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 five-speed sequential manual transmission in the MR2 Spyder became available. A year later, the sequential gearbox added a sixth ratio.
If you're tempted to buy an MR2 Spyder, you'd better hurry because 2005 will be the two-seater's last year on the market. Little has changed this season.
Comparable in size and price to 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 functions in the SMT-equipped model are computer-operated. Electronic throttle control permits the system to reduce torque during gear changes and blips the throttle to match engine speed during downshifts. Upshifts and downshifts are achieved by moving the selector or by using steering-wheel-mounted buttons.
Substantial air scoops run along the MR2 Spyder's wedge-shaped 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. 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, but 16-inch tires are mounted in the rear.
Bucket seating is provided for two occupants. Standard features include drilled aluminum pedals, a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, a six-CD stereo, air conditioning, and power windows, locks and mirrors. A large 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. A limited-slip differential and a leather-trimmed interior package are the only factory options.
Under the Hood
The MR2 Spyder's 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder is adapted from the one used in the Celica GT. The engine teams with a five-speed-manual transmission or a six-speed sequential manual gearbox that replaces the clutch pedal and gear selector with a single shifter; it doesn't have a fully automatic mode. Toyota claims the five-speed MR2 Spyder can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in slightly more than 7 seconds.
All-disc antilock brakes and daytime running lights are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available.
It's too bad the MR2 Spyder is being discontinued because it's one of the more fun-filled two-passenger models on the market. It's got a tight interior, and getting into the driver's seat demands a few gyrations that culminate with a drop into the seat. Cargo space is laughable. But the prospect of controlling almost Porsche Boxster-like highway moves on a tight budget makes up for the MR2's few imperfections.
Equipped with a capable engine, the MR2 Spyder zips through challenging situations and grips the pavement through curves. The ride is surprisingly smooth on good pavement surfaces. The manual gearbox works well but demands some effort. The wind deflector can be distracting, but visibility is otherwise good.
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