If you’re looking for reliable fun, but not an MX-5, Toyota has the answer...

You may not see many of them on our roads, but we’ve had (and tested) three generations of the Toyota MR2 in South Africa. The first to arrive was assessed in 1986, the second in 1991 and this last generation in 2001. The second was not officially imported here, so these are scarce. The third-generation (W30) model is the one that’s more readily available, although the numbers remain small.

Packaging

The third-generation MR2 offered impressive styling reminiscent of the Porsche Boxster of the time, and it also mirrored that vehicle’s mid-engined layout. That meant centralised mass distribution; with two people in the car, it was 50:50. A cloth top was standard, and a hard item was presented as an option.

One of the few criticisms of this model is its luggage space … or, rather, lack thereof. Front trunks on mid-engined cars can often be spacious, but in the MR2 the space-saver spare wheel takes up most of the room, leaving a measly 48 litres (interestingly, the front and rear wheels are different sizes).

It would appear that Toyota likes symmetry, as the fuel tank also measures 48 litres. With a fuel index of 10,1 L/100 km, expect a range of nearly 500 km. The suspension is straightforward, with MacPherson struts fore and transverse links at the rear. The soft top can be a challenge to operate, but many owners have hard tops, too, so will pass these on to new owners if you prefer some added safety (from theft or vandalism).

Powertrain

Across the generations, the engine was always in the same place, driving the rear wheels. This means that maintenance access is tricky. The first generation offered 86 kW from its 1,6-litre petrol, while the following iteration used a Celica 3S-GE 2,0-engine producing 118 kW. Finally, the 2001 model employed a 1,8-litre engine with 103 kW, a rev limit of 6 900 r/min and a five-speed manual gearbox.

On the latter model, variable valve timing and lift is employed and you have to use the revs to keep the MR2 on the boil. Still, a sprint to 100 km/h in 8,29 seconds was good for the time. At engine speeds above 6 000 r/min, the high lift profile is put into operation to boost output. The braking performance was excellent, too.

Which one to get

You won’t find many first or second generations, so the best bet is the third series. Five-hundred units were brought to South Africa and they are well on their way to becoming collector’s items.

What to watch out for

Few issues have been reported but, as I mentioned, access to the engine is a pain because some parts have to be removed first to get to others. The timing belt of the previous engines was replaced by a chain. It is nevertheless possible to have this chain and possibly the tensioner wear out before 150 000 km. If you hear unfamiliar, metallic sounds from the engine, have it checked.

Furthermore, the valve adjustment is via shims and not hydraulic tappets, so the valve clearances will need periodic inspection. Oil consumption could also be a problem. This can be cured by replacing the valve-stem seals but, if this still does not cut the consumption, the oil is moving past the piston rings.

Availability and prices

We spotted one first- and five third-generation models on Gumtree, with pricing from R60 000 to R115 000.

Author: Peter Palm