• Not the usual choice for an affordable sports car, the Toyota MR2 Spyder answers the question, “What if Toyota built a Boxster?”
• This example has low miles and an attractive appearance package.
• The auction runs through April 17.
These days, affordable sportscars are thin on the ground, but in the mid-2000s, life was good. Then, if shopping for a wallet-friendly roadster, you could stroll right past the Mazda dealer and over to Toyota, where Miata Isn’t Always The Answer. Up for auction this week at Bring A Trailer—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos—is this low-mileage Toyota MR2 Spyder, a dependable and thrifty alternative to the likes of a Porsche Boxster or Lotus Elise.
When new, you could have bought two MR2 Spyders for the price of one Porsche Boxster and worn them like shoes. Mid-engined, light on its feet, and shorter even than the contemporary second-gen Mazda MX-5, the MR2 was zippy, fun, and friendly.
You can of course pick used early Boxsters up on the cheap these days, but water-cooled Porsche complexity and parts pricing can still unexpectedly mug you for a month’s salary. That’s not true for the simple Toyota. The MR2’s engineer took their third-generation sports car back to its cut-priced roots with some compact packaging and an economical and durable 1.8-liter engine shared with the Celica GT.
The initial plan for the first-generation MR2 was accessible fun for the everyman, and it resulted in a pint-sized cross between a wedge of cheese and a Star Wars A-Wing interceptor. The second generation followed up with speed and turbocharged complexity, along with somewhat trickier driving dynamics.
The third-gen car was back to easy mode, with 138 horsepower pitted against 2200 pounds. That’s not quite Lotus Elise levels of power-to-weight, but the MR2 will start right up on any given Sunday, faithful as a Corolla, which is unfortunately not the case for a company whose fans often quip, “Lots of Trouble, Usually Serious.”
This example is from the second last year of production and is equipped with the preferred five-speed manual gearbox (an SMG was also available). It has just 18,000 miles on the odometer and presents in excellent condition. Even better, it’s one of the rare Red Collection editions which—please hold for applause—has more red. Specifically, it comes with red seats and a red convertible top, which seem like minor enhancements but really subtly brighten up the car’s otherwise gray livery.
Drawbacks to the last generation of MR2 are few. It’s tuned to be slightly more civilized than raw, so there are more hardcore driving experiences out there. And the storage capacity is hilariously small. If you take a friend for a drive, there’s basically only enough space for one sandwich—you’ll have to split it.
Compared to a Mazda MX-5 of similar year and condition, this MR2 will likely fetch a higher price simply because it’s more rare and unusual. Meanwhile, we can all dream about the kind of mid-engined roadster Toyota could build today using the GR Corolla’s turbocharged three-cylinder engine…
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.