With one eye (or maybe both) on the American market, Toyota opted to launch its second-generation MR2 as a bigger, more comfortable, more practical two-seater for 1989. While this upset many purists - who’d justly fallen for the smaller, lighter and simpler first-gen car - for everyone else, the prospect of a practical, mid-engined and rear-drive Japanese sports car was hard to resist. In the SW20 generation MR2’s decade of production, 140,000 were sold worldwide – with the US accounting for most sales (as predicted) and the UK the second most. It was a stunning success.
Its reputation has faltered a bit since. Affordability and high sales volume tend to dent a model’s used values, leaving the MR2 vulnerable to purchase from those seeking a cheap project car. While some uprated SW20s have accentuated the underlying talents of Toyota’s sweet-handling two-seater, others were not so fortunate and have fallen foul of tasteless modifications. Those cars, perhaps unsurprisingly, either meet with an early end or get passed around for peanuts from one optimistic restorer to the next. They’re still about; just browse the classifieds.
Those to have escaped the hacksaw and eBay cone filters are also still around, though. And that’s a relief because the SW20 MR2 base had plenty to recommend it. Toyota tuned the chassis on UK roads, so there’s a decent ride to go along with that mid-engined balance, although not without the slight risk of snap oversteer in slippery conditions. Predictably that only made the car more respectable in the rights hands, as did the excellent seating position and tightly stacked gear ratios in manual five-speed variants. Factor in a generally reliable, affordable-to-maintain and relatively practical package (especially compared to the NA and NB MX-5s), and there's good reason not to let the MR2 slip from the radar completely.
That being said, the most compelling MR2 models never officially made it to Britain, supposedly because Toyota UK didn’t want to hinder sales of its already struggling Celica GT-Four. It took private imports to get examples of the turbocharged SW20 over, including the JDM-only GT-S, which featured Toyota’s innovative ‘twin entry turbo’ tech to reduce low-rev lag. This car used a 245hp version of the 3S-GTE 2.0-litre four-cylinder, giving the 1,260kg 175hp per tonne car a 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds. Some have, of course, been modified with bigger turbos to produce in excess of 300hp. But thanks to the good starting performance, plenty have remained original.
Today’s Spotted is completely unmolested, even retaining its original 15-inch wheels to back suggestion that it’s never passed through the hands of a tuner. The car is so clean that it has featured in Modern Classic magazine, having only recently been imported from Japan where it’s said to have suffered nothing in the way of rust or corrosion. Handily, it is already registered in the UK, although the seller does state that the standard state of the setup means it can easily be exported and homologated elsewhere. Given that 2020 marks the car’s 25th year, we suspect the seller is thinking of the US market – where it’s now legal for import. That probably helps to explain the £10k asking price, which ranks it top of the Mk2 MR2 pile on PH’s classifieds.
SPECIFICATION - TOYOTA MR2 (SW20)
Engine: 1,998cc 4-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 245@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 224@4,000rpm
First registered: 1995
Recorded mileage: 56,000 miles
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £9,995