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2002 Toyota MR2 Spyder REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/6/2017

Con: Homely design, lack of cargo space, dated interior design, non-adjustable seats.

Pro: Well-balanced mid-engine design, scores high on the fun scale, awesome car to run hard on the track, affordability.

Edmunds Say: Though better suited as a weekend car than a daily driver, the MR2 Spyder is the perfect alternative for those suffering from Mazda Miata burnout.

What’s New: The MR2 Spyder rolls into 2002 with a new Formula One-style five-speed manual transmission. The only other change is that the yellow cloth interior has been discontinued.

Review: The Toyota MR2 Spyder is a two-seat, mid-engine soft-top roadster distilled to its most basic nature. Introduced in 2000, the Spyder has its work cut out for it with the plethora of roadster competitors on the market these days. Its advantages lie in its relatively low price, fun-to-drive nature and relatively exclusive numbers (only about 7,000 are sold each year, fewer than the Porsche Boxster).

The Spyder rides on a low-slung, long-wheelbase platform with MacPherson struts supporting each corner. An amazingly sharp and responsive electric hydraulic power steering system makes this little droptop a blast when ripping along canyon roads. With the mid-engine design, wide track and the suspension's speedy recovery ability, acrobatics on curvy roads equal some good times.

Sharing an engine with the Celica GT, MR2 Spyder's 1.8-liter twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine produces 138 horses at 6,400 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm, thanks in part to VVT-i variable valve timing technology. Weighing in at a diminutive 2,200 pounds, it provides plenty of vroom from the get-go, reaching 60 mph in about 7 seconds. A five-speed manual transmission driving the rear wheels is standard.

A new option for 2002 is a sequential-shift five-speed manual transmission (SMT). A new and rare feature in the U.S. market (the BMW M3 and Ferrari 360 Modena F1 are currently the only other cars to have one), this transmission combines the convenience of an automatic transmission with the interaction and efficiency of a manual. The SMT clutch and gear selector operations are performed by computer-controlled actuators. As such, the SMT can execute upshifts and downshifts faster than even a highly trained driver using the standard five-speed manual transmission.

The MR2 Spyder comes one way and pretty much includes any features you might want. Air conditioning, ABS, power windows and door locks, and a tilt steering wheel are all standard. Plus, it boasts something some higher-priced competitors don't have: a glass rear window with defroster. However, the ragtop, though made by the same company that makes lids for the S2000 and the Miata, is a bit more cumbersome than those two models'. It is necessary to get out of the car before putting it up or down.

Some might find contention with the chunky styling of the little machine, Danny DeVito-esque being one of the ways to describe the bulging headlights and rotund yet busy lines of the sheetmetal, especially when compared to the sleek and curvaceous Miata. But one sometimes feels more affection for the less comely child...

Besides, once you get the MR2 Spyder revved up and onto the proper racing line at a track, you'll be smitten no matter what your opinion of the styling, inside or out. Thinking of autocrossing a small, inexpensive roadster? This Toyota is your car.

Ah, to be young, beautiful and racing around town in a convertible. You may not be the first two, but you could have the last for a lot less money than you might expect.

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