The Ultimate SW20 Toyota MR2 Buyers Guide

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SW20 Toyota MR2

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Spring is here and this tends to be the time of year that most people start shopping for their next sports car or motorcycle. If you’re considering buying a 2nd generation SW20 Toyota MR2, this buyers guide should help you out. I’ve scoured the internet (as well as my own brain) in an effort to compile all of the info you’ll need to know.

The 2nd generation Toyota MR2 is a car that seems to have slipped through the cracks in the world of collector cars. The ’90s were a fantastic time for Japanese sports cars. Hero cars like the Toyota Supra, Nissan Skyline, Mazda RX7, Acura NSX, and Mitsubishi 3000GT were the superstars of this era and for good reason. They combined great performance with beautifully simple styling. The Japanese automakers also added one trait to their sports cars that many American and European rivals hadn’t necessarily been known for – reliability.

How does the Toyota MR2 fit into the mix? Well, think of it as the Toyota Supra’s little brother. It was engineered and built at the same time, by the same company. Despite that, it was never hugely popular. The MR2 always seemed to live in the shadow of the Supra. It wasn’t the only car that suffered from this either.

SW20 Toyota MR2

If the aforementioned hero cars are considered the top tier of Japanese sports cars, that means the Toyota MR2 belongs in “Tier 2”. Many of the other cars in Tier 2 have something in common – a sibling in Tier 1. These are cars like the Nissan 300ZX (and maybe the 240sx?), Mazda Miata, Mitsubishi Eclipse, and towards the end of the era, the Honda S2000.

These were all great cars too. They just happened to cost less and be talked about less because of their siblings’ popularity. These weren’t the dream cars for most kids in the ’90s. Their posters didn’t end up on nearly as many walls. But the fact is, these Tier 2 cars are awesome too.

I think people are starting to realize that now. Values of the Tier 1 hero cars have skyrocketed in recent years. We’re seeing GTRs and RX7s sell for upwards of $50k. NSXs and Supras are considered nearly unattainable for most, selling for over $100k for clean and documented examples. I believe Tier 2’s time is coming soon. Buyers will have no choice but to settle for their 2nd choice once the supply of the really popular cars dries up.

The Toyota MR2 Turbo is quite possibly the most underrated car out of the bunch. Just take a look at the stats: Lightweight, mid-engine, rear wheel drive, exotic styling (flip up headlights!), race-bred engine and chassis… the MR2 has it all. These are the specs of an older Italian supercar. The difference is that the MR2 was built with Toyota’s legendary reliability in mind and at a fraction of the price. Because of this, the MR2 absolutely lives up to its nickname as the “poor man’s Ferrari”.

Want to read more about my Toyota MR2? Check out the feature article here:

What does “MR2” stand for?

The official answer from Toyota is that the name MR2 stands for “Midship, Runabout, 2-seater”. Others believe it stands for “Mid-Engine, Rear Wheel Drive, 2-seater”.

This topic has been discussed a lot. People seem to have a hard time accepting Toyota’s answer as fact and continue to come up with their own ideas. Of course, this has become an ongoing joke among MR2 owners – here are a few humorous ideas found online:

  • Maranello Ripoff (a poke at the car looking similar to a Ferrari, whose factory is located in Maranello, Italy)
  • Mostly Rice
  • Mystery Rattle No2
  • Machinery Repairman, Second Class

There are also theories out there that claim Toyota was planning on making a 4 wheel drive version like the Celica GT-Four and the 2 stands for “2 wheel drive”. Some think the 2 represents a 2.0 liter engine, but that only makes sense for the SW20 MR2. AW11 MR2s had 1.6L engines and the ZZW30 MR2 had a 1.8L so it’s safe to say that myth is busted.

SW20 Toyota MR2 Years and Models

In North America, the 2nd generation MR2 (also known as the MKII or Mark 2) was sold from 1991 to 1995, with Canadian sales ending in 1993. The MR2 continued to be sold in other markets up to 1999. 2nd Gen MR2s are often referred to by their chassis code – SW20. This can be a bit confusing because in North America, the actual number stamped on the firewall is SW21 for Non-turbo cars and SW22 for Turbo cars.

Although the SW20 MR2 only came in 2 different models (Turbo and Non-turbo), there were a few variations available. The T-Top cars were by far the most common. Sunroof models and hardtops were also offered, with the hardtops being the most sought after due to their lighter weight and added rigidity. You can feel/hear the T-Top cars flex when straddling steep inclines so that gives you an idea of how much of a difference the hardtop makes. Unfortunately, finding a hardtop Turbo model is pretty rare.

All Toyota MR2s came with a transversely mounted inline 4 cylinder engine. The layout is basically the same as a front wheel drive car but positioned over the rear wheels. They were offered with either a 4 speed automatic or 5 speed manual transmission – the Turbo models were only sold as manuals.

Thinking about daily driving a Toyota MR2? Check out this article on whether it’s a good idea or not!

Stock MR2 engine bay

Toyota MR2 engine variations:

5SFE Non-turbo

In North America, the Non-turbo MR2s came with a 2.2 liter engine known as the 5SFE. This was also used in the Toyota Camry and Celica and despite its larger displacement, was never known for being much of a powerhouse. The 5SFE was rated at 130 hp and 145 ft-lbs.

Ironically, some MR2 Turbo owners looking to make over 400whp choose to use the 5SFE bottom end mated to a 3SGTE head. They do this for two reasons – to create a 2.2 liter stroker engine and to make use of the stronger casting on 5s blocks from 1998 and up (specifically near the water pump where 3SGTE blocks occasionally crack at higher horsepower).

3SGE Non-turbo

Earlier Non-turbo MR2s in Europe and Asia came with a 2.0 liter 3SGE engine. This wasn’t available in North America. The 3SGE was rated at 163 hp and 141 ft-lbs. Horsepower was bumped up a bit in 1994 to 168 (178hp in Japan) and torque remained at 141 ft-lbs.

Red Top BEAMS 3SGE Non-turbo

The 1998 and 1999 Non-turbo model MR2s came with a 2.0 liter BEAMS 3SGE. This was a really cool engine. The BEAMS name stood for Breakthrough Engine with Advanced Mechanism System. This meant that it was equipped with Toyota’s variable valve timing system known as VVT-i (similar to Honda’s VTEC).

MR2s with the BEAMS 3SGE were only sold in Japan and were rated at 197 hp and 159 ft-lbs. That’s very close to the Turbo model’s horsepower which is rather impressive. Toyota went on to use a Black Top version of the BEAMS motor in the Altezza, which was a 4 cylinder version of the Lexus IS300 that we have here in North America.

3SGTE Turbo

The 3SGTE turbocharged 2.0 liter engine was available during the entire run of the SW20 MR2 from 1991 to 1999. This engine was also found in the Celica GT-Four and the Caldina. North American cars came only with the Gen 2 3SGTE but other markets received an updated Gen 3 engine from 1995 on.

These days it seems that the 3SGTE doesn’t quite get the praise it deserves. It’s fair to say that it was never on the same level as the Supra’s 2JZGTE. It also isn’t known for making massive power (1,000 hp+) often like Mitsubishi’s 4G63 or even Honda’s K series engines. But the fact is, the 3SGTE is a stout engine with a significant racing history – particularly in the Celica World Rally Championship cars.

Toyota created the Celica GT-Four specifically to be able to compete in the World Rally Challenge. It was a big success – Toyota was the first Japanese company to show up with an all wheel drive, turbo car and beat all of the European cars that normally dominated the series. This was before Mitsubishi and Subaru took over.

Toyota Team Europe (the motorsports division responsible for building the WRC Celicas) was the first to use an anti-lag system on their race cars. That’s a pretty big deal, considering how popular that became. The Celica GT-Four production cars were enough to satisfy the WRC homologation rules, but Toyota didn’t stop there. They put the 3SGTE in the MR2 as well, which played a large role in the SW20’s success.

All 3SGTE engines feature a Toyota-made “twin entry” turbocharger (nowadays commonly referred to as “twin scroll”) with an internal wastegate and a dual overhead cam head designed by Yamaha. The Gen 2 engines were rated at 200 hp and 200 ft-lbs (20 hp extra in Japan) while the Gen 3 engines made 242 hp and 223 ft-lbs. The Gen 3 3SGTE was only available in Japan.

Differences between the Gen 2 and Gen 3 3SGTE engine

Although the Gen 3 3SGTE wasn’t originally offered in North America, it has become a very popular upgrade for MR2 enthusiasts. Simply put, it’s a better, more modern version of the already great Gen 2 3SGTE. So what are some of the differences?

Differences between Turbo and Non-turbo SW20 MR2s

Besides the obvious difference in engine, there are a few other noticeable changes between these two models.

Turbo model features:

  • 3SGTE Engine
  • E153 transmission (stronger with different gearing)
  • Stronger axles
  • Limited Slip Differential in 1993+ models
  • Larger radiator
  • Larger fuel pump
  • Twin piston front brakes (also on cars with the 3SGE)
  • Larger front and rear sway bars
  • Rear strut tower bar
  • Fiberglass engine lid with raised cooling vents
  • Fog lights
  • Boost gauge in center of gauge cluster instead of a voltmeter
  • Seats with adjustable side bolsters and more lumbar support
  • Storage box between seats
  • “Turbo” badge on trunk lid in North America, “Twin Cam 16 Turbo” decals on side moldings in Japan

Special models

There were three very rare special versions of the SW20 Toyota MR2, none of which were available in North America. The chances of stumbling upon any of these on the used market are extremely slim, but we’ll touch on them briefly anyway.

Toyota Racing Development (TRD) 2000GT

This was the original widebody SW20 that has been knocked off and copied by many aftermarket companies. Built by Toyota Technocraft, the 2000GT was less of a car model and more of a tuning program for MR2 owners. All of the cars shared the same widebody design but were different mechanically based on which performance upgrades the owners chose.

The TRD 2000GT was very expensive and only 35 of them were built. They all received TRD VIN tags that differentiated them from regular MR2s. TRD Japan also sold the complete widebody kits separately for owners to be able to convert their own MR2 but once again, these were extremely rare. The authentic TRD widebody kit adds 4″ of width and is made out of fiberglass.

TOM’S T020

TOM’S (Tachi Oiwa Motor Sports) was a Japanese tuning company that was officially authorized and supported by Toyota. They created a lot of aftermarket parts for different Toyota models and even sold complete vehicles equipped with most of the parts in their catalog. That’s where the T020 came in. This was their version of an improved SW20 MR2.

The TOM’S T020 wasn’t just a trim package either. Although this car was a Non-turbo, it still had better performance figures than the factory Turbo model. It featured a 3SGE engine with a 2.2 liter stroker kit, higher flowing intake and exhaust, bigger camshafts and a lightweight flywheel. It also had upgraded suspension, brakes, forged wheels, and wore a TOM’S body kit that included bumpers, side skirts, a bigger rear wing and a “snorkel” air scoop feeding a special intake box in the engine bay.

TOM’S also sold aftermarket parts separately to MR2 owners, including parts for the 3SGTE turbo engine. Authentic TOM’S parts are hard to find these days. Much like the TRD wide body kits, there have been many knock-off versions of the body pieces sold by other companies.

SW20 MR2 Spider

This was another extremely rare version of the SW20. Many people confuse this with an aftermarket conversion, but these cars were in fact built by Toyota TechnoCraft. Only 91 Spiders were made from 1996-1999. They feature a roadster style convertible soft top and were based on a Non-turbo 3SGE MR2 (with many being automatic transmissions). The styling might be love-it-or-hate-it, but there’s no question that the SW20 Spider is a unicorn.

SW20 Toyota MR2

Notable changes throughout the years – What do Rev 2, Rev 3, etc mean?

MR2 owners refer to the different revisions Toyota made to the car as “Rev X”. There were 5 different revisions over the lifespan of the SW20. North America only saw the first 2 versions, the rest were available overseas.

Rev 1 (1991-1992)

This was the first version of the SW20. It had staggered 14″ wheels, slightly snappier suspension and the shifter feel is a bit more notchy. They also had a smaller, less noticeable lip on the front bumper.

Rev 2 (1993)

This was the first major update to the MR2. Toyota made some changes to the suspension after hearing too many complaints about “snap oversteer” from journalists. They also increased the wheel size to 15″, added a larger lip to the front bumper, and gave the Turbo model larger brakes.

The transmission was improved with better synchronizers, resulting in smoother gear shifts. The shifter itself was also shortened. Turbo models received a viscous style limited slip differential. 1993 was the last year an MR2 of any generation was sold in Canada.

Rev 3 (1994-1995)

While American Turbo models kept the Gen 2 3SGTE, Japanese cars were upgraded to the Gen 3 engine. The most noticeable cosmetic changes were made to the rear end – new tail lights and the original 3 piece wing was replaced with a larger one piece wing.

The exterior trim that was previously contrasted on older models was now color matched to the rest of the car (front lip, side moldings, etc). A passenger side airbag was added along with a newer steering wheel design. 1995 was the last year the SW20 was sold in the USA.

Rev 4 (1996-1997)

The only major changes here were a new raw finish on the pre-existing wheels (diamond cut, unpainted) and turn signals were added to the fenders.

Rev 5 (1998-1999)

These were the final two years of the SW20 MR2 and were considered by many to be the best of the best. The rear wing was updated for a 3rd time to a more aggressive design that could be adjusted for downforce. A more modern looking set of 15″ wheels was used on these cars. The interior was treated to a few red accents – red stitching on the shift knob and leather seats as well as red rings around the gauges. The BEAMS 3SGE was only available during these final two years.

Are Toyota MR2s reliable? Common SW20 MR2 problems:

For a classic sports car, the SW20 is pretty rock solid. After all, it was engineered by Toyota during one of their finer eras. In the end, this was a fairly basic 4 cylinder car that shared a lot of parts from the parts bin of other Toyota models. While brand new parts have been discontinued, some can still be found hiding in different warehouses. The aftermarket for these cars continues to grow as well.

Although the MR2 is a very well built car, it still has some common issues. Keep in mind, we’ve had a few decades to find out every failure known to man. These are old cars now and unfortunately, every old car will wear out or break down from time to time. Toyotas aren’t immune to this, but they’re still regarded as one of the better companies out there in terms of longevity. Especially in the ’90s.

Rust

Rust was a big killer of Japanese cars from the ’90s era, but the SW20 actually faired surprisingly well. MR2s that have been driven on salty winter roads will be more susceptible to rust, of course. Some common areas to look for rust and corrosion are the door sills, the bottom of the doors, inside the wheel wells and in the engine bay (strut towers especially).

There is one very strange rust issue that nearly every MR2 suffers from. There are two short bars that appear to be braces for the undercarriage that tend to rust. This even happens to cars like mine that have been garage kept their whole lives and never seen a winter! These bars usually rot right through and are so common that MR2 owners have jokingly nicknamed them “Cancer Bars”.

The good news is that these do very little in terms of bracing or rigidity and can be removed if need be. You might get lucky and find a new set at a dealership (they weren’t very expensive) or online at places like Primedriven.com. You can also fabricate your own easily. They’re nothing more than a piece of steel tubing with the ends crushed and holes drilled in them.

T-Top water leaks

The rubber seals surrounding the T-Tops tend to age as time goes on. Once they dry up or crack, they’ll allow water to sneak into the cabin. Purchasing a new set of seals is pretty expensive and OEM ones are hard to find. There are aftermarket ones available as well as other DIY fixes for this. Definitely something to check for if you’re considering buying an MR2.

Hose From Hell and Hose From Hell On Earth (HFH, HFHOE)

This is a common issue for many MR2 Turbo models. The Hose From Hell and Hose From Hell On Earth are coolant hoses located right behind the turbocharger that attach to the oil cooler. Although these parts are very cheap to replace, the labor to access them is a total pain in the neck. Ask any MR2 owner that has had to deal with these and they’ll tell you they have earned every bit of their nicknames.

Heat from the exhaust causes these hoses to become brittle and cracked due to their location. This tends to happen roughly around the 100,000 mile mark but can differ depending on the climate the car lives in and how hard it’s driven.

Most people claim the turbo and exhaust manifold need to be removed in order to replace these hoses, although some say the job can be done by removing the oil cooler and borrowing a pair of very small hands. Either way, knuckles will be broken and curse words will be blurted out.

Symptoms of a bad Hose From Hell mostly consist of coolant leaks near the turbo and downpipe area, usually closer to the passenger side. That leak can also cause white smoke while driving. It’s commonly misdiagnosed as a blown head gasket.

If you happen to have the turbo off (or entire engine out) for any reason, these hoses should always be changed. They’re cheap to buy and when everything is out of the way, the job changes from a nightmare to a 5 minute fix.

Oil leaks

These cars are nowhere near as bad as British cars when it comes to leaking oil, but it is common to find leaks here and there as time goes on. Common places to find leaks are the valve cover, the o-ring on the distributor, turbo oil line, and the cam seals or oil pump seal on the timing side of the engine. It can also be a sign of a bad head gasket, although that doesn’t happen often.

Broken speedometer

Pre-1993 cars have a cable driven speedometer. There are a few things that can cause it to stop working. Many times, it’s the key on the cable breaking. It can also be the nylon gear in the transmission or the fact that the cable has slipped off the back of the gauge (less likely).

It’s less common for 1993 and newer MR2s to have speedometer issues, although sometimes there are problems with the capacitors on the gauge itself causing it to give false readings or just stop working entirely. This can also happen with the tachometer gauge.

Cracked ashtray lid

This is obviously not a catastrophic failure or a big deal by any means. But it is in fact a common problem. New ones can be found on Twosrus.com.

SW20 Toyota MR2

That’s about it for common problems with the SW20 MR2 (if there are more that I’m not thinking of, feel free to email me!). Any other issues are just normal things with any 20+ year old car. There are a few things worth mentioning though.

As with any mid-engined car, working on the engine bay can be a bit of a headache. Some things are harder to reach, and the risk of scratching the paint by leaning on the fender is higher.

Speaking of the paint, some MR2 colors were single stage, meaning they don’t have a separate clear coat on top. These paint jobs can become dull, chalky, and oxidized if not cared for properly. As long as there’s enough paint to work with, a paint correction can fix this.

It seems as though owners that have removed the rain drainage tray on the inside of the engine lid to install electric fans end up having to replace their alternator if they do a lot of driving in wet weather. Water is able to get directly into the alternator when that tray isn’t in place.

Changing the alternator on an MR2 can be a bit of a pain, even though it’s not that difficult to reach. The problem is physically squeezing the alternator in and out – sort of a “square peg in a round hole” situation. This takes time to get right and usually means dropping the exhaust if it won’t fit out through the top of the engine bay.

Fuel pumps aren’t known for failing, but in the event that you need to replace one, the entire gas tank needs to be dropped. There’s no trap door to access it from the cabin. Dropping the tank can be a time-consuming process, so keep that in mind if you’re considering buying a cheap Walbro knock-off pump. You probably won’t want to replace it twice.

Snap oversteer and the Toyota MR2

One of the things the SW20 MR2 is most known for is its tendency for snap oversteer. This has been blown out of proportion over the years, leading people to believe that MR2s are unsafe to drive. This is not the case. Snap oversteer only happens when you’re pushing (and going past) the car’s limits. It isn’t an issue with 99% of regular every day driving.

Snap oversteer is something that happens when the car slides out of control. Because the majority of the car’s weight is in the rear, when the rear end steps out it wants to “snap” back the other direction – sort of like a pendulum effect.

There’s no denying that the MR2 suffers from this, but it’s not the only one. This is a character trait of mid (or rear) engine cars, especially with shorter wheelbases.

Other cars that suffer from snap oversteer: Honda S2000, Porsche 911, and even the beloved Acura NSX. What do all of these have in common? They’re all considered some of the greatest driver’s cars. That’s because they’re so nimble. Driving one of these requires quick reflexes – you can’t treat them like a normal car. Failure to do so results in, you guessed it, snap oversteer.

Toyota made changes to the MR2’s suspension after hearing too many complaints from automotive journalists regarding snap oversteer. In a sense, they “dulled” the handling down a bit to make the car more predictable and easier to manage. Some hardcore drivers actually prefer the 1991-1992 cars for this specific reason.

Toyota MR2 modifications

Modifications for the SW20 MR2 are plentiful and the sky is really the limit. Some owners choose to keep things simple with bolt-on power upgrades and changes to the suspension and brakes.

Others go all out with fully built engines making big horsepower, aggressive aerodynamic upgrades, and weight savings. It all depends on your budget and what type of driving you’re into. The MR2 can nearly do it all, from circuit racing, to drag racing, autocross, and even rally racing. Set it up properly and it’ll perform well.

Stock 3SGTE engines are believed to be able to hold up to 350whp reliably. Upwards of that and you’ll probably want to look into beefing up the bottom end. The 3SGTE head flows pretty well from the factory but can benefit from upgraded camshafts.

Perhaps the most commonly upgraded part of the 3SGTE engine is the turbo. The original CT26 turbo runs out of breath above 18psi and doesn’t usually support much more than 250whp. There are many turbo options available, from the CT20b found on the Gen 3 3SGTE to huge ball bearing turbos.

MR2 Engine Bay

If more horsepower is what you’re after, you’ll need to address the fuel system and ECU. These are the next limiting factors after the turbo. Switching to a top feed fuel rail and using larger injectors is popular. The fuel pump will need to be upgraded as well.

Some people get away with using an OEM Denso pump from a MKIV Supra (myself included) but you’ll need to go bigger if you’re chasing high horsepower. MR2s don’t play nice with piggyback computers, so you’ll need to upgrade to a standalone ECU if you’re making major upgrades to the engine.

Some 3SGTE blocks have been reported to crack upwards of 400whp, but this isn’t a sure thing. Some do, some don’t. The E153 transmission is really strong and can handle nearly any power you throw at it. The axles are fairly strong as well, but the CV joints are a weak link. Upgrading these to chromoly cages is a smart upgrade.

Engine swaps are becoming more and more popular lately. The most common is to swap a 3SGTE into a Non-turbo chassis. Many choose to import a Gen 3 3SGTE from Japan for the swap because it’s an all-around better engine than the Gen 2. Toyota V6s are also common swaps. They don’t produce earth shattering power, but they do offer a different power band with more low-end torque.

By far the most controversial engine swap is the Honda K series. Loyal Toyota fans see it as sacrilege while others chasing huge horsepower see it as the only way to go. Honda’s engines have seen a lot more development in the aftermarket and are much more modern. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which side of the fence you’re on.

How was Dan Gurney involved in developing the MR2?

Every car guy is familiar with the ties between Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna and the Acura NSX. We’ve all seen the video of him shredding the track at Suzuka in his penny loafers while testing the car.

A much less known fact is that Formula 1, Indy, and Nascar driver Dan Gurney was involved in the development of the Toyota MR2. He did a lot of testing and tweaking for the 1st generation (AW11) MR2 and also helped to dial in the suspension on the SW20. The fact that he was very tall for a race car driver (6’4″) may or may not have played a role in the surprisingly large interior space of the MR2.

MR2 myths and misconceptions

There are a few myths regarding the SW20 Toyota MR2 that have followed it around its whole life. It’s actually pretty normal for the average car guy to believe most of these. It’s not until you do some digging around that you find out the real truth about the car. Here are a few of the common MR2 myths:

MR2s are twin turbo

I’ve heard this one forever and I’ll be honest – I believed it too up until a few years before I bought one. The confusion behind this is understandable. The intake manifold on the 3SGTE engine has the words “Twin Entry Turbo” stamped on it. That doesn’t mean there are two turbochargers. It refers to the design of the turbo and exhaust manifold that’s similar to what we call a “twin scroll” design. Toyota never made a twin turbocharged MR2.

Toyota copied Ferrari with the MR2

This is another common one. Since the MR2 shares a lot of styling characteristics with the Ferrari 348 and 355, people assume that Toyota must have copied the much more expensive Ferrari. The truth is the exact opposite. The concept for the SW20 MR2 came out before the Ferrari 348. A big part of the confusion here is the fact that some aftermarket companies made Ferrari-style body kit conversions for the MR2. Like the Pontiac Fiero, many fake exotic kit cars are built from the MR2 chassis.

Not only did the MR2 come out before the Ferrari, but it also performed better in some ways. The MR2 actually had better 1/4 mile times and braking distance than a few hero cars including the Ferrari, Supra, and even the NSX.

Toyota MR2s are unsafe to drive

As mentioned earlier, snap oversteer is not as big of a deal as some make it out to be. The SW20 MR2 is still a car that needs to be respected though. It isn’t the kind of vehicle that any teenager can hop into and drive like a superstar. A good driver can take advantage of its sharp handling. A bad driver can wrap it around a telephone pole (or a Jetta and Type-R… anyone remember that video?!).

The MR2 is a mid-engine car with a short wheelbase, lightweight, no traction control and no stability control. Compared to modern day sports cars, this one will make a fool out of you if you disrespect it.

With that said, the MR2 isn’t going to attempt to kill you for no reason. If you behave on the street, it’s no different than driving any other car. If you take the time to practice with it and really learn how it handles, you’ll be rewarded. The MR2 hasn’t wronged anyone that didn’t deserve it.

SW20 Toyota MR2

The 3SGTE is a bad motor

We’re seeing more and more of this as Honda K swaps become more popular. I hate to say it, but it seems to be a misconception with Millenials who don’t know much about the car’s history. Just because you saw a video of one with a K20 at TX2K doesn’t mean the original engine can’t perform.

There are quite a few 3SGTEs out there making north of 800whp. People were drag racing MR2s long before anyone swapped a Honda engine into one. As a matter of fact, people have been swapping the 3SGTE into other cars like older Toyota Starlets, AW11 MR2s, and even 7th generation Celicas. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and swapping a K series into an MR2 is just a new way to make power.

SW20 MR2s are super light

Although they’re lightweight compared to today’s sports cars, the 2nd generation MR2 wasn’t as light as people think. Depending on options, MR2s weigh between 2600 – 2800 lbs. Again, anything under 3,000 lbs is considered light now. But back then, compared to other cars its size, the SW20 was actually considered a little on the chubby side.

Toyota MR2s aren’t practical

This one might surprise you. While most mid-engine cars don’t exactly make the best grocery getters, the MR2 actually has decent storage space. There’s a bit of room under the hood with the battery and spare tire, but the MR2 actually has a complete trunk behind the engine bay. It’s not huge, but it can hold more than most modern day supercars.

The interior is quite roomy as well. Most people that sit in an MR2 for the first time are surprised to find how big they are inside. The seating position is very similar to that of the MKIV Toyota Supra, which was a much larger car overall. The SW20 can easily accommodate drivers well over 6 feet tall with room to wiggle around and be comfortable.

Both Turbo and Non-turbo models get great fuel economy too. 30-40 MPG isn’t unheard of depending on how you drive and where you drive them. Add up the economy, reliability, space, and comfort, and the MR2 is actually one of the most practical sports cars out there.

Adding a “snorkel” intake increases performance

These intake scoops were made popular by TOM’S. The thing is, they also offered a special airbox for the 3SGE to work with it. This was the only time these scoops were functional. The MR2 is designed to pull air from the driver’s side vent into the intake. Adding roof-mounted air scoops will actually create turbulence in the engine bay, hurting aerodynamics. They might look cool, but that’s really all they do.

13 responses to “The Ultimate SW20 Toyota MR2 Buyers Guide”

  1. Daiheadjai Avatar
    Daiheadjai

    On the subject of the 3SGTE, it’s worth noting that in the JGTC (Japanese GT Championship) the Supras (including the iconic Castrol Supra) ditched the heavy 2JZ-GTE for the 3SGTE.

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  • PHOTOS: Toyota’s Winners and Losers at CIAS

    PHOTOS: Toyota’s Winners and Losers at CIAS

    I was able to attend Media Day at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto this year and as you’d expect, nearly all the content I captured was from the Toyota booth. Now, please keep in mind that this coverage is coming from the perspective of a Toyota enthusiast, not an automotive journalist (I’m not…

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