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By Jim Flammang
April 7, 2004
Vehicle Overview Toyota launched its two-passenger rear-wheel-drive sport convertible as a late 2000 model and revived a name used in the 1990s for a similar mid-engine coupe. In 2002, a new variant of the MR2 Spyder with a five-speed sequential manual transmission (SMT) became available.
Last year, the sequential manual gearbox added a sixth ratio, fog lamps became standard, and cruise control was newly available. A limited-slip differential is newly optional on 2004 models. Tan leather is now available with the Absolutely Red exterior.
Comparable in size and price with the Mazda Miata, which uses a front-mounted engine, the MR2 Spyder has a soft-top that folds manually and includes a glass rear window. The clutch and gear operations in the SMT model are computer operated, and electronic throttle control permits the system to reduce torque during shifts. Upshifts and downshifts are achieved by moving the selector to plus or minus positions or by using steering-wheel buttons.
Exterior Substantial air scoops run along the MR2 Spyder’s bodysides and ahead of the rear wheels. A wide, gaping grille opening dominates the low-slung front end. Large, round headlights are encased in elongated, clear-plastic housings. Front and rear overhangs are minimal, and the MR2’s 96.5-inch wheelbase is 7 inches longer than the Miata’s.
Side air intakes are color-keyed. The fabric top folds flat into a well, and a wind deflector mounts behind the seats. Alloy wheels hold 15-inch tires in front, and 16-inch tires are used at the rear.
Interior The MR2’s bucket seats are cozy for two occupants. Standard features include drilled aluminum pedals, a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, a cassette/CD stereo, air conditioning, and power windows, locks and mirrors. A large, center-mounted tachometer dominates the three-pod gauge cluster.
Tall folks can stretch out, but cargo space is virtually nonexistent — officially listed at a minuscule 1.9 cubic feet. The sole factory option is a leather-trimmed seat package.
Under the Hood The MR2’s 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter, dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine is adapted from the one used in the Celica; it teams with a five-speed-manual transmission. The six-speed sequentially shifting manual gearbox replaces the clutch pedal and gear selector with a single shifter, but it has no fully automatic mode. Toyota claims the MR2 Spyder can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds.
Safety All-disc antilock brakes and daytime running lights are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available.
Driving Impressions The MR2 Spyder is among the more fun-filled two-passenger models around. It is tight inside, and slipping into the driver’s seat demands a few gyrations that culminate with a drop into the seat. The prospect of controlling almost Porsche Boxster-like highway moves on a tight budget makes up for a few imperfections.
Equipped with a capable engine, the MR2 Spyder zips through challenging situations and grips the pavement tautly through curves. On good pavement surfaces, the ride is surprisingly smooth. The manual gearbox works with easy motion but demands some effort. The wind deflector can be distracting, but visibility is otherwise good.