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Toyota MR2 Spyder - Job Security

Toyota MR2 Spyder: Good For Everyone

Matthew Pearson
May 1, 2000 SHARE

I love writing stories like this. Having the opportunity to tell our readership that there is yet another reason to celebrate is one of the coolest aspects of this job. And while I’d like to say my motivations are completely altruistic, they’re not. Filling you in on the details of a car like the new Toyota MR2 Spyder gives me an overwhelming sense of security—as in job security. Why? Well, as long as manufacturers like Toyota produce cars like the new MR2, this magazine will continue to thrive.

More than any other car in recent Toyota history, the MR2 Spyder serves as a clear indication that Toyota recognizes the Super Street market (although they prefer the term youth market). At the press introduction, Toyota made it very clear that it plans to make an extensive and immediate impact in the marketplace. The MR2 along with the new Celica are clear indications that the sleeping giant is in fact awake and ready to kick some serious Super Street ass. And that, my friends, is great news for us.

For as long as I can remember, industry leaders have said that if Toyota wanted to, it could come in and totally dominate our sport—based on its financial muscle alone. But rather than try and buy its way in, Toyota has done its homework. It has created a youth-oriented sub-brand within the Toyota division called genesis. genesis is responsible for the development of the vehicles as well as the marketing strategies that are targeting the youth market (check out www.isthistoyota.com for an example). To its credit, Toyota actually staffed its new genesis team with young, energetic people who actually went out and listened to members of its target audience. Witness the new Celica and now the MR2 Spyder.

So did they get it right? If sales of the new Celica (and the way that the aftermarket has taken to it) are any indication, the answer would have to be yes. Is the MR2 Spyder on target, as well? From the driver’s seat, I’d have to say yes again. My time behind the wheel revealed that Toyota had hit the mark. First and foremost is the fact that the car is a blast to drive. Its mid-engine, rear-drive setup makes the Spyder nimble, responsive, and extremely well-balanced. The shifter allows for quick flips through the gears, although more often than not, we opted to let the 1.8L pull up to redline. The powerplant features Toyota’s VVT-i variable-valve timing. Max power is 138 hp at 6,400 rpm, and max torque is 125 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm. According to Toyota, the Spyder runs from 0 to 60 mph in 6.95 seconds, while the four-wheel ABS can drag it down from 70 to 0 mph in 167 ft.

At the risk of sounding like one of those real automotive weenies—um, I mean journalists—the only thing we could come up with when pressed by the Toyota team for possible improvements was, well, more power. The 1.8L from the Celica GTS (180 hp) would be nice, or even better, there is plenty of room in the engine compartment for a supercharger or—dare we dream— a turbocharger. When we mentioned those possibilities to the Toyota engineers, they didn’t rule out any of those scenarios. They simply smiled and nodded in agreement. Old-school auto weenies complained about the lack of storage space, but come on, how many MR2 buyers are really going to be worried about where to put a set of golf clubs?

But perhaps the biggest indication that the genesis/Toyota folks are on target came during a speech from MR2 Spyder Chief Engineer Harunori Shiratori. Mr. Shiratori spoke at length about the traps that led to the downfall of the sports car in the ’80s and ’90s. Basically, he said that as sports cars evolved, they became heavier, more powerful, and more expensive. Keeping the mistakes of the past in mind, Mr. Shiratori said that the MR2 was developed with five key concepts in mind.

Three of those concepts should be of particular interest to Super Street readers (the other two—long wheelbase and mid-engine design—are important, too, but these three perhaps more so). Mr. Shiratori explained that the MR2 had to offer true driver enjoyment. It also had to have a body structure that allowed for easy customization. Yes, you read that correctly. Toyota wanted the car to be customizer-friendly (more on that in a moment). Finally, the MR2 had to be affordable. The mono-grade, mono-spec (translation: one trim level only) Spyder has an MSRP of $23,098. A deluxe audio system, ABS brakes, 15-inch alloy wheels, tilt steering wheel, glass rear window (remember, it’s a convertible, duh!), rear wind deflector, and a leather steering wheel and shift knob are all standard. The only options we can get are an interior tonneau cover, a front-end mask, and wheel locks. Priced right? Um, yeah, we’d say so.

As I said, I love writing stories like this. I get to report that a major automobile manufacturer has taken it upon itself not only to listen to what we want in a car, but to actually follow through and build the car. And they took the time to make it aftermarket-friendly. The Toyota folks were proud to tell us that the body panels were designed for easy removal. Toyota Racing Development will more than likely have a wide-body kit available by the time you read this (www.trdusa.com). The rest of the aftermarket won’t be far behind. And that extra room in the engine compartment? Coincidence? We think not. Hello, TRD? Hello, FasTrax Turbo? It’s only a matter of time.

Let’s see. A mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive enthusiasts’ car that’s quick, fun to drive, looks cool, and that encourages customization. Oh, and it’s affordable. Hmm…a winner? Um, yeah, we’d say so again. If there is a downside to the new MR2 Spyder, it’s that Toyota plans to sell only 5,000 units annually (in America). When asked, the Toyota folks admitted that they could get more if the demand is there. I think they’d better place that call now.

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By Matthew Pearson
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