the new century, Toyota is breaking free of its conservative
image-with the quirky Echo, striking Celica, and daring MR2 Spyder
targeting young new-car buyers. The last of this techno
triumvirate to be offered in the States is the mid-engine roadster
that's been making appearances around the globe at international
auto shows as the countdown continues later this year.
Painfully aware of the market shift in sports cars away from
gizmo-laden, high-dollar sport coupes (collective sigh for the
dearly departed Supra Turbo), Toyota has jealously watched the
long-running success of the Mazda Miata and other, Euro-bred
two-seaters. Now the Japanese giant is prepared to enter the fray
with a hot, little convertible certain to impact the current sales
We recently had an opportunity to sample a Japanese-market
Spyder at Toyota's Mega Web auto-theme park in Tokyo, giving us a
taste for the exciting arachnid.
The 2210-pound MR2 Spyder shares the 1.8-liter four-cylinder
engine with "genesis"-mate Celica. Mounted transversely
amidship, the all-aluminum, twin cam powerplant produces 138
horses at 6400 rpm, we estimate that's enough to propel it to
0-60-mph times in the low-7-second range. During our speed-limited
drive, the Boxster-esque Spyder responded swiftly to throttle
input, with the small-displacement engine racing eagerly toward
redline, awaiting the next quick row of the short-throw,
One of the lightest sports cars made, the 96.5-inch-wheelbase
MR2 Spyder is quick and agile without an overdamped suspension or
big horsepower numbers. Steering and ride do indeed feel very
Miata-like, though the rear-drive and mid-engine placement
seemingly conspire to permit even swifter turn-in. On smooth
surfaces, we found the MacPherson strut setup felt communicative
at modest speeds. Steering effort with the three-spoke wheel was
lighter than expected, though not overassisted.
At 153.1 inches stem to stern, the Spyder is not a large car,
yet passengers ride low with the window sills at shoulder height.
Seats are modestly bolstered with web-textured cloth upholstery
that keeps riders planted under harsh maneuvers. Behind the
buckets hide a couple cargo wells, perfect for a purse or
bachelor's midweek groceries. A clever storage compartment rests
in the center dashboard, putting small items close at hand. The
manual top operation is simple and efficient, with the folded
cloth roof becoming its own neat origami tonneau.
Simple dash design, with a three-pod instrument cluster
featuring silver-faced gauges, works with aluminum pedals and
tubular door handles to lend a modern aesthetic. Standard power
windows and door locks, double-DIN-size AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo,
air conditioning, and glass rear window with defroster provide
basic creature comforts.
Pressed for details on when the Celica GT-S' 180-horsepower
engine and six-speed transmission could be added to the MR2 Spyder
offerings, Toyota said, "not in the foreseeable future,"
reminding us that steep insurance premiums were problematic for
the previous supercharged MR2. The focus is on affordable
performance with the new car, leaving the exotic enhancements to
the creative aftermarket and perhaps, eventually, Toyota Research
Development. The car's unit-body construction would lend itself
well to bolt-on body kits; replacing the conservative steel panels
with exotic Japanimation-inspired pieces could be the MR2's real
aftermarket trick, said one Toyota insider.
Expect prices to be on par with the Miata when the MR2 Spyder
goes on sale in May, placing the roadster just north of the $20K
mark. With only 5000 units planned for the U.S., initial demand
will likely be high. And based on our first hands-on experience,
it should be.