manufacturer.

First generation (AW10/AW11), 1984-1989

1987 MK1b T-Bar

The small and light MR2, designated AW11, was perhaps something no one had expected from any of the Japanese car manufacturers, known for their economical and practical cars. The two-seat MR2 was definitely not practical as a family car, but the design criteria were different from that of most previous cars. The most important features of the AW11 were its light body, superior handling and relatively powerful, small-displacement engine. Thanks to these features, the AW11 is considered by many to be very enjoyable to drive. Its behavior mimics that of highly expensive supercars and is easy to control and nimble in its movements. Toyota's cooperation with Lotus during the prototype phase can be seen in the AW11, and it owes much to Lotus's legendary sports cars of the 1960s and 1970s.

As a powerplant, Toyota chose to use the 4A-GE 1600 cc I4 engine with two overhead camshafts which allowed the use of 16 valves for a better gas flow through the combustion chamber. The engine was also equipped with a Bosch L-Jetronic type multi-point fuel injection and a variable intake geometry (T-VIS), giving the engine a maximum power output of 128 hp (95 kW). US-spec engines were rated at 112 hp (84 kW), Euro-spec at 124 hp (93 kW). The engine had already been introduced earlier on the sportier Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno, gathering a lot of positive publicity. There was also a JDM model AW10 which used the more economical 1500 cc 3A-U engine, but it didn't gain too much popularity.

For the 1986 model year, the AW11 went through several changes which affected both its looks and performance. The most important addition was probably having the option of a removable targa top, not available in the US. The exterior was modified by color-coding the bumpers and side stripes, adding small side skirts and a translucent spoiler to the rear of the roof. Other new options included a leather interior and a four-speed automatic transmission. Some further changes were made to the exterior the following year, but more notable were the addition of larger brakes and a heavier C52 transmission which replaced the older C50.

In 1988, Toyota brought a new choice for an engine for people longing for more power. Based on the same block and head, the 4A-GZE was equipped with a roots-type supercharger and therefore the compression ratio, valve timing and ports were modified. The engine produced a maximum power of 145 hp (108 kW) and accelerated the small car from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 60 mph) in 6.7 to 7.0s. In addition to the new engine, the MR2 SC was also equipped with stiffer stabilizer bars and reinforcements in the bodyshell to improve rigidity. Unfortunately, this model was never sold in European markets, although some cars were privately imported.

The press received the AW11 with open arms and praised its innovation, great feeling, and responsive engine. American car magazines Road & Track and Car and Driver both chose the AW11 on their lists of ten best cars which included some tough competition, such as the Ferrari Testarossa. The Australian Wheels magazine chose the 1988 AW11 as its favourite sports car. The MR2 was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1985. In 2004, Sports Car International named the MR2 number eight on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980s. The MR2 was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1986 and 1987.

For more information about the Mark I visit these websites:

Second generation (SW20), 1990-1999

1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo

The MR2 went through a complete redesigned in 1989, when the new Mk II body was produced. The new MR2, designated SW20 (in America the chassis codes were SW20 for the turbocharged model and SW21 for the naturally-aspirated model), was longer, wider and heavier than its predecessor and had smoother bodylines. While the AW11 was a pure sports car, made in the spirit of Lotuses, the SW20, being quite larger, could be classed as a GT-car. Since the resemblance between the Ferrari 348tb and the Ferrari F355 and the new MR2 was quite striking, the SW20 is sometimes referred to as a "poor man's Ferrari".

1993 Toyota MR2

When the SW20 went on sale in spring 1990, it was offered with four different engine choices depending on the market area. All engines were 2000 cc I4 engines with DOHC and 16 valves, excluding the naturally-aspirated US model which used the 2200 cc 5S-FE engine. The most powerful engine was the turbocharged 3S-GTE, which was again only available in Japan at 220 hp (164 kW) (as the MR2 GT) and the USA at 200 hp (149 kW) (as the MR2 Turbo) so Europeans had to settle with the naturally-aspirated 156 hp (116 kW) 3S-GE engine. The Japanese MR2 GT model was able to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in a stunning 5.9 to 6.2 s.

The SW20's entry to the market was not quite as smooth as the AW11's. Toyota's goal was to make the car's suspension geometry work the same way that true supercars do. This made the SW20's cornering abilities quite excellent, but it was much too easy for an inexperienced driver to make a mistake, leading to sudden oversteer (also called "snap oversteer") which can result in a spin unless the driver reacts both quickly and correctly. This trait was not considered very desirable among the press, because the MR2, unlike expensive supercars, was priced so that even "average people" were able to buy one. Some magazines made overstatements where they claimed that the SW20 was downright dangerous to drive.

A heavily modified Toyota MR2 (SW20)

To respond to the feedback they had received, Toyota changed the 1993 model to include wider rear tires and changed the rear suspension, mainly the vehicle's height, shock absorbing properties and a larger rear crossmember, so that the car would be more prone to understeer, thus making it more difficult to push the car into "snap oversteer". Along with the suspension changes, the SW20 also got new 15" wheels to fit the larger brakes that were also introduced. Some shifting problems which plagued the first revisions were remedied with stronger synchronization rings.

The next big change occurred in 1994, when SW20 received all-new engines for each model and some considerable changes to its exterior. For 3S-GTE the use a MAP-sensor, the removal T-VIS in favor of smaller intake ports and the new CT20B turbocharger increased the maximum power to 240 hp (179 kW). The normally aspirated 3S-GE received fewer changes but still improved its maximum power to 172 hp (128.3 kW). Having been an option earlier, a limited-slip differential was introduced as standard on all turbocharged models. New round taillights and a color-coded center panel replaced the old square-shaped lights and the rear grille. The original three-piece rear spoiler was replaced with the lighter one-piece spoiler which attached only to the trunklid. The side stripes and skirts were also color coded. In 1996, the front and side signals were changed to use a clear lens but no other modifications were made.

On the SW20's last production year in 1999, the car was updated with a few significant changes. While the turbocharged engine remained the same, in JDM models the normally aspirated 3S-GE engine was equipped with Toyota's VVT-i system which allowed the timing of the intake camshafts to be modified according to the engine's rotation speed and load. This, and some other changes improved the engine's power output to a respectable 198 hp (148 kW). All models also received new wheels, optional Recaro seats, and a three-way adjustable rear spoiler.

The SW20 has become a major collector's car since the 2003 Ultimate Street Car Challenge win of Brad Bedell and his yellow V6-powered MR2. The 1MZFE motor that comes from the V6 powered Solara and Camry, has quickly become a popular modification as it is relatively cheap and easy to modify to. Some of these V6 MR2 owners have claimed to have been able complete the swap within the price range of $2,500 USD without the labor.

SW20 TRD2000GT

In 1998, Toyota Racing Development offered an official kit body conversion and tuning programme for Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) owners to transform their existing SW20 MR2 into a widebody TRD2000GT kit replica car. This was to pay homage to the wins by their TRD2000GTs in the GT-C Japanese racing series, the TRD2000GT racing series cars where based on the SW20 floorpan. Toyota also did the same with their Supra Twin Turbo model, offering a conversion service to transform these cars into a TRD3000GT.

In order to ensure exclusivity, a high price tag was charged and total of just 35 factory car conversions where completed by Toyota Technocraft Ltd. Each official car converted was made using lightweight fibreglass components (in place of heavy steel original parts, front wings/fenders, boot lid, rear quarter panels, front and rear bumpers, etc.) and re-classified as completely new cars (with their own specially numbered TRD vin plate rivited to the body to indicate their authenticity and rarity).

All official TRD2000GT's had a 60 mm (2.4 in) wider front and rear track which improved handling considerably over the original suspension design. Virtually every car converted also had other TRD parts fitted too including extensive changes to both the suspension and engine. Some cars left the factory boasting up to 500 PS (493 hp/368 kW) and less than 1100 kg (2425 lb) for a very impressive power to weight ratio. TRD Japan never sold body parts for third-party conversion separately (except rear wing), they transformed complete cars.

Only 3 complete cars are known to have been shipped into Europe with only 10 complete kit conversions allocated to TRD USA for the entire American market. This makes these officially built TRD2000GTs the rarest of all MR2s and ultimately the most sought after and difficult to find. It is unknown how many original (non factory replica) cars still exist today. In many respects the extended body can be compared to that of a Porsche Turbo widebody. The car track width is extended and body dimensions dramatically changing the cars overall visuals, giving the car a "supercar" look, and also better handling and weight reduction. Very little is known about these cars outside of Japan.

Third generation (ZZW30), 1999-2005

ZZW30 Toyota MR2
ZZW30 MR2 modified for racing. Note the rare hardtop fitted.

After having been in the market for almost ten years, the SW20 had to move aside as Toyota released the new MR2, designated ZZW30. The new MR2 was, in a way, return to the design concept of the AW11 since the weight of the car was once again dropped below a metric ton and it was significantly smaller than the SW20. The biggest change was, however, the replacement of either the solid or targa top with a convertible soft top, giving the car the 'Spyder' designation. In Japan, the car is called the MR-S, which purportedly is derived from the forementioned designation. Toyota changed the American name to "MR2 Spyder" reportedly because the idea of a car with the nickname of "Mrs." would sound funny.

The engine of the ZZW30 was the brand-new all-aluminium 1ZZ-FE, a 1794 cc I4. Like its predecessors, the engine used dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. The intake camshaft's timing was adjustable via the VVT-i system, which was introduced earlier on the 1998 SW20. Unlike its predecessors, however, the engine was placed onto the car the other way round, making the exhaust manifold point towards the rear of the car. The 140 hp (104 kW) maximum power was quite a drop from the SW20 GT, but thanks to the lightness of the car it could move quite quickly, accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.5 to 7.9 s. In addition to the 5-speed manual transmission, a sequential transmission controllable from the steering wheel was also available.

The feedback for the new model was somewhat mixed - others liked its return to the AW11's design concept, while the fans of the SW20 would've liked it to continue along the path of the previous model. All agreed, however, that the ZZW30 had nearly perfect handling, allowing one to brake into corners and throw the car through the corner in slight drift. The ZZW30 is considered to be the best-handling MR2. For example, Tiff Needell, a very experienced race driver and the former host of the BBC TV show Top Gear, praised the handling of the ZZW30. Although some complained of the relative lack of power the vehicle had, many owners have recently discovered a way to switch out the 1ZZ-FE engine in exchange for the 2ZZ-GE, bringing up the power to 190 hp, drastically bringing up the accelerating properties of the ZZW30. During a comparison test during a Japanese motorsports show, "NA vs. Turbo", the Techno Spirits ZZW30, outdrove several more powerful cars. However, the driver of the ZZW30, Manabu Orido, allowed the other vehicles (a much higher powered S15 Silvia, S14 Silvia, and Amuse S2000) to catch up and ended in the ZZW30 losing to the much quicker S15 Silvia. Although it lost, the ZZW30 proved the top-class handling abilities of the ZZW30.

The MR-S was originally introduced in October of 1999 and received a sequential transmission in August 2000. For 2003, the ZZW30 received some exterior changes, including a new front bumper, front and rear lights, a new rear grille, and the computer also received an upgrade allowing the gears to change and engage much quicker than the pre-2003 models which were equipped with the sequential transmission. The air intakes on the sides of the car were now color coded and the interior was modified with new seats and a gauge cluster. The rear wheels were increased to 16" while the front ones remained 15", and both transmissions received an additional gear. The suspension was uprated with new springs and shock absorbers and a brace was added to the bottom of the car to improve rigidity. For 2004, the body was strengthened, adding 10 kg to the vehicle's weight.

In July 2004, Toyota announced that the MR2 would be discontinued in the US at the end of the 2005 model year because of increasing competition and lack of sales. The ZZW30 sold just 7,233 units in its debut year, falling to 6,254 in 2001 and 4,705 in 2002.


For two decades, the MR2 has been a delight to car enthusiasts around the world, offering an affordable way to experience the marvellous handling of a mid-engine sports car. Toyota is cutting down its selection of sports cars and replacing them with less aggressive "sports packages" offered on their more sedate cars. Many had hoped that Toyota would continue MR2 production because the leap along the price-axis to the next alternatives (Porsche Boxster, Lotus Elise and Exige, Honda NSX) is so large that many enthusiasts would have to settle for a front-engined car, should the MR2 be discontinued. There was speculation that the 2005 model could be a hybrid car. However, the MR2 was discontinued after the 2005 model year. Recent sightings of Toyota testing a heavily disguised mid-engine roadster have lead some car magazines to speculate that a new MR2 is in the works.

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