- Precise handling thanks to balanced chassis.
- Eye-catching exterior styling.
- World-class brakes.
- One of the cheapest convertibles on the market.
- Optional SMT gearbox downshifts like a heel-and-toe pro.
- An insult at the dragstrip.
- Eye-catching exterior styling seems to parody the Boxster.
- Luggage room comparable to that of a Ford Explorer glovebox.
- Cramped and boring interior.
- Optional SMT gearbox upshifts like an SUV-driving soccer mom.
Press Coverage :
For 2003, Toyota gave the MR2 Spyder a bolder look in front with a new bumper and fascia, dual-bulb projector-style headlights and integrated standard fog lamps. The side air intakes are revised and now color-keyed. In the rear, the 2003 MR2 Spyder is distinguished by new combination lamps, the rear grille garnish that combines body-color vertical ribs and mesh, the larger oval chrome tailpipe and a new power antenna.
New chrome trim accents the temperature controls as well as the door speakers and air vents. Two available options are tan and black leather-trimmed interior packages that include matching color convertible tops.
An all-new six-speed sequential manual transmission (SMT) is optional, replacing last year's five-speed SMT. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. New standard 16-inch alloy wheels with P215/45R16 tires give the MR2 Spyder even better response and control.
Similar in concept to the transmissions used in Formula One race cars, a sequentially shifting manual is a manual transmission without a clutch pedal. It is indeed a full manual transmission; there is no torque converter. An SMT does have a clutch, but it is operated by electrically controlled hydraulics. By operating paddles or buttons usually located on or near the steering wheel, a driver is able to select a desired gear and the transmission does the rest. The reason that it is called sequential is that the transmission only allows upshifting or downshifting one gear at a time; a driver cannot go from first to fifth, as would be possible with a regular manual transmission.
There are three main advantages to an SMT: 1) Since there is no torque converter, efficiency is higher than an automatic; 2) An SMT can theoretically shift faster than a human can; 3) Since it is computer-controlled, there is virtually no chance of driver-induced error. Operating the MR2 Spyder's SMT is simple after an orientation using the owner's manual. In place of the regular leather-wrapped shifter, there is a chrome-plated shifter. The selector has three gates: R, N and S. R is for reverse, N is for neutral and S is for sequential mode.
A small LED display near the tachometer indicates gear selection. The driving experience is similar to both a regular automatic and manual. Without throttle input, the car will not creep forward. At this point, the SMT has "pushed in the clutch pedal" for the driver. Depressing the throttle makes the car drive forward as if it had an automatic, but in fact the SMT is engaging the clutch.
Once you're rolling, pulling the spring-loaded lever toward the rear of the car will execute one upshift, while pushing it forward causes a downshift. Alternately, there are four buttons on the horizontal steering wheel spokes that can be used to shift. Two buttons mounted on front are for downshifts, while two on the backside are for upshifts.
In normal traffic situations, the SMT works surprisingly well. The SMT's shifts are smooth and consistent. During shifts, the SMT takes control of the throttle. For upshifts, the SMT reduces throttle to match engine speed to wheel speed. Downshifts are even more impressive as the SMT raises the throttle to match wheel speed. It also worked well on low- to medium-grade inclines, though certainly one may want to employ the handbrake to help start out on very steep hills.
The SMT has two main faults, however. One is that there is no "automatic" mode, meaning that the driver has to shift gears continually just like a regular manual transmission. The other is that the speed of its shifts isn't adjustable. Shifts that seem fine around town become agonizingly slow during full-throttle acceleration. Plant the throttle, rev the car to redline and upshift. The MR2 acts like it has stopped to take a breather as it automatically shuts the throttle until the shift is completed.
This attribute hurts maximum acceleration, as does the impossibility to rev the engine and quickly release the clutch, as one would do with a regular manual. In our testing, the regular five-speed manual car we had in the comparison test was more than a second quicker.
From a numbers standpoint, the SMT is a disappointment. But there are advantages. During spirited driving, a driver no longer has to worry about taking his or her hands off the steering wheel in order to shift. Though the shifts are sequential in nature, ripping off two quick downshifts is very easy to do, and the owner's manual states that the SMT's accumulator stores up sufficient hydraulic pressure to make three rapid shifts in a row. Certainly the biggest advantage is that the shifts are idiot-proof. With the SMT, there are no ground gears and no herky-jerky starts. It will not make a downshift if the shift will over-rev the engine.
The MR2 is so balanced and neutral at the limit that the driver can choose which end to slide at will -- something few of today's sports cars can do. During a short lapping session, we found ourselves braking ridiculously late for the corners and allowing the rear end to step out during turn-in, which quickly and efficiently pointed the car at the apex. The rear-end slide never felt hairy or threatening but was rather a useful tool to produce quick lap times.
Still, most roadster buyers don't race their vehicles. They're more likely used for weekend getaways to view the changing colors of fall at a leisurely pace. What you need for that activity is some trunk space, and here the MR2's score is rather dismal. Most of what there is of front trunk space is used to accommodate the spare tire, leaving a paltry two cubic feet. What about behind the roadster's two seats? There's a small compartment there that might accept a briefcase, perhaps an overnight change of skivvies and socks.
To pop the top, simply pop the two header latches, and manually lift and lower the top, and that can be done from the seated driver's position. A seated driver will find that raising the MR2's top is difficult because you have to reach back over the wind blocker to grasp it.
1991-1995 Toyota MR2
2,198 cc / 135 hp / 142 lb-ft / 2657-2723 lbs / 0-60 mph 8.0 sec.