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Let's break out the old automotive etymology textbook for a fun and fascinating exposé on the Toyota MR2 Spyder. The 1,345-word biography of Kiichiro Toyoda and his company's origins in making electric looms has been removed for reasons of brevity. The middle bit regarding the car's name is more conveniently straight to the point, referring to the fact that it's a Midengine, Rear-drive, 2-seat sports car.
The Spyder part of the name has nothing to do with arachnids, and is instead a common alternate word for a convertible sports car. Ferrari and Fiat have used the more conventionally spelled Spider name in the past and Toyota clearly wanted to tap into this high pedigree of sporting vehicles for its new-for-2000 roadster. As the old saying goes, the name says it all.
Except in French etymology, which reveals that "MR2" pronounced phonetically en francais sounds like the word for…excrement. Therefore, Toyota called this car simply "MR" in France. In the English-speaking world, it was nicknamed "Mister Two." Ah, isn't etymology fun?
Past MR2s were offered with T-top roofs, but the Spyder served as Toyota's first real attempt to take on the Mazda Miata's monopoly in the low-priced roadster segment. Featuring a 1.8-liter four-cylinder mounted directly behind the driver, and a low curb weight, the MR2 succeeded as a fun-to-drive drop top.
But in the all-important cute category, it missed the grade. It had the profile of a squared-off Boxster, the face of a frog and a tail that resembled a Pokemon (especially when painted yellow). Also, the interior looked extremely dated before it was even introduced and its trunk made the Miata's look like a B-52's bomb bay. Although it was initially a hot commodity, the Toyota MR2 Spyder was a low-volume niche vehicle like its predecessors until the ax fell on it in 2005.
Most Recent Toyota MR2 Spyder
The Toyota MR2 Spyder was introduced for 2000 in only one well-equipped trim level. Antilock brakes, 15-inch wheels, air-conditioning, a glass rear window, power windows and locks, and a CD stereo were standard equipment. The mid-mounted 1.8-liter inline-4 was rated at 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission available was a five-speed manual.
In 2002, Toyota introduced the five-speed Sequential Manual Transmission or SMT for the MR2, making it the cheapest car at the time (by a long shot) to offer a true automated clutch manual. We found this option easy to use and liked the way it matched revs on downshifts, even though it sapped some acceleration from the engine. Without a fully automatic mode, however, the SMT's value was questionable. Given this, along with potential durability concerns, we suggest that used MR2 Spyder buyers stick with the regular five-speed manual.
For 2003, the MR2 Spyder underwent its midlife freshening with minor changes to the front and rear fascias and instrument panel. The SMT was upgraded to six speeds, while the rear tires grew to 16 inches.
In reviews, we found the Toyota MR2 Spyder very enjoyable to drive. In a roadster comparison test in 2000, it finished higher than the Miata by being more fun and tossable at the track. Its midengine layout meant it could lose its composure at the limit, but generally it went through turns quite nicely. The steering was quick and responsive, although the electrically assisted rack didn't provide as much road feel as other cars in this class.
We also never got used to the styling or interior design, and found its storage capacity laughable. The front-mounted "trunk" was taken up by the spare tire and the storage compartment behind the seats was very small and difficult to access.
Past Toyota MR2 Spyder models
The Toyota MR2 Spyder technically lasted for just one generation: from 2000-'05. From 1985-'95, there were two generations of the MR2: a midengine, two-seat coupe. A T-top was available, but there was no full convertible.