Move over, Miata. You’ve got serious company.

Five years after putting the MR2 out to pasture, Toyota has brought it back, and it is so many things the end-of-model-line MR2s, produced from 1985 to 1995, were not.

The new MR2 Spyder is light – more bang from a smaller, lighter engine – has better suspension and a stiffer body, and a Porsche-derivative look that’s bound to appeal to young buyers, providing dealers do not price gouge them out of the market.

At a little more than $23,000, Toyota has entered a market dominated since the late 1980s by Mazda’s Miata, the car credited with restoring the two-seater droptop to the American scene.

Why Toyota ever left this market wide open to Mazda is unclear, but then again, Toyota faltered at the young end of the market throughout its model range. That’s why, this year, besides the MR2, Toyota is coming out with the new Echo and a spiffed-up Celica Sports Coupe.

With its Boxster-like side air scoops, prominent fenders framing a wedge-away nose, and chopped rear end, the MR2 has got the look. It’s also got the snap that both young drivers and older sports car aficionados will appreciate.

Using the Celica GTS 1.8-liter, twin-cam, four-cylinder, the MR2 matches Miata power at nearly 140 horsepower. But at around 2,200 pounds, it is 200 pounds lighter. Plus, the transverse mount, midengine setup gives you not only the sound and sensation of a high-performance car, but also a better feel on the road than you get with the Miata.

That’s not saying the MR2 is a match for Honda’s S2000 – the redline 9,000, six-speed screamer – but even factoring for gouging on both models, the MR2 is still about $7,000 cheaper.

It is about 3 inches shorter than the Miata, yet has a wheelbase that’s 7 inches longer. This adds not only to performance, but also gives better legroom in the cockpit. In fact, even a tall person, seat pushed back, can recline comfortably behind the wheel. With this in mind, Toyota made the seat cushions long. They also made the seatbacks quite high for good head and neck support.

Ergonomically, it is delightfully simple. The three-gauge grouping behind the wheel features retro black-on-white lettering and it glows a warm orange at night. Climate control dials are big. Buttons for audio control are big.

The manual convertible top is easy to use – two levers and a little elbow grease and it is stored neatly away. A wind deflector behind the seats cuts down on cockpit turmoil when the top is down. When up, wind noise is noticeable but not distracting. It’s not as tight a top as you find on the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, but that top does not rest on as good a car. The glass window in the MR2 top is clear and heated and visibility through it is excellent.

Not that you could fix the problem without changing the essence of the MR2, but it has very little storage space. Decent glove box, small bins in the doors, a dual-door pocket of space behind the seats – but nowhere to put an actual suitcase or even a large soft bag. If you go on the road in the MR2, you’ll have to pack lightly unless you can find a luggage rack for the short rear deck.

But I suspect folks will pay more attention to how the MR2 gets them where they are going than they will to the things they can carry.

So another comparison is in order.

The Miata, it seems to me, is more “English” in feel. It’s got that certain drift-then-correct quality that I remember from MGs.

The MR2? Call it Teutonic. It slices, cuts, grips the road. Only on uphill twists did I feel a slight unweighting going on up front.

The ride, with a throaty burble of the engine emanating from behind you, is choppy, as is common in these stiff two-seaters. And this is a stiff car, supported by struts all around, stabilizer bars front and rear, and trailing arms in the rear.

Anchored in your seat, you feel the pull to the sides as you corner, but ‘s not a sense that you will body-roll out of your seat. It’s more as if you are part of the car, feeling what its suspension is sensing. This is a good thing.

The five-speed manual transmission was crisp and the torque band was steady right up to as fast as you ought to go and then some.

Toyota offers few options on the MR2, and that makes its standard equipment – air conditioning, ABS – part of a good bargain. Add 10-inch discs to the ABS and you have formidable stopping power.

Toyota is planning to sell only about 5,000 MR2s per year right now, and that opens the doors to price gouging. And though Toyota folks told me they have stressed to dealers that this should not happen, doubtless it will.

A final comparison between the Miata and MR2? The MR2 is more fun. With the Miata and its trunk, you can take more with you.

Nice touch:

The golden glow that rises subtly to the fender tips from each bug-eyed headlight and helps you keep track of your front corners at night.

Annoyance:

Window controls placed back on the center console. They are hard to get at because you have to work your way around the hand brake.

SIDEBAR:
The numbers

Base price: $23,098

Price as tested: $23,533

Horsepower/Torque: 138/125 lb.-ft.

Wheelbase/Overall length: 96.5 inches/153 inches

Width/Height: 66.7 inches/48.8 inches

Curb weight: 2,195 lbs.

Seating: 2 passengers