Toyota MR2 Turbo | Buyer's Guide

Photograph Courtesy Toyota

It marries a mid-engine layout with turbo power and timeless lines. Ferrari? Lotus? Lancia or Renault?

Try Toyota. 

The second-generation Toyota MR2 Turbo made its debut in the U.S. for the 1991 model year, and Hagerty now shows prices topping the $40,000 mark. Bring a Trailer’s biggest sale of the car–so far–brought in $49,000. 

Need a comparison? You’ll spend about the same amount to pick up a Lotus Esprit Turbo from the same era.

Unlike the Esprit, though, the MR2 was all new for the ’90s. It delivered a cozy, contemporary interior, swoopy bodywork and Toyota’s smooth, reliable 3S-GTE turbo engine backed by a five-speed gearbox. Then there were the details–like switches and levers that delivered a satisfying, engaging click.

Production of that 2.0-liter inline-four spanned more than 20 years. It first powered the sportier versions of the Celica before finishing its career in 2007 under the hood of the Japanese-market Caldina wagons. In the MR2 Turbo, it delivered 200 horsepower; the overseas variants could make as much as 256 in factory trim. A cottage industry now exists surrounding these engines. (A non-turbo, 140-horsepower MR2 was also offered.)

This second-gen MR2 enjoyed a relatively long production cycle, but U.S. consumers didn’t always get to take part. The car made its worldwide debut in 1989, with U.S. imports starting for 1991. After 1995, Toyota pulled the model from its U.S. lineup, although Japanese consumers could buy one through 1999.

Still, some 70,000 copies were turned out, giving today’s market another ’90s supercar–and perhaps a lower-cost alternative to a six-figure Supra. “Toyota was really the last manufacturer that tried to make mid-engine performance cars ‘accessible,’” explains Classic Motorsports’ J.G. Pasterjak, a longtime MR2 owner. “And the SW20 is more than a bargain exotic, it’s a fantastic car in its own context that’s aged remarkably well.”

Why You Want One

  • As Supras regularly fetch at least $100,000, an MR2 Turbo makes a logical alternative at an easier-to-digest price.
  • Ferrari looks with Toyota’s maintenance schedule. Zero to 60 in less than 6.5 seconds, not quite half a tick slower than a 1991 Ferrari 348ts.
  • Restoration parts are starting to hit the market from boutique companies like MR2 Heaven.
  • Easy to live with: Get in, turn the key, drive away. Cold a/c came standard.
  • The non-turbo MR2 offers the same looks but with a little less complexity.

Shopping Advice

Our Expert:
Eric Fruen, Co-Owner
MR2 Heaven

The holy-grail car in the U.S. would be a USDM ’95 Turbo. There were very few produced and sent to the U.S., so those are the rarest and most desirable. The ’94 Turbo would be next, as it’s the same as the ’95, just a different year. The ’93 Turbo is mostly the same as the ’94 and ’95 except it doesn’t have the passenger air bag that the ’94 and ’95 come with. Other than that, the differences are very small, such as the cloth interior pattern. Drivetrain, suspension, brakes, etc., are the same between the 1993-’95 cars.

’93-and-up Turbo cars are also more desirable due to upgraded brakes, LSD transmission with dual synchros, and an electronic speed sensor. The ’91-’92 speed sensor is a common failure point, and the non-LSD transmission often experiences grinding between gears the older it gets. 

It would be best to start with a stock, unmolested car. However, those are harder and harder to find. 

The coolant system on the Turbo is one of its common problem areas. I recommend doing a compression and leak-down test and a good 30-minute highway drive, going through all gears, to ensure the transmission is shifting smoothly and properly. 

Regular maintenance is pretty affordable compared to most cars. Four quarts of 10W-30 Toyota oil and a Toyota oil filter for oil changes are what I’ve used for years. Spark plugs aren’t costly, either. Other than these, most items aren’t changed very often. A healthy, well-maintained car will last many miles. 

Many new parts from Toyota are now discontinued. MR2 Heaven has been reproducing many of the sought-after and otherwise needed parts that are no longer available, such as steering column covers, shift knobs, underbody panels/fender liners, ’94-and-up extended trunk locks, mud flaps, ’93-and-up wiper arms, solid fender/bumper moldings, axles, shifter cables, throttle cables, e-brake cables, etc. 

Used replacements are the only way to go in some instances, so we recommend using Facebook MR2 groups and posting want-to-buy ads for those needs, as there are people who part out MR2s and can help. When shopping for other aftermarket parts, we recommend giving yourself a few months of lead time, as many companies are backed up currently due to supply chain issues on top of usually not stocking that much for this old of a platform.

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Comments
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bosswrench
bosswrench New Reader
1/11/22 3:27 p.m.

Those li'l buckets were chassis-tuned for Toyota by Dan Gurney and the early turbos were skittish especially under boost in the rain. The cure was a BIG front swaybar and much wider rear tires. But a big front bar could crack the frame attachments requiring careful weld repairs. They fixed that in later versions. Adding more than about 16 psi boost (max stock was 8) would stretch the head bolts enough to blow a head gasket. ARP studs held fine. Once all those little mods were applied, the MR-2T was fearsome. I still miss mine.  Same engine was used in Gurney's IMSA GTP that so dominated its class in the '90s, JM Fangio ll basically destroyed the series. Those monsters for Gurney's ARR used up to 50 lbs of boost; stock block, rods & pistons (or so it was said)!

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