Cars like the new Toyota MR2 Turbo don't come along often.

In terms of performance per dollar, nothing else is in its class.

Even if there's no conceivable way a two-seater sports cars could fit into your life, chances are that after a test drive you would end up driving one home anyway.

Because this car does everything so well and is such a blast to drive, it changes your priorities. You find a way to fit it into your life.

Yes, it's a bit pricey for a small car, but the '91 MR2 has a knack for turning even simple trips to the grocery store into more fun than a roller coaster ride.

The new MR2 is a massive improvement over the old, boxy model that died in 1989.

Though the old MR2 was a fun and quick machine, it never conveyed a sense of seriousness. It was more of a toy than a serious performance car. That's not the case with the new model, which just began appearing in showrooms. The new MR2 delivers close to super-car performance. It already has been nicknamed ''the baby Ferrari'' - and for good reason. Toyota engineers equipped this car with a bevy of performance equipment and gave it pseudo-exotic looks.

This little lightning bolt has been timed at 5.96 seconds in a 0-to-60-mph acceleration test and has a top speed of about 140 mph. You can't buy that level of performance in other cars for anywhere near the price of the MR2. Some Porsche models that cost twice as much can't outrun the MR2 Turbo.

It's even faster than the Nissan 300ZX twin turbo for about $10,000 less.

Performance is not the only area where the MR2 Turbo excels. Though it's a small car, it feels much larger and wider than it really is. Because of the car's slippery shape - it has a 0.31 air drag coefficient - you slice through the air silently and never are buffeted by gusts of wind from semi trucks and other big vehicles on the highway.

In the handling department, the MR2 has a stiff, but forgiving suspension. You travel over rough roads encountering all sorts of incongruities in the pavement and much of the suspension's work never finds its way into the interior. You toss the car into a tight curve at speed, and you don't feel body roll or hear screeching tires. It is almost as if the suspension system - an independent McPherson Strut affair on all four wheels - has the ability to think for itself.

The test car came with optional T-tops, and though they are easy enough to detach and stow behind the seats, I would not recommend them. Too much light and heat finds its way into the interior, which is a monument to simplicity, comfort, styling and technology.

Take the radio, for instance. It won't work if a thief removes it from the car, not a new innovation, but one usually found on much more expensive cars. The radio is an advanced piece of electronics that features an adjustment that lets you tailor the sound to whatever type of music you prefer. There are settings for: jazz, rock, pop, classic al and vocal, which vary the frequency response pattern of the music.

The cruise control is neatly integrated into a small stalklike switch on the rear of the steering wheel. Other pertinent switches are easy to reach and use.

Gauges are a simple affair with a nicely laid out set of analog instruments for water, oil, temperature, turbo boost as well as large easy-to-read speedometer and tachometer.

One of the nicest qualities of the new MR2 is the view you get looking through the big, rounded windshield over the sloping, curved hood. The upper portion of the hood near the wheel wells slopes in and down slightly giving the driver and passenger an excellent view of the road.

With the engine located amidships, it's sort of strange hearing the mechanical sounds of the engine coming from behind rather than in front. The 2-liter turbo develops 200 horsepower, 200 foot-pounds of torque while delivering gas mileage that ranges from 17 to 29 miles per gallon depending on the weight of your right foot.

At about 6,000 rpm in third gear, the 16-valve dynamo snarls like a caged panther. Shift into fifth and it's so quiet you almost hear a pin drop in the interior. When activated, the turbo sounds as if you are squeezing the trigger of an electric drill. There isn't a trace of turbo lag in the MR2. Performance is instantaneous.

Anti-lock brakes were another option on the test car. They worked wonderfully, hauling the 2,780-pound car down from 65 mph to rest in what seemed like an incredibly short distance. The anti-lock system is a bit touchy. It doesn't take much to engage the system. In other cars, you really have to apply a lot of pressure to the brake pedal to activate the anti-lock brakes, which prevent the wheels from locking up on the pavement. The MR2 is equipped with a driver's side air bag, another safety feature that is a must for a performance car these days.

With side intakes for the engine borrowed from Italian exotics, a rear window treatment lifted from the Jaguar XJ-S, and a front end all its own, the 1991 MR2 is a real head turner.

Because of the car's powerful appearance and blistering performance, it's a vehicle that will appeal not only to the younger crowd but also to serious performance enthusiasts.

With the new MR2 Turbo, Toyota has served notice that it intends to set the standard for small affordable performance cars.