Project: 2003 Toyota Mr2 Spyder
When we first got the MR2 Spyder back from XS, James and Jay fought over the keys for the first week. To find out what the fuss was about, I pulled rank and climbed into it for a month.
Then I did the unthinkable: I washed it. By hand. This is remarkable because I never wash cars; not my own and certainly not any of our illustrious project cars. Oh sure, I take them to get washed (like most people who live in LA), but I think the last time I actually busted out the bucket and sponge was during the Reagan administration. And that was only because Dad said it was either that or weed the rose garden.
James laughed when I told him of my car-washing weekend. "That's funny," he said, "I did the same thing when I first started driving the car. There's just something about the MR2 that inspires you to wash it, to take care of it."
So what is it about our little Mister Two turbo that inspires emotions beyond our normal caveman desires to find the fastest corner entry speed (like we do in Project Evo) and drift every curve (Project 350Z)?
As James mentioned last month in Off Camber, our MR2 Spyder is a flyweight with a bantamweight engine. And that alone is worth more than a few chuckles. So is the fact that you sit so low in the car, with noise howling in from the drop top and mid-mounted engine. Yes, this alfresco lightness means chassis flex over speedbumps and a fair amount of creaking and crashing over potholes, put I'd still rather feel the road than be isolated from it.
The steering is also light, fast and precise - a combination not seen anywhere else in the fleet. The Evo's quick 'n' sharp rack is close, but lacks the feathery nature of the MR2. This combination means the car is eminently tossable. I know I've claimed to find this trait in other cars, but trust me on this, our MR2 really is the business.
The lack of an LSD means there's little worry of inducing a slide with a badly-timed throttle application (mid corner, for instance). I shudder to think what a spin-happy beastie our MR2 would be with an aggressive mechanical two-way LSD. But with the open diff, I've found nearly irrecoverable spins to be only a result of poor decision-making with the brakes (mid corner, for instance).
By far the most fun is to huck the car onto freeway on-ramps, especially poorly paved ones. Once the rear wheels unsettle, the car skips like a stone over the asphalt and will slide distances proportional to entry speed. While I'm sliding and trying to control the car with just the throttle, I find I have to wait for the inside rear wheel to stop spinning and gain traction - which it does with a turbo whoosh and cough from the tire. The turbo lag combined with this wheel-spinning nonsense would be irritating in any other car, but in our MR2, it brings a smile to my face every time.
Why? Because the car has spunk, spirit and simplicity. It's a light and transparent driving experience, with absolutely no pretense. Let me put it to you this way: If our MR2 could invite you to dinner, you'd sit on the floor and eat with your hands. But damn, would it be a memorable meal. -Edward Loh