When Toyota decided in 1976 to make an economical car that’s both stylish and fun to drive, the company did not think of manufacturing a sports car. Practicality eventually took the backseat after the prototype design evolved, and the first mass-produced Japanese-made sports car was introduced to the world. The Toyota MR2 (the acronym stands for Mid-engined, Rear-wheel drive 2-seater) is Toyota’s most exciting invention by far and is proof of the Japanese manufacturer’s ability to bring to life an exciting car concept without negating the needs of average car owners.
1984 – 1989: First generation (Origami-inspired)
Best known for its sensible car models, Toyota astonished the world with the introduction of the MR2. Released after a successful unveiling of the concept car in 1983, the MR2 sported designs not intended for family use. The MR2 was made for tough road competition, which earned the vehicle the praise of renowned American car magazines such a Car and Driver and Road and Track.
With origami-inspired folded angular lines across the body, the MR2 was a pleasing sight on the road. However, appearance is not the most significant feature of the vehicle. The Toyota MR2 is lightweight (Japanese models weigh only about a ton), and it conquers the road with its excellent handling and supercharged engine.
1989 – 1999: Second generation (The poor man’s Ferrari)
In 1989, the Toyota MR2 went through a major redesign. The second-generation MR2 weighed 180 kg—20 kg heavier than its forerunner. The new MR2 looked fiercer than ever, and it bore resemblance to the Ferrari F355 and Ferrari 348. Because of the similarities in exterior design (more curvy than angular), the second-gen MR2 was dubbed the “poor man’s Ferrari.”
Similarities in physical attributes aside, the Toyota MR2 brought more excitement to the road, thanks to its turbocharged engine. Delivering 112 horsepower, the MR2’s 1.6-liter inline-4 engine makes for a thrilling ride on the streets. The Toyota MR2 was offered in different market trim levels: four trims for the Japanese market, three for the European market, and two for the US market.
1999 – 2007: Third generation (The new Porsche Boxter)
As part of the Toyota Project Genesis (a plan that targets a younger generation for car sales), the Toyota MR2 bore different names for each of its market. In Japan, the MR2 was called Toyota MR-S. In other markets, the vehicle was called Toyota MR2 Spyder (US) and Toyota MR2 Roadster (Europe).
However, the name change was not the most significant development in this generation’s design. To attract the younger market, the MR2 sported a true convertible soft top instead of a hardtop roof. Because of its new design, the MR2 was compared to the Porsche Boxter, a mid-engined, two-seater roadster that enjoyed popularity in the late 90s.