|Manufacturer||Central Motors (part of the Toyota Motor Corporation)|
|Also called||Toyota MR (France and Belgium)|
|Assembly||Japan: Sagamihara, Kanagawa (Central Motors)|
|Body and chassis|
|Class||Sports car (S)|
The Toyota MR2 is a line of two-seat, mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports cars manufactured in Japan and marketed globally by Toyota from 1984 until 2007 over three generations: W10 (1984–1989), W20 (1990–1999) and W30 (2000–2007). It is Japan's first rear mid-engined production car.
Conceived as a small, economical and sporty car, the MR2 employed straightforward design elements, including fully independent MacPherson strut front and rear suspensions, four-wheel disc brakes, and a transverse-mounted inline-four engine.
The name MR2 stands for either "mid-ship run-about 2-seater" or "mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-seater". In French-speaking markets, the vehicle was renamed Toyota MR because the abbreviation "MR2" sounds like the profanity "Merde" when spoken in French.
The MR2 derived from a 1976 Toyota design project with the goal of a car which would be enjoyable to drive, yet still provide good fuel economy – not necessarily a sports car. Design work began in 1979 when Akio Yoshida from Toyota's testing department started to evaluate alternatives for engine placement and drive method, finalizing a mid-transverse engine placement. Toyota called the 1981 prototype SA-X.
From its original design, the car evolved into a sports car, and further prototypes were tested both in Japan and in the US. Significant testing was performed on race circuits including Willow Springs, where former Formula One driver Dan Gurney tested the car.
All three generations were in compliance with Japanese government regulations concerning exterior dimensions and engine displacement. The MR2 appeared around the same time as the Honda CR-X and the Nissan EXA from Japan, the Pontiac Fiero and Ford EXP from North America and about a decade after the introduction of the VW Scirocco and Fiat X1/9 from Europe
Toyota debuted its SV-3 concept car in October 1983 at the Tokyo Motor Show, gathering press and audience publicity. The car was scheduled for a Japanese launch in the second quarter of 1984 under the name MR2.
|Also called||Toyota MR|
|Designer||Seiichi Yamauchi (1981)|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupé or T-top|
|Wheelbase||2,319 mm (91.3 in)|
|Length||3,950 mm (155.5 in)|
|Width||1,666 mm (65.6 in)|
|Height||1,234 mm (48.6 in)|
|Curb weight||1,035 kg (2,282 lb) (1985 NA)|
1,066 kg (2,350 lb) (1988 NA)
1,131 kg (2,493 lb) (1988 SC)
Toyota introduced the first-generation MR2 in 1984, designating it the model code "W10". When fitted with the 1.5-liter 3A engine, it was known as the "AW10". Likewise, the 1.6-liter 4A version is identified by the "AW11" code.
In Japan, the MR2 was marketed exclusively via Toyota's Toyota Auto Store and Toyota Vista Store, both rebranded in 1998 as Netz Toyota Store. At its introduction in 1984, the MR2 won the Car of the Year Japan.
As Toyota engineered the MR2 to accommodate a 2-liter engine, its primary features included its light body (as low as 950 kg (2,094 lb) in Japan and 1,066 kg (2,350 lb) in the US), strong handling, and low-power small-displacement engine. The car is often referred to as the AW11, referring to the chassis code of the most common 1.6-liter, A-engined versions.
The MR2's suspension and handling were designed by Toyota with the help of Lotus engineer Roger Becker. Toyota's cooperation with Lotus during the prototype phase can be seen in the AW11, and it owes much to Lotus's sports cars of the 1960s and 1970s. Toyota's active suspension technology, called TEMS, was not installed. With five structural bulkheads, the MR2 was quite heavy for a two-seater of its size.
Toyota employed the naturally aspirated 4A-GE 1,587 cc (1.6 L; 96.8 cu in) inline-four engine, a DOHC four-valve-per-cylinder motor, borrowed from the E80 series Corolla. This engine was also equipped with Denso electronic port fuel injection and T-VIS variable intake geometry, giving the engine a maximum power output of 112 hp (84 kW) in the US, 128 hp (95 kW) in the UK, 116 or 124 PS (85 or 91 kW; 114 or 122 hp) in Europe (with or without catalytic converter), 118 hp (88 kW) in Australia and 130 PS (96 kW; 128 hp) in Japan. Japanese models were later detuned to 120 PS (88 kW; 118 hp). A five-speed manual transmission was standard, with a four-speed automatic available as an option.
Road tests delivered 0–60 mph (97 km/h) times in the mid- to high-8 second range and 1⁄4 mile (402 m) times in the mid- to high-16 second range, significantly faster than the four-cylinder Pontiac Fiero or Fiat X1/9. In the home market, the AW10 base model was offered, which used the more economical 1,452 cc (1.5 L; 88.6 cu in) 3A-U engine rated at 61 kW (82 hp).
In 1986 (1988 for the US market), Toyota introduced a supercharged engine for the MR2. Based on the same block and head, the 4A-GZE was equipped with a small Roots-type supercharger and a Denso intercooler. T-VIS was eliminated and the compression ratio was lowered to 8:1. It produced 145 hp (147 PS; 108 kW) at 6,400 rpm and 186 N⋅m; 137 lb⋅ft (19 kg⋅m) of torque at 4,400 rpm and accelerated the car from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 6.5 to 7.0 seconds. The supercharger was belt-driven but actuated by an electromagnetic clutch, so that it would not be driven except when needed, increasing fuel economy. Curb weight increased to as much as 2,494 lb (1,131 kg) for supercharged models, due to the weight of the supercharger equipment and a new, stronger transmission. A fuel selector switch was also added in some markets, to allow the car to run on regular unleaded fuel if required. In addition to the new engine, the MR2 SC was also equipped with stiffer springs, and received special "tear-drop" aluminium wheels. The engine cover had two raised vents (only one of which was functional) that visually distinguished it from the naturally aspirated models. It was also labeled "SUPER CHARGER" on the rear trunk and body mouldings behind both doors. This model was never offered outside of the Japanese and North American markets, although some cars were privately imported to other countries.
MK1a and MK1b are unofficial designations, but are frequently used by owners and vendors to distinguish between early production vehicles and later face-lifted models. While there are considerable differences detailed below, the most notable being that rear suspension components are not interchangeable between the MK1a and MK1b cars.
The changes in MY 1986 and MY 1987 occurred in parts. Instead of a drastic change in MY 1987 models for the above MK1b upgrades, some MK1a parts continued on in early MY 1987 cars while some MK1b parts came on MY 1986 cars as options. An example is that some MY 1987 cars still retained the old "flat" front bumper despite having MK1b upgrades everywhere else on the car. Some early MY 1987 7-rib engines came with the earlier blue top valve cover. This was also noticed in the rear sway bar removal for the MY 1986. Some MY 1986 cars have a rear sway bar, while the mounting tabs on the strut housing were either there for both sides, only one side, or none at all depending on when Toyota ran out of the older rear struts with mounting tabs as production used up parts.
American car magazines Road & Track and Car and Driver both chose the MR2 on their "ten best" car lists. The Australian Wheels magazine chose the 1988 MR2 as its favourite sports car. The MR2 was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1985. The MR2 was also on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1986 and 1987. In 2004, Sports Car International ranked the MR2 number eight on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980s.
In 1988 and 1989 Toyota produced two final production runs of fully optioned "Super Edition" MR2s, based upon the supercharged Japanese market model, and only sold in Japan. The 1988 'Super Edition' was a run of 300 units, had white/gold two-tone paint, bronze glass, unique half-leather and half-cloth seats, along with a MOMO-commissioned steering wheel and gear knob. The 1989 model, a run of 270 units, featured a special Midnight Blue paint, the MOMO-commissioned steering wheel and gear knob, Recaro "Milano" seats with matching door panels. The 1989 model also benefited from some of the last G-Limited model options, such as the LED rear spoiler brake light and more aerodynamic wing mirrors. Both "Super Edition" models had unique decals on the rear visor and side stripes.
While Toyota's front-engine, rear-drive Celica rally cars proved dominant in the African Group B rallies of the 1980s, they were at a disadvantage on the twistier European stages. Thus, in 1985 Toyota Team Europe started a rally project codenamed "222D" based on the MR2, for competition in Group S and potentially Group B as well. Though somewhat similar on the outside, it is clear that it shared very little with the production car although it does appear to have the factory AW11 floor pan. Little is known about this project because it never competed. With Group B cancelled in 1986, the proposed Group S regulations suffered the same fate, and the car was reduced to a museum piece. Supposedly eleven prototypes were made, many were destroyed during testing leaving only three known examples: a black one is stored at Toyota Gazoo's facility in Cologne, a white one with a 50mm lengthened wheelbase and a more production styled body in Tokyo and another one in black was sold to a collector in 2017.
Although the 222D was still a prototype, it made it very far into its development before Group B was canceled. Of the rumored eleven built, eight were destroyed in testing, indicating Toyota was considering bringing the 222D to competition soon. However the short wheelbase did prove to be a challenge when driving it, as Toyota Team Europe owner Ove Anderson describes: "you never knew what it was going to do. with such a short wheelbase and such power in such a light car it could swap ends at anytime, and without any warning". The 222D also suffered from enormous turbo lag as did most of the competitive Group B cars, but this paired with the extremely short wheel base made driving it at speed almost impossible.
During a surprise appearance at the 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Toyota drove and displayed a black 222D. The race-ready car weighed around 750 kg (1,650 lb) and its transverse-mounted, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine (what appears to be a 503E race engine, though other prototypes may have used the 4T-GTE) was reported to produce as much as 750 hp (559 kW).
|Also called||Toyota MR|
|Production||1989 – August 1999|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupé or T-top|
|Wheelbase||2,400 mm (94.5 in)|
|Length||4,171 mm (164.2 in)|
|Width||1,699 mm (66.9 in)|
|Height||1,234 mm (48.6 in)|
The MR2 went through a redesign in 1989 (though North America did not receive them until early 1990 as 1991 models). The new car was larger, weighed 350 to 400 lb (159 to 181 kg) more than its predecessor due to having a more luxurious and spacious cabin, larger engine sizes, sturdier transaxle, and a more durable suspension setup. The overall design of the automobile received more rounded, streamlined styling, with some calling the MR2 SW20 a "baby Ferrari" or "poor man's Ferrari" due to design cues similar to the Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS or Ferrari 348.
Like the AW11 before it, Toyota spent countless hours fine-tuning the handling capabilities of the SW20, seeking advice from professional race car drivers, including Dan Gurney of Formula One, NASCAR, and Le Mans fame.
When the AW11 was still in production and before the SW20 was officially shown to the public, several rumors were spreading stating that Toyota was building yet another mid-engine sports car, one that would have a 3.0L V6 engine that could directly compete with the 348, though this specific rumor was later shot down under the pretense that such a car would belong under the Lexus branding.
Differences between the normally aspirated and turbocharged models include the "Turbo" emblem (US) on the rear trunk, 'TWIN CAM 16 TURBO' decal above the side intake (Japanese market), a fiberglass engine lid with raised vents, fog lights, and an added interior center storage compartment located between the two seats. All SW20 MR2s came with a staggered wheel setup, with wider wheels and tires in the rear than in the front.
Mechanical differences on the Turbo models include:
The stock US market MR2 Turbo model was able to accelerate from 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) in 6.1 seconds and finish the 1/4 mile in 14.7 seconds.
The Revision 1 Turbo SW20 can pull 0.89g at the skidpad, with later revisions averaging 0.90g – 0.94.
Revision 2 cars were fitted with Yokohama A022s; coincidentally, the Honda NSX also uses a special variant of the A022.
A stock Japanese market Rev 3 GT-S Turbo was able to run the 1/4 mile in 13.1 seconds, beating out more expensive and higher powered automobiles such as the Honda NSX, Toyota Supra RZ, and even the Ferrari 348 TB.
Best Motoring, a popular Japanese automobile TV show, featured an episode that had them battle a factory stock Rev 5 GT-S Turbo versus other Japanese market contemporaries on the Tsukuba Circuit, with the MR2 winning the circuit race. In the rankings of personal bests, a Rev 2 GT-S was able to clock 1:08.00 at Tsukuba Circuit.
The second-generation MR2 underwent a variety of changes during its 10 years of production, grouped in four different periods:
Introduction of the new generation.
Revision 5 : 1998–1999 Model (Introduced Nov-1997):
Changes to the suspension geometry, tire sizes and power steering in January 1992 (MY 1993) were made in response to journalist reports that the MR2 was prone to "snap-oversteer". As a counterpoint to the snap-oversteer phenomenon of the MR2, other journalists point out that most mid-engine and rear engine sports and super cars exhibit similar behaviour, and that a change to the driver's response to oversteer is really the solution. In any car, braking shifts the weight forward, and acceleration to the rear. When drivers enter a corner with too much speed, and lift the throttle mid-corner, the weight transfers forward causing the rear tires to lose traction (called lift-off oversteer), which can result in a spin. When improper steering inputs were made attempting to correct this non-power-on oversteer, the rear of the MR2 would swing one way, then wildly (and quickly) the other—thus the term "snap" oversteer. Toyota elected to change the MR2 suspension and tires to reduce the likelihood that this would occur, though many drivers would lament the change and claim that it "neutered" the sharp edge the MR2 was known for. Toyota claimed that the changes were made "for drivers whose reflexes were not those of Formula One drivers".
In 1998, Toyota Racing Development offered an official kit body conversion and tuning program for MR2 owners to transform their existing SW20 MR2 into a wide-body TRD2000GT replica car. This was to pay homage to the TRD2000GT wins in the GT-C Japanese racing series, since the TRD2000GT racing series cars were based on the SW20 floor pan. The TRD2000GT body kit widened the MR2 by a total of 100 mm (4 in). Prior to MR2s being fitted with the TRD2000GT body kit, TRD had its customers select which additional engine, suspension, wheel, and interior upgrades they wanted. For this reason, no two TRD2000GT MR2s are alike. It is rumored that at least one was built to produce up to 373 kW (500 bhp) whereas some others had few modifications to their engines.
In order to ensure exclusivity, a high price tag was charged and total of just 35 factory car conversions were completed by Toyota Technocraft Ltd. Each official Technocraft-converted car was made using lightweight fiberglass components (front fenders, trunk lid extension, rear quarter panels, gas door, front and rear bumpers, 3-piece wing) and re-classified as completely new cars (with their own specially numbered TRD VIN plate riveted to the body to indicate their authenticity and rarity).
The Toyota Technocraft Ltd. TRD2000GT had a 60 mm (2.4 in) wider front and rear track (due to the addition of wider wheels and tires). Virtually every car converted also had other TRD parts fitted too, including extensive changes to both the suspension and engine. Most cars left the factory making more power due to TRD bolt-ons, some cars even left the factory boasting up to 500 PS (368 kW; 493 hp) and less than 1100 kg (2425 lb) for a very impressive power-to-weight ratio. While TRD Japan only offered a small number of kits with all body parts required for third-party conversion, Toyota Technocraft Ltd. offered complete car conversions.
Apart from the cars listed on the TRD2000GT register it is unknown how many original Toyota Technocraft Ltd. cars still exist today, but it is rumored that approximately 10 conversion kits were imported from TRD Japan into the US for conversions. In many respects, the extended body can be compared to that of a Porsche 911 Slantnose modification. The car's width is extended and body dimensions dramatically changing the car's overall visuals. Very little is known about these cars outside Japan.
Apart from Toyota Racing Development, TOM'S also released official body kits and a variety of tuning parts for the MR2. The "T020" as it was called, was powered by a naturally aspirated 2.2L stroked 3S-GE that produced 175 kW (235 bhp) at 6,800 rpm, this was due to more aggressive "F3" cams, a stroker kit, better intake flow with the aid of the "TOM'S Hyper Induction Carbon" intake kit, and an upgraded exhaust system labeled the "TOM'S Barrel", a lightened flywheel was also equipped to help the engine rev easier. The T020 also featured a more race-oriented suspension/chassis set up via camber kits, upgraded tie-rods, strut bars, roll center adjusters, stiffer springs, race shock absorbers, and sports brake pads. These modifications lowered the vehicle's center of gravity for increased agility and stability while cornering, and combined with the engine modifications enabling the T020 to accelerate from 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) in 4.9 seconds, in turn further made the SW20 chassis a much more capable track machine. A sportier look was given to the vehicle as well through engine scoops, side skirts, a Ferrari 348-esque rear light grille, forged wheels, revised bumper designs, and a larger rear spoiler.
Though undeniably still an MR2, the T020 was in all essence a more refined automobile, as is the nature of any TOM'S outfitted vehicle. Whilst the T020 was a normally aspirated vehicle, TOM'S also produced equipment for turbocharged models — e.g. wastegates, boost controllers, air filters, a 3S-GTE version of their "TOM'S Barrel" exhaust system, and "T.E.C. II" Engine Control Units. Despite the fact that these products are no longer purchasable brand new, some of these modification parts may still be procured as second-hand items, and are highly sought after by the MR2 community. TOM'S still keeps a T020 part list on their website, and there are still T020 part catalogues in circulation between enthusiasts to this day, albeit second-hand.
Between 1996 and 1999, Toyota TechnoCraft (TTC) produced 91 MKII SW20 MR2 Spiders. These cars featured a retractable, cloth softtop roof, wingless trunk lid, and an engine lid that was unique to the SW20 spider. Most of these cars were automatics and nearly all of them sported a naturally aspirated engine. Toyota decided against putting its name or logo on these cars as a result of its desire to distance itself from cars that featured leaky roofs. Most of the Spiders came in Lucerne Silver with a blue side moulding and featured black and blue accented cloth seats.
Several of these cars have been imported into the UK.
Early in the 1990s, the SW20 enjoyed considerable success throughout the world. Several teams fielded the MR2 in the Swiss Touring Car Championship, as well as in the South-East Asian Supercar Championship, with much success. The chassis was also used for a time during the mid 90s in the Fuji Freshman Series in Japan in which the SW20 succeeded the earlier AE86 chassis. Currently both the SW20 and ZZW30 chassis are used in 750 Motor Club's MR2 Championship in the UK which started in the early 2000s.
The Sard MC8-R was a modified and lengthened version of the SW20 built for GT racing by Toyota's SARD (Sigma Advanced Research Development) works team. The MC8-R housed a twin-turbo version of the 4.0-liter 1UZ-FE V8 producing 600 bhp (447 kW). Eligible for the GT1 category, the MC8-R lacked pace against the new-generation sports cars and homologation specials such as the Porsche 911 GT1, but did compete alongside a similarly modified Toyota Supra.
One MC8 road car was built in order to meet homologation requirements. The car disappeared from public eye within a year of its construction, but surfaced again on the Japanese collector car website SEiyaa in 2015, two decades after its disappearance. The car is assumed to be in the possession of a private collector, as the vehicle's sales listing has since been removed from SEiyaa.
1995 and 1996
With JGTC being the highest form of sports car racing in Japan, many manufacturers and private teams alike spent countless hours of research and development into perfecting their respective chassis. Toyota would enter their premier production cars, namely the Celica, MR2, and Supra. Unlike the experimental MC8-R, the MR2 JGTC shared more qualities chassis wise to the road-going production car, though it had a lower ride height than the standard SW20s, was wider, featured advanced aerodynamics and Brembo racing brakes. While it kept the MacPherson suspension setup from the road car, these components too were heavily modified (strut towers were more inward). The standard E153 5-speed transmission was swapped out for a race sequential transmission, which was mated to a race-spec version of the 3S-GTE engine. With the car's interior gutted, the intercooler was placed in the forward section of the vehicle with pipes travelling to and fro inside the cabin, as opposed to in the engine bay as a "side-mount" in production MR2s. Having won back to back in the years 1998 to 1999 against arguably more sophisticated race cars such as the BMW M3, Porsche 911, Ferrari F355, Toyota has proven that the SW20 chassis was competitive enough for top level sports car racing.
In 1992, Dennis Aase, a member of Toyota's American factory team, became the first driver to achieve over 320 km/h (200 mph) in the car's class as he took his SW20 to a 339.686 km/h (211.071 mph) average. The car posted 326.697 and 352.068 km/h (203 and 218.765 mph) on the two opposing runs required for the record.
The car, that previously saw action at the Firestone Firehawk Endurance Championship by P. J. Jones, ran with a boost of 16 psi (1.1 bar) with changes to the intake and exhaust systems and the cam timing, output a maximum of 494 PS; 363 kW (487 hp). The car ran with its stock body apart minus wing mirrors and wiper blades. His attempt at improving his record the following year was thwarted by poor weather.
As of July 2015[update], the G/BGT record (Class G, Blown Grand Touring Sports or 2 Liter production turbo-charged GT) still stands.
During its era the SW20 enjoyed a myriad of tuning parts from world renowned Japanese tuners such as HKS, Blitz, Phoenix Power, etc. While some companies only offered aesthetic modifications for the SW20, others such as Phoenix Power delivered a more comprehensive experience for customers, modifications such as a tuned ECU, longblock modifications, and a trunk mounted intercooler combined with a T04R Turbocharger were fitted. The Phoenix Power MR2 also featured a large rear wing reminiscent of the 911 (993) GT2 for massive downforce at high speeds, and a reworked suspension set up with Öhlins equipment, all of this turned the SW20 into a "street" monster that can feel equally at home on the track. Japanese tuner Border Racing, made available several parts as well, consisting mostly of parts that improved the car's suspension geometry, namely roll-center adapters, extended tie rods, etc., though they have also produced intercooler kits for the car and several interior pieces. AP Racing at a time also produced a brake kit as well for the MR2, but this has now long been discontinued. Performance parts manufacturer JUN offered engine upgrades for the MR2's 3SGTE engine which came in the form of stroker kits, which were co-developed with Cosworth, these are currently still available alongside, lightened flywheels, cam gears, and camshafts.
The SW20 garnered generally favorable reviews during its production life, with various sources complimenting the styling, power, and responsive handling. Car and Driver noted the revised SW20's braking capabilities to be superb, stating that 70 mph to standstill could be done in 157 feet, rivaling that of the Honda NSX. Former Top Gear host and racing driver Tiff Needell commends the SW20's handling having said that it "encourages you to drive with enthusiasm" in a review back in 1990. He does note however, that the sudden transition from understeer to oversteer may be startling for some people.
The car is infamous for its "snap-oversteer", this notoriety comes from numerous instances where individuals crash their SW20 either on or off the race track due to inexperience with a mid-ship platform, as MR layouts handle very differently in comparison to the common FF or even FR layouts. Even in its revised state the SW20 still has a large enough following that labels it to be a very challenging car to push to its limits, with some even labeling it as "the most dangerous car that you can buy", such a label may be true since MR2s are relatively cheaper than most automobiles with an MR platform (Honda NSX, Ferrari F355, Lotus Elise) and that it is readily accessible to more people.
In 1997 the video game Gran Turismo for the PlayStation, featured the MR2 SW20 alongside other 1990s Japanese market cars such as the Honda NSX, Mitsubishi FTO and Nissan Skyline. The 1999 sequel Gran Turismo 2 introduced other variants of the MR2, including the TOM'S T020, the TRD2000GT, and the MOMOCORSE MR2 JGTC.
|Production||October 1999 – July 2007|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door convertible|
|Engine||1.8 L (1,794 cc) 1ZZ-FED I4 (ZZW30)|
|Power output||138 bhp (140 PS; 103 kW) and 126 lb⋅ft (171 N⋅m) of torque|
|Wheelbase||2,451 mm (96.5 in)|
|Length||3,886 mm (153 in)|
|Width||1,694 mm (66.7 in)|
|Height||1,240 mm (48.8 in)|
|Curb weight||996 kg (2,195 lb)|
The third-generation MR2 was marketed as the Toyota MR-S in Japan, Toyota MR2 Spyder in the US, and the Toyota MR2 Roadster in Europe, except for France and Belgium, where it was marketed as the Toyota MR Roadster.
Also known as the Midship Runabout-Sports, the newest MR2 took a different approach than its predecessor, most obviously becoming a convertible and receiving the 'Spyder' marketing nomenclature.
The first prototype of MR-S appeared in 1997 at the Tokyo Motor Show. The MR2 Spyder chief engineer Harunori Shiratori said, "First, we wanted true driver enjoyment, blending good movement, low inertia, and lightweight. Then, a long wheelbase to achieve high stability and fresh new styling; a mid-engine design to create excellent handling and steering without the weight of the engine upfront; a body structure as simple as possible to allow for easy customizing, and low cost to the consumer."
The only engine available for the ZZW30 was the all-aluminium alloy 1ZZ-FED, a 1.8 L (1,794 cc) inline-four engine. Like its predecessors, it used DOHC and 4 valves per cylinder. The intake camshaft timing was adjustable via the VVT-i system, which was introduced earlier on the 1998 MR2 in some markets. Unlike its predecessors, however, the engine was placed onto the car the other way round, with the exhaust manifold towards the rear of the car instead of towards the front. The maximum power of 138 bhp (140 PS; 103 kW) at 6,400 rpm and 126 lb⋅ft (171 N⋅m) of torque at 4,400 rpm was quite a drop from the previous generation, but thanks to the lightness of the car it could still move quite quickly, accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 6.8 to 8.7 seconds depending on the transmission option, the SMT being unable to launch and shift as quickly as the conventional manual transmission. Curb weight is 996 kg (2,195 lb) for manual transmission models.
In addition to the 5-speed manual transmission, a 6-speed manual and 5-speed SMT were made available starting in 2002. A form of automated manual transmission, the SMT has no conventional H-pattern shift lever nor clutch pedal. The driver shifts gears by tapping the shift lever forward or backward or by pressing steering-wheel-mounted buttons. Clutch engagement is automated, and the system modulates the throttle on downshifts, matching engine speed to transmission speed seamlessly. The system prioritizes clutch life over shift speed, hence shifts and launches are slower and gentler than those a human driver can perform using a conventional manual transmission, hindering rapid acceleration somewhat. Unlike similar systems offered in contemporary sports cars, the SMT lacks a fully automated mode emulating an automatic transmission. The SMT automatically shifts to second and then first gear when stopping. The SMT was a standard feature in the Australian market; however, air conditioning was optional. After 2003, a 6-speed SMT was an option. Cruise control was never offered with the manual transmission but was standard for SMT-equipped cars. Some collectors prefer the SMT over the standard 5-speed manual transmission because in top gear the SMT spins at 2780 rpm instead of 3000 rpm for the 5-speed manual at 97 km/h (60 mph) – making it slightly quieter and giving better economy, even with the extra weight. The drawback to the SMT is slower acceleration and very few technicians actually understand the more complex system.
The MR2 Spyder featured a heated glass rear window. A hardtop was also available from Toyota in Japan and Europe.
The MR-S was introduced in October 1999 to the Japanese market in three trim levels: the "B", the "Standard", and the "S". The "S" trim level included power windows, locks, mirrors, AM/FM/CD radio, cloth seats, tilt steering wheel, and alloy wheels.
In March 2000, the car was introduced into the United States and Europe as a "monospec" level, which included the same features as Japan's "S" trim level. In October 2000 the car was introduced in Australia as a 5-speed SMT only.
The feedback for the new model was somewhat mixed. Some liked its new design concept, while fans of the SW20 would've liked it to continue along the path of the previous model. All agreed, however, that the ZZW30 had nearly perfect handling. The ZZW30 is considered to be the best-handling MR2 in both overall limit and controllability. For example, Tiff Needell, a very experienced race driver and the former host of the BBC television series Top Gear, praised the handling of the ZZW30. Although some complained of the relative lack of power, many owners have opted to switch out the 1ZZ-FE engine in exchange for the 141 kW; 189 bhp; 192 PS 2ZZ-GE found in the US-market Celica GTS, US-market Corolla XRS, US-market Matrix XRS, Pontiac Vibe GT, Australian-market Celica SX and ZR, Australian-market Corolla Sportivo, European-market Corolla RunX and Lotus Elise.
These are the MR2 Spyder production numbers (of North American sales figures only).
In July 2004, Toyota announced that sales of the MR2, as well as the Celica, would be discontinued in the US at the end of the 2005 model year because of lower sales numbers. The ZZW30 sold 7,233 units in its debut year, falling to just 901 for the 2005 model, for a total of 27,941 through its six years of production in the US. The 2005 model year was the last for the MR2 in the US. While the MR2 Spyder was not sold after 2005 in the US, it was offered in Japan, Mexico, and Europe until 2007. Production of the car ceased permanently in July 2007.
Between 2000 and 2008, several teams campaigned the MR-S in Super GT (known as JGTC prior to 2004 season).
As a farewell to the MR2, Toyota produced 1000 limited-production V-Edition cars for Japan and the UK. They are distinguished by different color wheels, titanium interior accents, minor body changes, a helical limited-slip differential, and different steering wheel trim.
Also for the model year 2007, the United Kingdom received 300 models in a special numbered TF300 series. A special 136 kW (182 bhp) turbocharged variant called the TTE Turbo (TTE standing for Toyota Team Europe) was available as a dealer-installed package. This package was also available for fitting to customer MR2s.
The Toyota VM180 Zagato was designed by Zagato, based on the MR-S, and built at Toyota Modelista International for sale in Japan only through the Toyota Vista dealer network. It was first shown on 10 January 2001 in Tokyo and then at the February 2001 Geneva Motor Show. The body panels are attached to the original MR-S chassis, as can be seen by the recess around the door handles. The stock engine was tuned to produce 116 kW (155 bhp).
On March 8, 2017, automotive website and magazine Evo revealed that Toyota has expressed a desire for a performance range of cars whose core has been referred to as "the Three Brothers" by Tetsuya Tada, chief of Toyota Gazoo Racing. This includes a lightweight mid-engined sports car, rumored to be a spiritual, if not direct, successor to the MR2.