The Toyota MR2 is a two-seat, mid-engined, rear wheel drive sports car produced by Central Motors, a part of Toyota, from 1984 until July 2007 when production stopped in Japan. There are three different generations of the MR2: 1984–1989, with angular, origami-like lines, 1990–1999, which had styling that some compared to Ferrari sports cars, and 2000–2007, which somewhat resembled the Porsche Boxster. It was designed to be small, with an economical powerplant, but sporty in style and handling. Basic design elements, such as McPherson strut front and rear suspensions and transverse-mounted inline-four engines, are common to all three generations of MR2, though each generation differs greatly from the next in particulars. The MR2's life began in 1976 when Toyota launched a design project with the goal of producing a car which would be enjoyable to drive, yet still provide decent fuel economy. Initially, the purpose of the project was not a sports car. The actual design work 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 October 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 the second quarter of 1984 in the Japanese market under the name MR2 (which stands for "midship runabout two-seater"), was to become the first mass-produced mid-engined car to come from a Japanese manufacturer. In France the name was shortened to MR due to the similarity in pronunciation of MR2 with the French word "merde".
The small and light MR2 (chassis code "AW11") was something no one had expected from Toyota, known for their economical and practical family cars. The two-seat MR2 was definitely not practical as a family car, designed for style and sport. The folded angular lines evoked origami paper sculpture. Other cars with a similar design concept including the Lancia Beta Montecarlo, Fiat X 1/9 and the exotic Lancia Stratos were all produced in the 70s. The most important features of the AW11 were its light body (as low as 2,095 lb (950 kg) in Japan and 2,350 lb (1066 kg) in the US), superior handling and lightly-powered, small-displacement engine. Some rumors have persisted that the MR2 was designed by Lotus. This is a reference to the Lotus M90 (a.k.a. the X100) project, but this was scrapped after a single prototype was built. This used the same engine and gearbox as the MR2. At the time, Toyota, along with the Chapman family was a major share holder in Lotus, but General Motors later acquired majority control. However, the MR2's suspension and handling were designed by Toyota with the help of Lotus engineer Roger Becker. 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 power plant, Toyota chose to use the naturally aspirated 4A-GE 1587 cc straight-4 engine, a dual overhead-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder motor. This engine was also equipped with DENSO electronic port fuel injection and a variable intake geometry ("T-VIS"), giving the engine a maximum power output of 112 horsepower (84 kW) in the US, 128 horsepower (95 kW) in Europe, 118 horsepower (88 kW) in Australia and 130 metric horsepower (96 kW) in Japan, later downrated to 120 PS (88 kW). The engine had already been introduced earlier on the AE86 Corolla, gathering a lot of positive publicity. A five-speed manual transmission was standard and a four-speed automatic was optional. Road tests delivered 0-60 mph times in the mid- to high-8 second range, and 1/4 mile times in the mid- to high-16 second range, significantly faster than the four-cylinder Pontiac Fiero or Fiat X1/9. In the home market, the AW10 base model was offered, which used the more economical 1452 cc 3A-U engine rated at 61 kilowatts (82 hp), but it attracted few buyers. In 1987 (1988 for the US market), Toyota introduced a supercharged engine for the MR2. Based on the same block and head, the 4A-GZE was equipped with a small Roots-type supercharger and a Denso intercooler. T-VIS was eliminated and the compression ratio was lowered to 8:1. It produced 145 horsepower (108 kW) and 140 foot-pounds (190 N·m) and accelerated the small car from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in 6.5 to 7.0s. The supercharger was belt-driven but actuated by an electromagnetic clutch, so that it would not be driven except when needed, increasing fuel economy. Curb weight increased to as much as 2,494 pounds (1,131 kg) for supercharged models, due to the weight of the supercharger equipment and a new, stronger transmission. A fuel selector switch was also added in some markets, to allow the car to run on regular unleaded if required to. In addition to the new engine, the MR2 SC was also equipped with stiffer springs, and received special "tear-drop" aluminium wheels. The engine cover had two raised vents (of which only one was functional) which visually distinguished it from the normally aspirated models. It was also labeled "Supercharged" on the rear trunk and body mouldings behind both doors. Unfortunately, this model was never sold in European or Australian markets, although some cars were privately imported.
The MR2 went through a complete redesign in 1989; the car was larger in every dimension and weighed 350 to 400 pounds (160 to 180 kg) more than its predecessor. The 1990 model year MSRP ranged from approximately ¥1,953,330 (€13,896), ($14,368) to ¥2,522,960 (€17,882), ($18,558). Since the resemblance between the Ferrari 348 and the Ferrari F355 and the new MR2 was quite striking, the MkII is sometimes referred to as a "poor man's Ferrari." Indeed, many bodykits became available to make the MkII imitate the Ferrari F355. The MkII MR2 came to the Japanese (JDM) and European market at the end of 1989 as a 1990 model year. North America did not have a 1990 model year; 1991 cars arrived in late 1990. There are many subtle visual differences between the normally-aspirated and turbobcharged models: including the "turbo" emblem (USDM) on the rear trunk, a fiberglass engine bonnet with raised vents, fog lights (though some JDM and European NA models came with fog lights), and an added interior center storage compartment located between the two seats. All SW20 MR2s came with a staggered wheel setup, with wider wheels and tires in the rear than in the front. In the U.S. there are two different chassis codes: SW21 for the MR2 NA model and SW22 for the MR2 Turbo model.The second-generation MR2 underwent a variety of changes during its 10 years of production, grouped in four different periods.Changes to the suspension geometry, tire sizes and power steering in 1992/93 were made in response to journalist reports that the MR2 was prone to "snap-oversteer". As a counterpoint to the snap-oversteer phenomenon of the MR2, other journalists point out that most mid-engine and rear engine sports and super cars exhibit similar behaviour, and that a change to the driver's response to oversteer is really the cause. In any car, braking shifts the weight forward, and acceleration to the rear. When drivers enter a corner with too much speed, and lift the throttle mid-corner, weight shifts forward while causing the rear suspension to toe-out—the recipe for cut-throttle oversteer, or even a spin. When improper steering inputs were made attempting to correct this non-power-on oversteer, the rear of the MR2 would swing one way, then wildly (and quickly) the other—thus the term "snap" oversteer. Toyota elected to change the MR2 suspension and tires to reduce the likelihood that this would occur, though many drivers would lament the change and claim that it "neutered" the sharp edge the MR2 was known for. Toyota claimed that the changes were made "for drivers whose reflexes were not those of Formula One drivers."
The third generation MR2 had three different names, depending on country; Toyota MR-S in Japan, Toyota MR2 Spyder in the United States, and the Toyota MR2 Roadster in Europe. With the previous MR2 having been in the market for almost ten years, the new MR2, designated "ZZW30," took a drastically different approach than the outgoing model. The new MR2 was a part of Toyota Project Genesis, a plan to attract buyers from the younger age bracket in an effort to increase sales in the United States. The most obvious change was the switch from a hardtop/open-roof option to a true convertible soft top, giving the car the 'Spyder' designation. It is distinguished from previous MR2s (and virtually all modern passenger cars) in the fact that all body panels are removable and non-structural; this appeals to kit-car builders as the entire appearance of the car can be changed with bolt-on panels. It is also the only Toyota MR2 generation to not be sold in Canada. Many claim that this car was inspired by Porsche Boxster which was released in 1996, due to its similar appearance. However, the first prototype of MR-S appeared in 1997 at the Tokyo Motor Show, which had slightly more angled and rigid appearance than the current production model, which included additional curves for a more aerodynamic and appealing look. The MR2 Spyder chief engineer Harunori Shiratori said, "First, we wanted true driver enjoyment, blending good movement, low inertia and light weight. Then, a long wheelbase to achieve high stability and fresh new styling; a mid-engine design to create excellent handling and steering without the weight of the engine up front; a body structure as simple as possible to allow for easy customizing, and low cost to the consumer." The only engine available for the ZZW30 was the all-aluminium 1ZZ-FED, a 1794 cc straight-4. Like its predecessors, the engine used dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. The intake camshaft timing was adjustable via the VVT-i system, which was introduced earlier on the 1998 MR2 in some markets. Unlike its predecessors, however, the engine was placed onto the car the other way round, with the exhaust manifold towards the rear of the car instead of towards the front. The 138 hp (104 kW) maximum power was quite a drop from the previous generation, but thanks to the lightness of the car it could still move quite quickly, accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 6.8 to 8.7 s depending on the transmission option, the Sequential Manual being unable to launch and shift as quickly as the clutch operated manual. Curb weight was 2,195 pounds (996 kg) for manual transmission models, making this model the lightest of the MR2 series. In addition to the 5-speed manual transmission, a 5-speed or 6-speed Sequential Manual Transmission (SMT) was also available starting in 2002. SMT is standard feature in Australian market; however, air conditioning was optional. After 2003, a 6-speed SMT was an option. The SMT had no conventional H-pattern shift lever or clutch pedal. The driver could shift gears by tapping the shift lever forward or backward or by pressing steering-wheel mounted buttons. Clutch engagement is automatic, and the car will automatically shift to neutral when stopping. Cruise control was never offered with the manual transmission, but was standard for SMT cars. The MR2 Spyder was also distinguished from most of its competition (including the Honda S2000, Mazda Miata, and Porsche Boxster) by a standard-equipment heated glass rear window. At the time of its debut, most convertibles were still using a plastic rear window. A hard top was also available from Toyota in Japan and Europe, though it was expensive.
The feedback for the new model was somewhat mixed - some liked its all new 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. The ZZW30 is considered to be the best-handling MR2 in both overall limit and controllability. 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, many owners have opted to switch out the 1ZZ-FE engine in exchange for the 190 PS (140 kW) 2ZZ-GE found in the Celica and Lotus Elise.In July 2004, Toyota announced that sales of the MR2 (as well as the Celica) 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 7,233 units in its debut year, falling to just 901 for the 2005 model, for a total of 23,868 through its six years of production in the US. The 2005 model year was the last for the MR2 in the US. While the MR2 Spyder was not sold after 2005 in the United States, it was offered in Japan, Mexico, and Europe until 2007. Production of the car ceased permanently in July 2007. As a farewell to the MR2, Toyota produced 1000 limited-production V-Edition cars for Japan and the UK. They are distinguished by different color wheels, titanium interior accents, minor body changes, a helical limited slip differential, and different steering wheel trim. Also for model year 2007, the United Kingdom received 300 models in a special numbered TF300 series. A special 182 bhp (136 kW) turbocharged variant called the TTE Turbo (TTE standing for Toyota Team Europe) was available as a dealer-installed package. This package was also available for fitting to older MkIII MR2's.