Toyota did something of a U-turn with its third-generation MR2, in reverting back to the lightweight back-to-basics formula that it had employed for the original Mk1. Marketed as the MR-S in Japan, the MR2 Spyder in the US and the Toyota MR2 Roadster in the UK, it came without air-con or a hard top roof as standard. Less practical than the Mk2, the W30 Roadster's performance was also reduced - with an all-aluminium 140hp 1.8-litre VVTi normally-aspirated unit the only engine choice. A 1,794 cc inline-four, the 1ZZ-FED motor employed dual overhead camshafts and had 16 valves, with variable intake camshaft timing controlled by the VVTi system.
Mid-engined, rear-drive, light, cheap...
The power output was quite a drop from the previous generation, but thanks to the car's low mass - between 996 and 1,030kg - the manual Roadster reached 60mph in a respectable 7.7 seconds, although torque is a lowly 127lb ft at 4,400rpm.
The first prototype MR-S appeared in 1997 at the Tokyo motor show, but it was more than two years before the first UK Roadsters arrived in March 2000. In addition to the original five-speed manual transmission, a six-speed manual and a five-speed Sequential Manual Transmission (SMT) were also available from October 2002, launched alongside other facelift changes to the engine, suspension, bodywork and trim. Performance with the SMT was poor so most UK buyers bought a manual. Japanese buyers had three trim options - B, Standard and S - the latter being a close match for the UK model, apart from the limited-slip diff: all UK cars had one fitted, whereas it was only standard in other markets from 2003 (previously it had been an option).
Post-'03 facelift the most desirable
Various limited editions were also produced, most notably the 2004 to 2005 UK Red Edition - essentially a sales special with leather seat trim and metallic paint, the 2007 TF300 Limited Edition (the UK received 300 models) and the VM180 Zagato for sale in Japan only. A 180hp turbocharged variant called the TTE Turbo (TTE standing for Toyota Team Europe) was also available as a dealer-installed package in parts of Europe - but not the UK - and as a farewell to the MR2 Toyota produced 1,000 V-Edition cars for the Japanese market.
Motorsports derivatives achieved some success in Japanese Super GT Racing, before Mk3 production finally ended in 2007. And despite selling 13,934 UK Mk3s Toyota has not announced any MR2 successor - come on, you know we'd love one!
The ZZW30 is considered by some to be the best-handling MR2, and it's a hoot on twisting roads, but it does lack performance. Most worryingly though there is a known issue with the engine piston rings and the manifold pre-cats which can break down and destroy the engine. Check out our Buying Guide for more information on this. Aside from this issue the Mk3 seems very reliable.
Who wants an MX-5 anyway?
Toyota changed the design of the piston rings for the facelifted version of the Roadster, but owners still remove the pre-cats on these later models just to be safe - or fit an aftermarket performance manifold instead. Lower demand for the Mk3 has led to low residuals, with decent examples no more than £2,000. "The third generation was felt by some to have gone a bit soft, and never really caught the attention of the market like its predecessors," emphasises Robert Redman. And Luke Bliss at Drift Limits Performance goes even further: "The bottom has fallen out of the price of pre-facelift Mk3s due to all the horror stories of pre-cats falling apart."
But with the Mk3 at the bottom of its depreciation curve we expect values to only go one way in the future, although the Roadster may never hold as high a status as the Mk1 and Mk2. And what about the more popular facelifted TF300 Limited Edition Roadster? "I've already seen people seeking these out as future classics," reports Patrick Mortell at Rogue Motorsport. Maybe now's the time to buy a low-mileage example?
Buy if: you're seeking a track day bargain - just make sure the pre cats are removed
Don't buy if: performance or practicality is important to you
We found: 2003 Silver UK Roadster six-speed, full-service history, 65K miles, £3,690
Poor: Under £1,900
Good: £1,900 to £3,750
Special Editions: Limited Edition TF300 can fetch over £5,500
Toyota MR2 Mk1 (1984-1989)
Toyota MR2 Mk2 (1989-1999)
Toyota MR2 Mk3 (1999-2007)