The first generation Toyota MR2 launched in 1984 was designed to take on the Fiat X1/9 but blew the Italian car out of the water in terms of quality and reliability. A revised model came along in 1990 with baby-Ferrari styling and a larger 2.0-litre engine though it didn't attract the buyers in the same way as the early cars. In 2000 Toyota tried again, the third generation MR2 ditching the targa top style of the earlier models in favour of a neat, simple soft top. Based around the Celica's 1.8 VVTi engine the new MR2 was very much a driver's car where luggage and cabin space took second place. A semi-automatic SMT model was launched in 2001 allowing gear changes via buttons on the steering wheel or a sequential shift lever. A six speed manual box was introduced in 2003. The car was phased out in 2006 with the final 200 in the UK being limited edition TF300 models with leather and Alcantara trim and a sports exhaust. We'll concentrate on the later, third generation cars here as they're more readily available.
Bang for your buck
You'll need to travel light in a Toyota MR2. There isn't much luggage space and the cabin is tight too. On soft top models the roof is great, easy to put up and take down single-handed so no electric option was offered – it has a proper glass rear window too so no peering through a scratched and misty plastic panel when you look in the mirror. It's fairly basic inside, a leather clad steering wheel being the only concession to sportiness, though air-con is standard and a factory hard top was available when new. With only one engine and few options it's pretty easy to see what you're getting.
What you'll pay
First and second generation cars are now very much seen as classics and you'll pay according to condition. A good Mk1 car may fetch £5,000 or more. Third generation cars are up against the Mazda MX-5 in the affordable roadster market, a 2001 car on a Y-plate will set you back between £2,000 and £3,000. A 2006 (56) TF300 will go for around £6,000 and you'll pay more for one of the rare SMT cars. Insurance is a reasonable group 13.
What to check
This is a sports car so it's likely to have been used fairly hard. However, most of the bits come from the same parts bin as those for your granddads Corolla so they're pretty bullet proof. Look out for worn interior trim and rattly plastics – glovebox lids that won't close are a particular problem. Check the tyres carefully for signs of enthusiastic driving too. Cars that have seen heavy use can have an oil consumption problem.
Although some Toyota parts are reasonably priced - £190 for a clutch, £110 for a starter motor – those unique to the MR2 can be expensive. A complete exhaust will set you back £900+, though it is stainless steel and will last a while. An alternator will cost you £350 and look after the wing mirrors as they're £90 each.
How it drives
A third-generation used Toyota MR2 for sale is lighter than an MX-5 or a BMW Z3 and the 140bhp engine will push it to 130mph with 0-60 coming up in 7.9 seconds. Because it's light it's very responsive and the long wheelbase means it handles well and is steady in a straight line.
The steering has power assistance – electric rather than being driven from the engine – with 2.7 turns between locks. The five-speed gearbox is slick too making this very much a driver's car. With the engine behind the driver and minimal luggage space up front balance is excellent.
Thanks to that lightness you can get around 38mpg from an MR2 so it's a pretty economical proposition.
The Toyota MR2 has always lagged in the sales charts behind its Japanese cousin the MX-5. This is mainly down to its lower practicality with a smaller cabin and tiny luggage space. Remember though that this is a mid-engined car. View it as somewhere between the practicality of the Mazda and the hard core experience of something like a Lotus Elise and a used MR2 has a lot to offer.