The Best Toyota: 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo

Toyota isn’t exactly known as a company that stirs up raw passion in car enthusiasts hearts.  Camrys are fine family cars, and some of them are even pretty fast.  However, let’s face facts.  You don’t find kids drawing Camrys in their notebooks at the back of algebra class.  Would you believe there was a time in the not too distant past that Toyota reliability collided with a mid engine chassis that was capable of great handling?  Well, it is true.  All of it.  Toyota made a world beater, but let it all go away.  All that is left are a few used examples.  Found in famous Muscle Shoals, Alabama on Craigslist, this 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo is a pampered, high mileage example of one of Toyota’s high points in both style and engineering.  With a $5500 asking price, this soul stirring, mid engine sports is a bargain for those looking for affordable performance.

When you look at the story of the three generations of the Toyota MR2, it is like four different departments of Toyota corporate were involved.  The first generation, which was a nice, compact response to the Pontiac Fiero, was likely the brainchild of the product planning department.  The second generation seems to be the wild child of the enthusiasts over in engineering and styling, and they did a good job showing off what they could do.  Unfortunately, the nerds in marketing and sales were charged with bringing sales out of the doldrums, and dictated that the third generation car look like some Japanese anime creation to get the youth in the showroom.

Of course, it is the second generation cars that enthusiasts covet.  They were the largest of the three, and, undeniably, the generation with the best styling and performance.  You could get one with a regular four cylinder with an automatic or a five speed manual transmission, or a turbocharged version with a five speed.  The turbo put down some impressive numbers.  A Car and Driver test in 1992 claimed that the turbo version would do 0-60 in 6.3 seconds, 0-100 in 18 seconds, and the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 91 mph.  The car topped out at 142 mph, and would pull .88gs on the skid pad.  These were pretty impressive numbers for the early nineties.

The road test, written by Brock Yates, took place at an event put on by Toyota in 1992 to show off improvements in handling to make the car more controllable in high speed corners.  Anyone who has ever driven a mid engine car in anger is familiar with the term snap oversteer.  This is when a mid engine car loses rear grip in a corner under power, and the rear of the car swings out violently.  You have to pay for the great handling a mid engine car provides somewhere, and the rapid spin has embarrassed many a hot shoe driver.  I did it once in a Fiero, and they weren’t kidding about the snap part.  I was in some lady’s yard before I even knew what happened.  She knew immediately, and wasn’t amused.  At all.

This example has just under 160,000 miles, and the 70 year old owner claims that it has received an oil change every 3,000 miles, and maintenance was performed religiously.  The car has a set of leather seats installed, but the original cloth ones go with the car.  A radio with a navigation screen and a rear facing camera is included as well.  Also, as you would expect from a Toyota, the air conditioning works just fine.  The car is claimed to have no rattles, and the suspension and steering are still tight.  The only mentioned problem is that the cruise control works intermittently.

So, despite the high mileage, this is not a bad example of a great car.  The Brock Yates road test complains that, although they liked the car very much, it wasn’t a car that you lust after.  Perhaps that is because it was a Toyota.  The company has a reputation for making boringly reliable cars that you can rack up a lot of miles with.  They may see that as a drawback, but I see Toyota reliability in a mid engine sports car as a big plus.  Lotus must think so too, because they use Toyota engines in the Elise.  I look at this car, and I wonder what a 2017 model MR2 would look and drive like.  Too bad they didn’t continue developing the second generation model.  The Japanese can build world beater sports cars when they set their minds to it.

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Comments

  1. Oingo

    As someone that owned an 88 Celica Turbo from 90-00 and put over 100 miles on it during that time I feel qualified to attest to the fact that while these are fun to drive they are nowhere near as reliable as the NA models. Mine was an initially poorly maintained model that had 50K miles put on without much service which and driven hard by the 2nd owner and stored in a damp underground garage which can or may be attributed to some of the issues.

    Some not all of the thing that I encountered where:

    Clutch gone due it being the lightweight version from the NA model – Toyota updated with HD replacement which came with (replaced by interim owner/curb stoner/dealer mine had and was still on place when I donated it.
    Transmission rebuilt at same time.
    Tooth broken off ring gear
    Turbo seals failure and replacement same issue causing excessive oil consumption.
    Turbo in very small engine compartment heat stresses everything and plastic gets brittle and cracks, shrinks, disintegrates
    Rear wheel bearing failure
    Hydraulic clutch failed no fluid not listed in maintenance schedule or features tucked away not even aware of it.
    Power antennae failed multiple time due to moisture and road salt mix down it it and freezing and corroding.
    Metal sunroof cables seized (lack of maintenance) not listed in schedule
    Metal sunroof corrodes at edge due to gasket holding water, salt slurry etc.
    Gas filler neck corroded and fell off
    braided copper exhaust flex pipe developed a hole due to heat and corrosion
    Battery failed much more frequently due to heat in engine compartment.

    Due to the fact I had a 5 year unlimited mileage warranty many of these super expensive repairs were mostly covered so I kept it

    • BiggYinn

      Only 100 miles in 10 years ….typo!!

    • Dean maxey

      Why would you compare a celica all trac to an MR2 to not even close to being the same car don’t bring a celica into an MR2
      conversation. The Celica being an all wheel drive car would certainly have many more issues as far as a clutch and drive train is concerned really? Comparing the same models side-by-side fine. But don’t ask to model different cars to be put into the same category.

  2. Sparkster

    I loved my 1989 supercharged MR2

    • dirk sichveland

      I also had a supercharged MR2. I think they are kinda rare.

  3. Patrick S newport pagnell Staff

    I still prefer my ’05 MR2 Spyder.0-60 mph takes just 7.0 sec, with the quarter 15.0+- without the turbo hype(NA reliability). Go-cart handling(lowered with TRD Sportivo kit),34mpg hwy and IMO fresher,sharper styling(hardtop).

    • Paul

      Nice!

      • Patrick S newport pagnell Staff

        Thanks man

    • OA5599

      I agree with you.

      The 3rd generation MR2 is way underrated.

      Yours is a beauty!

      • newport pagnell

        Thanks-03 thru 05 are still easy to find with low miles. I’d avoid the SMT cars. These later cars have better bracing and wider wheels.I have 130k miles on it now and its been really reliable.

    • Mike Kiser

      Very nice … Had a green one back in 06 … Still miss it … Mike …

  4. Fred W.

    160,000 miles is not high for any Toyota built since they started making them to last (that’s debatable but for both mechanics and rustproofingI would put it late 80’s on). It’s low to average mileage, as most cars this age (if maintained) will have 200K to 300K and still be running the original engine and trans without a rebuild.

  5. Will
  6. Paul

    My series IV Supra is a Toyota many people lust for!

  7. healeydays

    The new Supra will be something that could be alot of fun. It shares alot with the new BMW Z4.

  8. DonSkokie

    I’m not sure the author here knows the history of Toyota or of the MR2. The MR2 wasn’t a response to the Fiero. The Fiero did come out a year before the MR2 did however the MR2’s design had been in the works for years.

    I have driven a 1985, a 1987 and owned a 1993 MR2. The 1993 had very low miles, 11k in 1999 when I bought it and 45k when someone cut off my mother when she was driving it and pushed her off the road into a tree. Toyotas are notorious for having “high” mileage engines. I had a 1983 Corolla with 450k miles on it when I bought it and around 500k miles on it when I sold it and it is still driving around. Drove it across country without worrying about it. As long as you car for them they drive a long time.

    It must be the mindset of people of people who haven’t owned some of Toyota’s fun cars that they are boring. My 1993 MR2 was crazy fun and scary at times. My three, yes three different 1987 Corolla FX-16 GTS were some of the most fun cars I have ever owned. I miss my last one and wish it back as much as I wish I still had my 1969 AMC Javelin. At 40 years of age I have owned a lot of different cars and trucks. The Toyotas I owned were reliable, long lasting and usually never boring. Does Toyota have some standard cars, hell yes, will they return to their days in the 1990’s of excess, probably not.

    As for this Gen2 MR2 it is just ok. I was drawing jets in Algebra.

  9. Carguy

    And what about the Toyota 86?
    They aren’t all Camrys my friend.

  10. GlennMerithew

    I will never forget riding with my mom in her new mr 2 and thinking man I hope we don’t get hit I felt like I was riding in a coffin do to the trans hump but it was a butt load of fun although when it needed tires they were 2 hundred dollars a piece at the time oh well my dad finally traded it in on an avalone

  11. Rex Rice

    My ’92 Previa has 335,000 miles with no engine or trans repairs so far. Tires, brake pads & one set of struts are all it has needed for this daily driver. I’m sure I’m not alone.

  12. boxdin

    It was said at the time that the Fiat X19 was the inspiration for the MR2. The Fiero being 500 lbs heavier was a player in this mix but not the performance leader. MR2 like this one are the peak of the breed

  13. Mychal

    Were can I find parts and a good MR2 mechanic, in Orange County California, Southern California? I heard and read parts and a mechanic are somewhat hard to find.. I just purchased a 1991/1992 MR2 Turbo. With 60k on a new (SW20 3SGTE )engine. It has TRD Racing suspension)will and cold air induction. Is this a good reliable engine? Is a high performance one? They have some many engine models and configurations that is confusing. Will the upgraded suspension eliminate the snap oversteer, I read and heard so much about.. I don’t know alot about this model car from Toyota but I hear alot of good performance and stories of how fun the car is to drive, regular or track.. Did i buy a good car to have some fun or did I make a mistake and it will be a money pit? Are there also an aftermarket mods or bodykits that anyone can give me any suggestions on this so I can upgrade the car in appearance as well.. Thank you

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