Don’t Tease Us With This MR-2 Buzz, Toyota!
Yet another famous sports car nameplate could be making a comebackby Kirby, on
Now that the Toyota Supra has returned to our lives, would it be fair to ask if Toyota brings back the MR2 as well? Well, it looks like we don’t have to ask because there are already rumblings that the Japanese automaker is considering bringing back another one of its famous performance car nameplates. The MR2 may not have the same household name qualities as the Supra, but, for a time between the 1980s and the 2000s, the MR2 was just as big and as popular as its big brother. The lightweight, mid-engined sports car was Toyota’s go-fast go-getter, seamlessly slotting between the bigger Supra and what was Toyota’s pocket rocket at that time, the Celica. Rumors of the MR2’s return have floated around the ether for some time, but it now looks like there’s more to these rumors than we thought.
The Toyota MR2 Could be Making a Comeback After All
There once was a time in my childhood when the Toyota MR2 was my dream car. I remember seeing a lot of them growing up, and I was drawn to the model because of the pop-up headlamps and the mid-engine configuration. They weren’t just cool; they were different from all the other cars that existed at that time. I grew up in a place where Toyota Corollas, Mitsubishi Lancers, and Honda Civics dominated the roads. Seeing an MR2 on the road was like seeing a leprechaun with pots of gold on each hand. The MR2 was that special.
Of course, I never got the chance to own an MR2 because by the time I was old enough to drive — that was around 2001 — the third-generation MR2 arrived, and it looked nothing like its predecessors.
It still carried a mid-engine setup, but the pop-up headlamps were gone, replaced by buggy-looking eyes that looked like a cheap knock-off of Porsche. In my mind, the third-generation MR2 didn’t carry the same verve as the first two generations. Toyota eventually ended production of the MR2 in 2007, ending a 23-year run as one of the Japanese automaker’s go-to performance cars.
In a perfect world, the Toyota MR2 should still be around today. It could’ve been Toyota’s answer to Mazda’s MX-5 Miata, which has been in production for three decades without any interruptions. But Toyota had its reasons for ending the MR2’s run, just as it did when it stopped building the Supra and the Celica.
Fast forward to 2019 and the automotive landscape has changed dramatically.
Performance cars are once again in vogue, though not in the same configuration as before. Hybridization and electrification have played integral roles in reinventing what’s possible when it comes to developing sports cars. Emissions issues that performance cars of yesteryears were prone to have been mitigated by the advent of hybrid powertrains and thrown out completely with the advancements made in electrification.
Basically, there’s a place in today’s automotive world for a car like the Toyota MR2. All it needs — all we need — is for Toyota to give the proverbial green light.
I, for one, don’t know if we’ll ever see the Toyota MR2 again. But I have been encouraged in the past couple of years with reports that the Japanese automaker isn’t just planning to bring the MR2 back, but it’s planning to do it to re-create the fabled “holy trinity” of performance cars that proudly wore the Toyota badge back in the 1980s and 1990s. The Toyota Supra has returned, so that’s one out of the three. If the MR2 returns, that’d be two out of three.
There’s no word yet on whether the Celica would be resurrected, but even if it doesn’t, there’s the Toyota 86 to take its place.
With the Supra’s arrival, all the focus turns to the MR2, and for good reason. A recent report from Car and Driver suggests that the MR2 could return as a lightweight sports car that could, possibly, carry a pure-electric powertrain. Granted, this would be a huge departure from the mid-engine makeup of past MR2s — you could argue that the mid-engine layout was what made the MR2 special — but, at this point, does it even matter what kind of layout it has or what kind of powertrain it carries? It’s not like there’s absolute certainty that a returning MR2 would be an all-electric MR2. There will be discussions — a lot of them — on how to proceed in bringing the sports car back.
If recent history is any indication, the chances of the MR2’s return probably hinges on what kind of alliance Toyota can strike up to help in the sports car’s development.
Remember, Toyota didn’t just develop the 86 and the Supra on its own. It had help, in varying capacities, from Subaru and BMW, respectively. Another alliance is possible, if not inevitable. What’s important is where Toyota can find it. While it’s not entirely unprecedented — the 86 was born from a Subaru partnership — it’s hard to imagine Toyota looking to rival automakers like Honda, Mazda, or Nissan for help developing the new-age MR2. Toyota could once again look to Europe, but such a partnership would be contingent on said partner also benefiting from a relationship with Toyota. Given the makeup of the MR2, you would think that another automaker would want in on developing its own lightweight sports car that can fit into the same categories as the MR2. Fiat could be an option? Maybe Alfa Romeo? MINI’s another possible candidate, though that’d be a bit redundant considering that the German automaker is owned by BMW. Aston Martin’s another possibility. It’s a long-shot possibility, but if you’ve seen the moves Aston has been making in its attempt to invade the performance car segment, a cheap, lightweight sports car is something that they could possibly take a crack at. Besides, Aston and Toyota already have an existing partnership. It didn’t amount to much — anyone remember the ill-fated Cygnet? — but it was still a partnership.
American automakers like Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors are also possibilities, even though none of the three firms have any performance models that can mirror the MR2. The closest models I can think of are hot hatches like the Ford Focus RS.
That leaves a pair of automakers that have a lot to gain from a partnership with Toyota, and it just so happens that both are from Korea. Hyundai and Kia aren’t household names when it comes to performance cars, at least not yet. But both companies are already in the process of building their profiles in that segment. Hyundai’s N division has gained steam in recent years, and if there’s a model that can add validation to what Hyundai’s doing with is performance brand, a lightweight sports car that’s co-developed by Toyota would go a long way in achieving that. It’s the same thing with Kia. The Korean automaker has hinted on plans to dive into the performance car segment where its only presence if you can even call it that, comes in the form of the GT Stinger. Both Hyundai and Kia could benefit from a partnership with Toyota, especially if the end-goal is to create a lightweight sports car.
I’m hopeful that something comes out of this. I want to see the MR2 return, and, while I’m at it, I don’t mind seeing the Celica make its own comeback, too. But I’m getting ahead of myself on that one.
The MR2 is on the docket, and Toyota should do everything it can to ensure that the lightweight sports car of my childhood returns with a bang.
At this point, I don’t care if it’s going to be powered by a gasoline engine or whether it’ll feature a hybrid powertrain. I won’t mind an all-electric version, too, for as long as Toyota sticks to one of the sports car’s ethos: it needs to be lightweight. Remember, the third-generation MR2 weighed in excess of 2,200 pounds and featured a four-cylinder engine that produced 138 horsepower. I don’t expect the figures to remain the same — throw more power into it this time — but that’s a good baseline to establish if and when Toyota decides to bring it back.
As for when that’ll happen? Your guess is as good as mine. Given how long it took Toyota and BMW to develop the Supra and Z4 Roadster, respectively, I wouldn’t expect it to arrive in the next couple of years. Probably in 2024? Maybe 2025? Who knows, the automotive landscape could be very different then as it is today. The return of the Toyota MR2, if it does come to that, might not even be what we expect it to be.
Let the speculation begin then.
Read our full review on the 2002 Toyota MR2.
Read our full speculative review on the 2020 Toyota MR2.
Read our full speculative review on the 2019 Toyota Supra.
Read our driving impression on the 2017 Toyota 86.
Source: Car and Driver