We all know that sports cars, by their very nature, are impractical, but most have at least a little bit of trunk space. But when you come across one that doesn’t, do you let that affect your opinion of it? What about when you find one from the automotive world’s preeminent purveyor of practical petrol-powered pods, Toyota? Well, you’re about to find out, because the MR2 Spyder was just such an oddity.
As we’ve already discovered, the second generation MR2 was pulled from the U.S. market after 1995 due to freefalling sales and emissions compliance woes for the high-zoot Turbo model. But the enthusiast moaning caused by the discontinuation of the MR2 and, later, the Supra didn’t quite fall on deaf ears in Toyota City. The company’s American arm launched a program called Project Genesis in 1999, an experiment tasked with aiming three new or redesigned models already coming down the product pike at younger buyers: the snazzy but ultimately slow-selling seventh generation Celica, the phlegm-summoning Echo subcompact, and a drop-top curiosity called the MR2 Spyder. (Most company outsiders deemed Project Genesis a flop, but it did eventually lead to the formation of the Scion brand.)
The MR2 Spyder (internally designated ZZW30 and known in Japan and some other markets as the MR-S) was smaller and lighter than the SW20 MR2, and was the first production mid-engine Toyota sports car offered as a full convertible and only as a full convertible (though a removable hardtop was available as an accessory). Also unlike its predecessors, which were offered in both normally aspirated and forced-induction flavors, the MR2 Spyder had just one engine choice: a 1.8L DOHC four that was slightly less sophisticated than the similar engine found in the Celica GT-S, Matrix XRS and Corolla XRS. In the MR2 Spyder, it was rated at 138hp and 125 lb.-ft of torque, and could be teamed with a 5-speed manual or (from 2003 onward) a Formula 1-style 6-speed sequential manual that, unlike similar gearboxes from Ferrari and BMW, did not feature an automatic mode; this omission helped save cost and weight. A slight facelift in 2003 saw subtly revised headlights, taillights, bumpers and side air intakes, in addition to 16-inch rear wheels (the fronts remained 15s). A limited slip differential was added to the options list the following year, which would be the penultimate one for the MR2 Spyder in the U.S. market. All told, 23,868 made it to these shores over the six model years.
High mileage examples can be had for well under $10,000, while later, low mileage cars top out in the low- to mid-teens. Unsurprisingly, MR2 Spyders are generally pretty reliable, but there are a few issues that have arisen on more than one car, including the evaporative emissions system and the handbrake. As always, buy the nicest one you can afford and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Bottom line: If it’s a fun, reliable weekend toy you’re after (assuming you don’t do your grocery shopping on the weekend), the MR2 Spyder just might be the car for you.