Practical Classics (UK)
TOYOTA MR2 MKII
As a former MKI owner I always looked down my nose at the MKII (SW20) as a blunted version of that masterful, machine-tooled Eighties weapon. Despite curvaceous good looks, the
SW20 is the one you would only buy if you can’t find a good MKI. That’s why it’s cheaper, yes?
Well, maybe not if price trends are to be believed. Today, one thing is immediately obvious as I get behind the wheel, the second-generation MR2 has a superior driving position, for me at least. As I head through my test drive tick list
I have immediate confidence in the machine, although it helps that Trevor Bailey’s 1997 car is an extraordinarily well-sorted example of the breed. More than confidence in fact, as within minutes I feel completely connected to it, and through it, to the road.
There were tales of snap oversteer on early MKIIS especially in the wet. A suspension geometry update in 1993 cured the early cars, Toyota
revising the wheel size from 14in to 15in at the same time and, as the car matured through the Nineties from 'Rev 1' to 'Rev 5', it improved. So, this late car has the power of four Toyota revisions behind it and subtle upgrades made since by Trevor himself to assist me to pure driving Nirvana.
Which means having fun in every corner comes as standard and my anti SW20 prejudices evaporate. The MKI was an angular computer game, it was airy and exposed and yet, despite being longer, wider and heavier, the SW20 feels just as exciting while at the same time more competent, usable and comfortable than its predecessor. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
But it still has pop up headlights, and, in this car, the 2-litre inline-dohc non-turbo four-pot offers 173 usable horses, all breathing through that sexy bisected vent just aft of the left door. All in all, despite being more sensible, the SW20 is still a thing of schoolboy wonder.
Its 1989 to 1999 lifespan made it a natural competitor to the Mazda MX-5 and its mid-engined competitor, the MGF. In the last couple of years, the Toyota has overtaken them in terms of value gained. It’s stylish, fun, practical and reliable.
Its time has come because enthusiasts have discovered how brilliant it is.