Used car buying guide: Toyota MR2

Let’s gloss over why the Toyota MR2 was sold as just the MR in France. If you understand the reasoning, have no fear, for this car is anything but that.

What we have here is a small Japanese two-seat sports coupé that’s rising rather rapidly in value and thoroughly deserving of its commonly applied ‘modern classic’ designation. A running-and-driving example of this second-generation car commands at least £2500, but if you’re handy with the spanners, you could consider picking up a project for a good deal less than that.

Things do become slightly more complicated, however, when you take into account the array of specifications and generations that you will find dotted around the classifieds. To start with, the SW20, as the Mk2 MR2 was known, was at first sold in Europe in three trim levels – Coupé, GT and GT T-Bar – each with different states of tune for the revered naturally aspirated four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine.

Outputs ranged from 119bhp to 158bhp, and top-rung cars gained desirable extras that are a big factor in their continued premium status. The rarer T-Bar, for example, swapped the standard fixed roof for a pair of Targa-style removable panels which endowed the MR-2 with a sort of dual character that’s only really emulated today by the Mazda MX-5 RF.

That’s not to say lower-spec cars should be avoided at all costs; the entry-level 3S-FE engine falls short on power, but the model that uses it makes up for that by retaining the MR-2’s characteristic agility. And because you sit so close to the ground, it will still feel suitably poky on the right road.

There are some examples with an automatic gearbox still to be found, but that will be a compromise too far for many prospective buyers.

Turbocharged variants were sold in Japan and the US, bringing power up to 242bhp, but never officially came here. That’s a shame, but there are several imported examples on offer, mostly from Japan, which means the steering wheel is already on the right side. You will need up to £10,000 for the cleanest blown cars.

Then there are the various facelifts, or ‘revisions’, to consider. The slowest MR2 was axed in 1992 with the introduction of the Rev 2 car, while the remaining variants gained power steering as standard and a set of 15in five-spoke alloys that filled the arches much more capably.

The Rev 3 arrived in 1994, bringing a restyled rear, suspension changes aimed at making the car less prone to snap oversteer, and leaving just one engine that produced 175bhp.

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■ Wheels and suspension: Take a tape measure to ensure the wheels are correctly staggered; the rear axle needs more traction, thus its tyres should be about 20mm wider.

How much to spend

£500-£1499: Projects. Mostly high-milers with the 119bhp motor and maybe the auto ’box.

£1500-£2999: Tidy runners but no minters. Beware modifications and bubbly body panels.

£3000-£4999: Solid T-Bars, mostly UK-spec, with a stack of history and low owner counts.

£5000 and above: A mix of imports and covetable UK cars. A clean 1994 T-Bar asks £9995.

One we found

Toyota MR2 GT-i T-Bar, 1999, 144k miles, £3995: We’re rather comforted by this very late UK car’s astronomical mileage, as it means it hasn’t been languishing in someone’s garden for years. There’s loads of paperwork for reassurance and the seller claims it’s in excellent condition throughout. The stainless-steel exhaust is a nice addition, too.