The Toyota MR2

Mid Engined, Rear Wheel Drive, 2 Seater …….. The exotic sounding formula which has been at the heart of the Toyota MR2 throughout it’s production.

Whilst the body shapes, engines, interiors, aspirations, geometries and just about everything else changed along the way, that M-R-2 formula remained constant.

Each marque is very distinguishable individually, very much “of the era” and each has it’s own loyal band of followers who will gladly state the reasons why their marque of choice is “the one to have” ! This is all part of the friendly rivalry that exists which not only serves to increase each individuals passion for their own version, but also makes club membership such an engaging place to be.

The Mk1

The Mk1 entered the world in 1984 and joined the sporty Toyota line up of the time which already had the Celica and the Supra on sale.  The immediate success of this car was recognised by being voted “Japan’s Car of the Year” for 1984-85 and was widely praised in press reports at the time for it’s “lithe athleticism” and “overriding sense of fun”.

It was small and very light : powered along by a 122bhp twin-cam engine, it could reach 124 mph and a 0-60 time of 8.2 seconds. This was later joined by a headlining super-charged unit producing 145bhp.

Shell options included a T-Bar roof which was a particular rarity in the UK.

With its sharp, straight lines and pop up lights, this car absolutely shouts “80’s” ……. in every way that was good. This was very much, a car of the era.

With the end of the 80’s drawing close and a new decade arriving, a new look was about to emerge in the shape of the Mk2.

The Mk2

The design brief for the Mk2 was to raise the game. A more stylish design, better quality interiors and bigger, more powerful engines were all on the list of “must haves”.

By no coincidence, the finished design bore more than a passing resemblance to scaled down Italian exotica. Where the Mk1 was sharp and straight, the Mk2 was curved and sculpted and instantly looked like a car for the new decade.

During this transformation, it gained size, weight and power with a variety of engine versions being available starting out with a base 119 bhp unit up to 225 bhp turbo.

The Mk2 intentionally retained the original Mk1’s intimacy and finesse but was reported to be “an altogether bolder assault on the senses”.

It retained the pop up lights and T-Bar roof options which were still a rarity in any other car.

The Mk2 enjoyed a 10 year production run and went through 5 revisions along the way, each with its own enhancement / update, however, like the Mk1 before it, trends and tastes were changing with a new decade around the corner.

The Mk2 was again, very much a car of the era and is unmistakably a 90’s car but with the 90’s drawing to an end, a new dawning was around the corner. A new decade and also a new century. The last of the Mk2’s was about to make way for the all new, and very different Mk3 : an MR2 for the 21st Century.

The Mk3

The Mk3 concept was to break “the cycle of growth” which seemed to occur everywhere else in successive vehicle generations, indeed just as it had from Mk1 to Mk2.

Everything about the Mk3 would be smaller than the Mk2 : overall proportions, engine size, power, weight and crucially, price. It was also made simpler to produce with all markets sharing a similar specification rather than geographical selection …… and it lost those pop up lights !

The Mk3 is known by different names globally. In the UK, it’s badged as the MR2 Roadster, in Japan it’s the MR-S and in The States it’s the MR2 Spyder: Whichever name it goes by, it all directly points to the big shift to being a full convertible rather than T-Bar or Sunroof option.

The Mk3 weighed less than the Mk2 …… and also less than the Mk1 !

The designers managed to achieve this whilst also offering a substantial specification level.

The Mk3 came with just one engine option: the 1.8 ZZ-FE offering 138 bhp which translated into the highest power to weight ratio in its class. The responsiveness and outstanding handling dynamics were widely praised in the motoring journals.

Technological advances were also introduced with Sequential Manual Transmission offered as an option – a first for any Japanese car. UK cars got Limited Slip Differential’s as standard.


Historically, it has been seen that the marque has been refreshed to suit the era which has coincided with decade-changes to reflect the change in tastes and fashion and helped the MR2 through a production life of nearly 25 years.

What could not be envisaged was the global market reaction in the new millennium. The sports car market as a whole suffered a slowdown in sales and the MR2 orders were sliding with all the other sports cars. Where annual sales figures were originally counted in the tens of thousands, they became thousands and then became hundreds. Unsustainable for a “mass produced” car so production was finally ceased in 2007.

Those that remain on the roads are cherished.

Some are restored to former showroom condition.

Some are subtlety modified, others are heavily modified. Some become donors, some become projects and some become monsters !

But, everyone of them is a prize possession to their owner and whatever you chose to do with your MR2, you will find a warm welcome at the MR2 Drivers Club.

Join the MR2 Drivers Club

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