On my hunt for a new, fun, cheap, reliable car my dad proposed the question, after a trip to Los Angeles, of what about the third generation MR2 (Midship Runabout)? It got me thinking that you get a lot of car for your money with the third generation MR2. It also got me thinking why is it so cheap? Is it like the Porsche 996? The ugly step child of the MR2 family. Let’s dig deep and find out, because it just might be my next car.
If you are a fan of Regular Car Reviews (RCR), which I am, you know their take on journalism is…different. But I think RCR has a great message and it is delivered in a clever way. If you want their take on the third generation MR2, watch it here. To sum it up, RCR says it’s the MR2 to buy of the three generations. It’s the “economy car that went to the gym,” bullet proof reliable, but still a mid-engine sports car. After watching their video it peaked my interest and it’s time to see what others say.
In 2001 Car and Driver did a first-drive review of the MR2 and called in a “Toyota Boxster.” C&D admired the MR2’s handling and lightweight, but say the steering feedback could be better. And the car might be “too civilized” for a mid-engine sports car. So to sum it up, a Porsche Boxster, with Toyota reliability, at bargain basement prices, sounds good to me.
Car and Driver certainly hasn’t convinced me why it should be so cheap. Let’s see what Jalopnik thinks, Patrick George of Jalopnik says “..here was the problem: in a lot of ways, the third-gen MR2 just wasn’t as good as its predecessors. There’s no trunk. There’s no frunk. There’s no factory option for forced induction. There’s no pop-up headlights.” Which are all valid points, especially the factory not having the option of forced induction. But it’s still a mid-engine sports car built by Toyota. A mid-engine Toyota, just like my 1996 Previa!
I think Mazda may have destroyed the third generation MR2. See Mazda went the forced induction route with the 2004 MazdaSpeed, and Toyota never had a response. I think if Toyota came out with a turbo or supercharged model, there still might be an MR2 today.
You can find third generation MR2s all over the internet from $4,000-$10,000, in all sorts of mileage and conditions. Most are in good condition and haven’t been abused. There was only one engine option, the ZZW30, which was a 1.8-liter in-line four that produced 138-horsepower. The other option was to choose between a manual or a cool sequential manual transmission. Other than that, there were not too many options. I believe in 2005 there was an option for a limited-slip differential, but I’m not sure how you can tell if the MR2 has that or not.
I think the third generation MR2 is like the 1999-2004 Porsche 996, forgotten and unloved by the enthusiast market, but still a great car and great buy. You can buy a 2002-2006 MR2 for the price of a first or second generation MR2, sometimes cheaper. I think it’s being over looked because it doesn’t have the horsepower that most enthusiasts want, it’s lacking the turbo or supercharger that enthusiasts wanted.
It can’t be the lack of trunk space or pop-up headlights, because several popular classic sports cars lack those amenities. It could be the timing of each generation, most people who are buying first and second generation MR2s grew up idolizing that car and have always wanted one. That means people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are buying up the first and second generation MR2s, leaving the third generation to depreciate the most.
The choice is yours, but for me it sounds like a third generation MR2 might be in my garage.