The Mk3 MR2 isn't for everyone, mind you. For starters, let's talk about its looks. Were someone to pitch to you the idea of a two-seat roadster with a Boxster-u-like nose and tail, the former of which brings to mind the expression a frog might take on were it to be surprised by another frog in a particular way, you probably wouldn't say 'Now I like the sound of that; when can we start building it?'
However, that's exactly what Toyota's bosses did. The result is a car that has to do without either the classic sports car proportions of the MX-5, or the lithe, taut athleticism of the Lotus Elise, but instead exudes a chunky charm that some will love, but others will loathe.
More than skin deep
But of course, there's more to the MR2 than its looks, and we picked the MX-5 and Elise for comparison for a reason - because the MR2 sits somewhere in the middle ground between the two cars. Tauter, stiffer and faster than the Mk2 MX-5 which was its contemporary rival, the MR2 is nevertheless more usable, more benign and (all things being equal) more reliable than an Elise. It's the best of both worlds, in other words - and no matter what you might think of its looks.
You can pick up a Mk3 MR2 these days for as little as £800 or so. We wouldn't recommend it, mind you, because at this price it'll almost certainly be a scabby old parper, with high mileage, several uncaring owners and perhaps even a Cat C or D marker against its registration.
However, you don't need to spend all that much more to get a shipshape example. We found a very tidy-looking pre-facelift with 95,000 miles on the clock, a long MOT, a full service history and even the optional hard-top going for just £1,640, and it was just one of several very tempting-looking examples offered between there and the £2,000 mark.
If that's all you can stretch to, you'll have a fabulous little car in a pre-facelift MR2. But then again, if you can push your budget further, the post-facelift car is the one to have. That's because it came with a six-speed gearbox, instead of five, and got a series of suspension tweaks and wider rear wheels.
There's another reason to choose the post-facelift car, too, which is that it seems these examples were far less likely to wreck their engines in sudden and spectacular fashion, an MR2 tendency which results from the pre-cats breaking down, and their ceramic shards being sucked back into the engine through the exhaust gas recirculation system.
There are ways and means to avoid this - for the sake of brevity, we won't go into too much detail here, but there's plenty of information on enthusiasts' forums - but anecdotal evidence suggests tweaks made to the engine by Toyota at facelift time solved the problem, and these cars have far fewer instances of failure.
this 25,000-miler, for example, shouldn't cost you more than £6,000.
When Mk1 Elises are moving into double figures, that doesn't sound like too bad a deal. And while it'll be a while yet before numbers dwindle and the MR2 starts the inevitable, inexorable climb toward classic status, one day the true talents of this stocky little sports car will be better-known and more widely sought-after, so you'd best get into one while you still can. To correct the meme, then, Miata is sometimes the answer - but right now, MR2 is a better one.