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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For Open-air fun that won’t cost the earth; simple hood

Against Limited storage space

Verdict Impractical but fine-handling two-seater

Go for… 1.8 VVT-i

Avoid… 1.8 VVT-i SMT

Toyota MR2 Roadster
  • 1. Check for any signs of crash damage, or track day use
  • 2. Mismatched tyres can adversely affect the handling
  • 3. Some problems have been reported with the suspension
  • 4. The cabin is snug and has just enough equipment to be comfortable
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Toyota MR2 Roadster full review with expert trade views

The MR2 evolved from a coupe in the 1990s to a two-seat roadster for the new millennium to take on the Mazda MX-5. This generation sticks with the mid-engined, mini-supercar layout and, like the MX-5, has just the right amount of power to be great fun, but without scaring the pants off newcomers or costing a packet to run.

The 138bhp 1.8-litre engine is borrowed from the Celica coupe and whizzes away merrily through all five of its gears, with the slick gearshift just adding to the sense of fun. It's all topped off with excellent handling courtsey of the mid-engined layout, and the only thing to watch out for is that the MR2 can catch out the unwary in the wet.

As you'd only expect from a car that's been engineered so well, the hood is a masterpiece and folds easily with one hand from the driver’s seat, snicking into a locked position when folded to stop it flapping about.

Inside, the cabin has a nice snug, sporty feel, and just enough equipment to be comfortable, although not every model has air-con.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

More fun but less practical than MX-5. Hold its value well

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

There’s only one MR2 model, so all you need to decide is which gearbox suits you. We’d go for the five-speed manual which has a clean, crisp action that works well with the rev-happy 138bhp 1.8-litre engine.

There’s also the sequential manual transmission (SMT), which is Toyota’s take on the Formula One-style manual gearbox without a clutch pedal. It works more smoothly and quickly than most contemporary systems, but we still reckon the standard manual is more fun.

Other choices are limited to air-con and leather seats (many later MR2s have both). Some cars were fitted with a removable hard top as new - it’s useful in winter weather, although you need somewhere to store it when you want to enjoy open-top motoring.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Needs optional metallic, pre ’02 face-lift good value

James Ruppert
Used car guru

For a great-looking open-top roadster, the MR2 is easy on the wallet, thanks to its use of an engine that’s common to several other models. Toyota’s franchised dealers’ labour charges are generally higher than those for Mazda dealers’, but the MR2 is unlikely to need anything other than routine service work, so this is not such a concern.

The MR2 delivers strong performance but also good economy and you can expect a combined consumption of 38.2mpg. It won’t munch through tyres as quickly as many other cars with similar performance, either.

Insurance is also reasonable as the MR2 sits in group 13, which is the same as a Mazda MX-5 and less than a Mini Cooper S.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

More fun but less practical than MX-5. Hold its value well

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Toyota’s hard-earned reputation for reliability is evident in the MR2 and there’s little to be worried about when buying this mid-engined roadster. However, it’s worth checking for any signs of crash damage, or track day use such as excessively worn tyre edges. It’s also important to make sure the MR2 has four quality tyres with the same tread pattern - mismatched tyres can adversely affect the handling.

Some problems have been reported with the suspension, but much of this is down to cars being bumped up kerbs; the MR2 is a low-slung sports car and, as such, is more at risk from this kind of abuse.

The exhaust can rot from the inside if the car has been used for lots of short journeys. This is a pricey fix, so ask the vendor what sort of trips they’ve taken it on.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Needs optional metallic, pre ’02 face-lift good value

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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