By on October 25, 2018

Starting with the introduction of the 86 (Scion FR-S in North America) in 2012, Toyota began spicing up a brand viewed as being more synonymous with bulletproof reliability than fun. While this manifested itself primarily through more expressive exterior design choices, the brand also introduced performance-tuned GRMN variants in Europe and Japan. It’s also bringing back the Supra, arguably the brand’s most iconic sports car.

Still, a subset of the population looks back at Toyota’s history with a particular fondness for the mid-engined micro machine known as the MR2. Discontinued in 2007, the model was as endearing as it was fun to drive — especially those earlier incarnations, when it looked like a pint-sized Lotus Esprit. And, as luck would have it, Toyota’s European vice president of sales and marketing Matt Harrison says its return isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. 

Speaking to Autocar at the Paris Motor Show, Harrison admitted the MR2 is in the “discussion stage” and is a favorite contender among the company’s development teams. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda previously referred to the Supra, Celica, and MR2 as the “Three Brothers,” noting that he’d like to see them all return — but only if a business case can be made.

That’ll be the tough bit. While we’re happy to see the Supra again, we don’t know if the current consumer climate will give it a warm reception. Meanwhile, the 86 went from 18,327 U.S. deliveries in 2013 to just 6,846 last year — and that was a model everyone seemed to be clamoring for. The MR2 would be even more of a niche automobile.

However, if it remained true to form, it would have its odd place in the market all to itself. There’s not a lot of mid-engined two-seaters priced the same as a Honda Accord in production right now. If only there was some way for Toyota to mitigate the risks involved with producing a fun car that almost nobody is going to buy…

Platform-sharing as part of a joint venture might work. After all, Toyota’s partnership with Subaru delivered the 86 and a deal with BMW is what made the Supra possible. But who else would want to build a petite, affordable laugh with the engine in the wrong place?

Toyota might be stuck trying to build this thing on its own and, if that’s to be the case, Autocar suggests it could emerge as a hybrid or pure electric vehicle. Normally we’d cringe over such a suggestion, but the MR2 might be the perfect candidate for electrification. Since it’s sure to be small and lightweight, it’ll have the most to gain from a battery pack and e-mill. It doesn’t have to be practical or excel at long road trips, it just needs to be quick and fun — which an electric motor provides through gobs of instantaneous torque.

Obviously, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. Toyota hasn’t confirmed anything and the MR2 doesn’t seem like it’d be a high-volume vehicle in even our wildest fantasies. But the brand has said it wants to build several new BEVs by the mid 2020s and Harrison doesn’t seem opposed to the idea of one of them being an MR2. Would you be interested?

Toyota MR2 AW11, Image: Toyota Europe

[Images: Toyota]

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42 Comments on “Toyota Mulling a Return of the MR2...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Make something fast and powerful instead, please.

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      Because if it doesn’t have 200 hp it can’t possibly be worthwhile, right? So sick of that nonsense…

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “So sick of that nonsense…”

        I’m not sure why liking powerful cars is “nonsense” while preferring “Jinba ittai” is not, but I stand 100% by my statement. I want a Toyota muscle or touring car.

        • 0 avatar
          notapreppie

          Because there are already a number of options out there if you want fast and powerful.

          370z
          Q60
          Q50
          Stinger
          Mustang
          Camaro
          Challenger
          Charger
          IS350
          RC350
          Focus RS
          Civic Type R
          CTS-V
          ATS-V
          CT6
          Various BMW/Audi/MB cars and trucklets
          Most mid-range and higher pickup trucks and trucklets

          The market for 300+ HP cars is already well catered to.

        • 0 avatar
          afedaken

          They make one right now. It’s called the Lexus RC and it’s priced about the same as their last supra popular touring car.

      • 0 avatar
        IBx1

        I’m sick of it too; how hard could it possibly have been to give the BR-86Z one of Subaru’s nice turbo engines at least as an option?

        • 0 avatar
          Detroit-Iron

          It seems like every time someone at Toyota or Subaru was asked they would respond with some nonsense about how the chassis reinforcement “necessary” to handle the power would add too much weight. I don’t know what is unique about that platform. Everyone, including Subaru with the Impreza, somehow finds a way to cram a 250-300+ hp motor in their small cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      You know, I think Toyota made a pretty decent GT back in the day, made a bunch of power by the time they phased it out. The Super, I think it was called. They should build a new Toyota Super! Bet they never thought of that.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “They should build a new Toyota Super! Bet they never thought of that.”

        Great idea! Considering how fast the old “Super” was relative to its competitors, I just hope they don’t do something disappointing like give it the output of a mid-level BMW.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      ajla,
      Fast and powerful?

      So, you go out and buy a Mustang or something like that.

      I’d love to see a mini mid engined sports car that is affordable. Imagine the fun you could have.

      I somehow think there is a lot more to a vehicle than owning a pickup that can do 12s on a quater mile. This might be all you are after, the ability to beat old farts at the lights in their CUVs.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    In 2005, I had the opportunity to purchase a Black 2005 MR2 with 11,000 miles. An older gentleman was having problems with his knee and shifting aggravated his condition. Unfortunately, as a sophomore in college, I could not justify downsizing from my two year old Tacoma. I cannot help but think of that vehicle each time I see that generation MR2.

    • 0 avatar
      Drew8MR

      They are fun cars,but there is no storage. None. Even my TR6 had a perfectly acceptable boot. I mean, if you have 2 people and stop at the store,they are carrying the bags in their lap.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        This is a bit of an exaggeration. There is a small front trunk where the spare tire sits, and a cubby behind the seats. It’s certainly not spacious by any means, but you can go to the store as long as you’re not buying anything too bulky.

        • 0 avatar
          Drew8MR

          If you are tidy like we are. If you are my girlfriend one is full of water bottles,lip balm and makeup and the other is full of shoes.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            lol… Jumped into a colleagues car to go to lunch and the front door pocket on the passenger side was full of female body sprays. Apparently his wife worries about her signature scent.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A partnership with Lotus might work since they are already using Toyota drivetrains.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Rebrand a Lotus; that would help Lotus’ bottom line as well as avoiding another automatic-only BMW being passed off as an iconic Toyota nameplate.

  • avatar
    NG5

    If they can make a fun and small electric vehicle under 2500 lbs consider me interested.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    I had a 2002 version, similar to the one in the picture. It was a lot fun. A lot of differences compared to the 1990 Miata I now have. You set low in the MR2; the Miata feels like you are riding on top of it. The MR2 handled better up to a point, then the rear end would swing around pretty quick if pushed hard. The Miata just feels more natural with front engine-rear drive layout. The MR2 rode better, but they may have been the 12 years newer part of the equation. No matter how hard I drove that thing, it never got less than 30 mpg. I would love to have another one, preferably a 2005. But with less than 800 of those imported to the US, they would be fairly rare. And as big of a brand whore/fanboi as I am with Toyota, the automatic in these absolutely sucked and were riddled with issues.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Wasn’t the auto some kind of weird semi-automatic thing?

      A neighbor has a bright yellow one in great shape, always catches my eye.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        Correct, it was an early auto manual. You basically had to do all the shifting yourself, but there was no clutch pedal. It was not well received and the 5-speed cars command a premium because of this.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The electric 2-seater was called the Tesla Roadster; 2500 copies were built. Toyota’s simply not going to do that (build an electric 2-seater).

    As for the 86, I’ve always felt the roles between Subaru and Toyota were the wrong way around. Toyota should have produced the drivetrain, and Subaru the suspension.

    In this case the 86 serves as a lesson for those at Toyota dreaming of a new Mister Two – don’t do it.

    Personally, I can’t even consider such cars because I can’t fit inside them.

  • avatar
    RHD

    The MR2 is an instant classic. Not building a new version would be a huge mistake by omission. If nothing else, it should attract customers to the showroom.
    The original MR2 used lots of off-the-shelf parts. A new one can do that as well.
    The style has to be the same clean look as the first two generations. A Lexus bumper/grille effect would be horrible.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    I’d love a new MR2. Delightful cars to drive. Very nimble and responsive. I’d like to see the V6 from the Camry but most likely they’d use the new turbo 4.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    A high revving NA 4 cylinder making 200 hp in a $30,000 2000 lb mid engine convertible would be pretty tough to resist. No need for a turbo. Somewhat like if the Spyder had come with the 2ZZ from the factory rather than being a super popular swap. Heck, I’d buy one.

  • avatar

    If the MR2 is brought back, it needs to be simple, inexpensive, likely a Corolla powertrain, and aimed at a similar buyer as the Miata – low cost, simple, fun to drive, and NOT a super car.

    • 0 avatar
      afedaken

      Pontiac tried it with the GM parts bin. They’re not around to tell the tale.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

        The 2000-2006 MR-S/MR2 Spyder was also very much a parts bin car, basically as described by jcwconsult. A unique platform but still relatively simple, built to cost and the 1ZZ-FED was just a slightly more powerful version of the Corolla’s engine.

        I’ve owned both a 2001 MR2 Spyder and a 2008 MX-5, both with 5-speed manual transmissions. The Miata was by far the better driver, but (if this makes sense) the Spyder was more entertaining, and felt a bit more special. I still miss the Spyder, less so the MX-5.

        Unfortunately, given the lack of remaining market interest in the FR-S/86/BRZ and middling Miata sales numbers any new MR2 is likely a complete non-starter.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        The Sky and the Solstice were great driving cars but, in typical GM fashion, they had fatal flaws.

        I don’t know what would’ve happened but GM could’ve increased their chances by proper planning and execution.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    It still won’t sell in France.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    How about fixing the 86 and making a convertible version of it. The end.

  • avatar
    slap

    I think it would be great if Toyota brought back the MR2, but is there a market for it? Sales of the Miata and Fiat 124, and the BR-Z and FRS/86 aren’t exactly massive.

  • avatar
    Hogey74

    I reckon electricity is the go. A smaller vehicle with a moderate sales expectation sounds like just the right way for a conservative company to proceed. There is a built-in level of interest from several groups, not the least being people like me who watched Tesla pimp out those lotus frames but couldn’t afford to become an early adopter. As impressed as I am with Tesla, I’ve got low trust in US auto makers for quality and customer support. Now that everyone has been forced to act (I really am a Tesla fan) a Toyota EV will either be right the first time or they will bend over backwards to fix it.
    I decided this year to overhaul my 11 year old Subaru Forester rather than upgrade. I did this both to save a little money while choosing to get off the upgrade merry-go-round. The money I am saving is paying for a club car project too lol. I also wondered if my next new car will naturally be an EV, especially if its 4 or 5 years away…

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Toyota should turn to Suzuki to help with a new MR2. If that doesn’t work I’d start looking at a French manufacturer.

    I do believe the first MR2 was great and almost like a miniature Ferrari. Imagine with todays small boosted engines in a vehicle weighing 1200kgs what you could produce.

    In the end weight was the biggest enemy of the MR2.

    • 0 avatar
      grinchsmate

      That was my thought as well. Suzuki design and powertrain Toyota builds the thing. Sell as Suzuki where they can and Toyota in the US.

      Maybe even two engines, 4cyl turbo for top spec and a 3cyl for cheap.

  • avatar
    mcs

    They should partner with GM for a performance hybrid version of the C8 mid-engine. Make it 1000+ hp with AWD. If they had a sense of humor, they could call it the Prius Sport Coupe instead of MR2.

  • avatar
    riggodeezil

    “…but only if a business case can be made.”

    There endth the story.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Partner with GM. They can sell their version as the Fiero.

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