1 Dec 2000
By CHRIS HARRIS
WITH the third generation MR2, Toyota has significantly changed the direction of its small sports car.
Yes, it remains a two-seater with mid-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive, just like its disparate predecessors.
But the MR2 Spyder is the company's first car designed from the outset as a convertible and the first Toyota with a sequential shift semi-manual transmission.
Significantly lighter and cheaper than the last incarnation, the Spyder offered real competition to the iconic Mazda MX-5 drop-top. And it also payed lip service to the iconic 1980s original.
How? Its engine shrunk in size, the price tag too, and even the standard equipment list was pared back. Even air-conditioning was an option!With peak power of 103kW, the Spyder's 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine was 10kW down on the contemporary (2001) Mazda MX-5, but at 975kg it was more than 100kg lighter and therefore right in the ballpark when it comes to power to weight.
However Toyota alienated more customers than it lured with its controversial five-speed clutchless manual gearbox, with slow and clumsy downshifts, complicated shifting protocols and a surprising (for a Toyota) lack of durability.
Many potential customers would have been happy to buy if there had been the six-speed manual gearbox option, as per abroad.
Toyota also forgot to add any meaningful luggage space, falling well short of the MX-5’s meagre offerings here.
But the manual roof was easy to use, the seating supportive, and the overall dynamic experience delightful – although care is needed on wet roads or when lifting off the throttle mid-corner if a snap-oversteer situation is to be avoided.