Over the last ten years, I have owned five Toyota MR2s of various levels of cleanliness and modification. All five of them were the second-generation model (1991-1995 in the U.S.), both turbo and a couple of naturally aspirated versions. All modifications and maintenance have been done by me except the occasions that one of them required bodywork.
The Toyota MR2 is absolutely capable of being a very fun, reliable daily driver if you live in a place where the climate allows for it. It’s comfortable, reliable (it’s a Toyota after all), and relatively safe considering its age. The cost of upkeep is also relatively cheap compared to modern cars.
If you live somewhere that gets any significant amount of snow, which I personally do (Central New York), then you might want to rethink it. I would never recommend driving any sports car in the snow, especially one that seems to be getting more and more valuable. But aside from that, daily driving an MR2 is a great idea.
Now, allow me to elaborate on some of these points:
Reliability – how many miles can an MR2 last?
Realistically, the name Toyota has for many years been synonymous with reliability. These cars can truly last a lifetime if properly maintained, like most Japanese car brands to be honest. A Toyota drive-train should easily reach 100,000 to 200,000 plus miles with only regular maintenance.
Being that we are talking about cars that are upwards of 35 years then things like hoses, belts, and wires will have to be checked regularly to ensure they don’t have any issues with dry rotting or corrosion.
I, however, consider these things to be common sense when driving a vehicle with any real age, no car will last without some normal care. I have seen MR2s over 200,000 miles make it to and through the annual Bear Mountain event held in the Northeast of America.
These cars can be incredibly reliable. To me, a great sign of reliability is an owner’s trust in driving their car long distances and I have regularly seen guys drive from up to 8-10 hours away in their MR2 to get to the Bear Mt. event.
Want to learn everything you need to know about the SW20 MR2? Check out our buyer’s guide here:
Comfort and practicality
Like much of this topic, comfort is completely relative. I find the second generation MR2 to be very comfortable. I have on multiple occasions taken one of mine on road trips of 3-4 plus hours and have never even felt the need to get out and stretch. That is however at my size (5’10 and around 220 pounds); I’m sure people bigger than me would find it far less agreeable.
Obviously, things like the seats and space play a big part in how comfortable a car is but an often-overlooked part of the equation is your suspension and tire choice. Putting 18” wheels on your 90s MR2 might look cool but it makes for one hell of a bumpy ride – and how many of the guys with that same 90s MR2 have replaced the suspension bushings in that car?
All these things play major factors in the ride quality and comfort. A well maintained MR2 is really just a joy to drive.
As far as practicality goes, the MR2 is as practical as any two-seat sports car can really be. There is a decent amount of storage space having both a trunk and a front storage compartment.
I attended the annual Bear Mountain MR2 gathering and comfortably fit two adults and enough luggage for us to be on the road for 3-4 days. The big drawback was obviously the lack of cupholders, luckily I don’t require coffee to fuel my road trips.
If we are going to talk about safety then it is only right to start with the elephant in the room, snap oversteer. Snap oversteer exists on some level in most cars that have placed the engine behind the driver and are rear wheel drive – leaving much less of the weight in the front of the vehicle.
Snap oversteer occurs when the driver lifts off the throttle mid-corner. The weight of the car then shifts forward and leaves the rear end lightened. This can in some cases lead to a loss of control of the vehicle, especially if you add in other variables like poor tires or old and weathered suspension.
I have never personally felt like I have even come close to this phenomenon and I would certainly categorize myself as a pretty aggressive driver. It is my opinion that if you maintain your MR2 properly and are a relatively average or better driver then you should never have an issue with the dreaded snap oversteer.
Obviously, the safety of a vehicle goes far beyond just that singular issue. I think that overall the Mr2 is just as safe as any other vehicle of the era they come from.
Toyota gave them the same safety options as all of the other cars of their generations. Things like airbags, ABS braking systems and power steering are options in many of the trim packages throughout the different iterations of the MR2.
The car itself is fairly safe but safety realistically boils down to the driver. The driver has to know the car’s limitations and capabilities, and of course be aware of other drivers on the road. It’s also worth noting the MR2’s small size compared to today’s generally large vehicles.
Cost of ownership – reliability, replacement parts, etc.
The value of these cars seems to be on the rise so the cost of entry into driving an MR2 as a daily driver is going up – and seems like it will only continue. However, the cost of maintenance seems to be relatively average.
Rock Auto has great prices with a good selection of parts. While Prime prices aren’t as low they offer many performance parts and also are usually giving away cars based on points earned from the money you spend on their site.
If you can couple that with an owner that is even remotely mechanically inclined then it is very easy to say that the cost of ownership is affordable.
Here are a few more sites you may find helpful when looking for parts for your MR2:
Working on these cars however can get difficult. The engine bay isn’t always easy to work in. There have been many times I’ve had to climb into an incredibly awkward position just to reach a bolt or plug.
Much of it is based on the design of the body, not the engine bay itself. There is a decent amount of space in the bay but again, the sail panels make things tricky to reach from the top side. This is certainly a car where availability to a lift can take you a very long way towards easing those problems.
I really think the MR2 can be a great and fun daily driver, though I would avoid driving it in snow. I jokingly tell everyone that it is my “fair-weather daily”. I drive mine from the time the street sweepers get the roads clean after winter until the first time the roads get salted (generally late April until late November) and love every minute of it.
Canadian Gearhead contributor