In relation to the iconic Japanese sports cars of the 90s like the Nissan Skyline and Toyota Supra, the Toyota MR2 has always enjoyed more of a cult following and less of a universally-known and idolized existence.
A bit more of a 90s JDM dark horse, the second-generation MR2 (chassis code SW20) has remained a relative bargain despite its exotic mid-engine layout, nimble handling, and unique Ferrari-inspired styling, all built with Toyota’s incredible quality.
With 90s JDM cars exploding in price lately, has the opportune time to buy an SW20 already passed, or will this unique car remain a JDM bargain?
Toyota MR2s will likely continue to appreciate in value in the future – but not as much as more popular Japanese cars like the Supra, NSX, and RX7. The combination of its affordable price, unique styling, and performance figures makes the SW20 MR2 quite a steal in the collector car market.
Future values of the Toyota MR2
Relative to the other JDM vehicles from the same era, it’s not likely that the MR2 will explode in popularity or value from where it is now. However, MR2s will assuredly increase in value relative to their previous values, simply due to time and the available supply of MR2s on the market.
As out-of-production vehicles continue to be driven, modified, and unfortunately, wrecked, the overall number of available MR2s for sale declines. The MR2 was initially a low-production car, so they’ll continue to become more and more rare. The lack of available supply will inevitably cause prices to increase.
We’re already seeing low-mileage and all-original USDM SW20 MR2s commanding never-before-seen high prices. On Bring a Trailer, an all-original 1995 MR2 Turbo with 67,000 miles on it recently sold for $61,750. 1995 model year MR2s have always been the most expensive in the United States due to their extremely low production numbers.
Comparatively speaking, a 1991 MR2 Turbo with 37,000 miles on it sold for $35,500 in November 2021.
On the non-turbo model side, a seemingly museum-quality 1993 automatic model with only 9,000 miles on it sold for $25,500. So depending on your budget, goals, and desire to own an unmolested MR2, it indeed may be too late to buy one at an affordable price.
That all being said, those examples are of immaculate and well-preserved cars. A modified MR2 or one in more average condition can be had for $10,000-15,000 for a turbo model, and a decent non-turbo model can be had for well under $10,000.
If you’d like to own a low-mileage and relatively original SW20 MR2, a more affordable option would be to buy an imported JDM (right-hand drive) model. The geographic nature of Japan lends to greater availability of lower-mileage cars than in the United States, so it’s easier to find a RHD MR2 with less than 100,000 miles than a USDM model.
And prices are much easier to swallow than those examples on Bring a Trailer – a 1995 Turbo hardtop model with 80,000 miles recently sold for $17,495 at Japanese Classics LLC in Virginia.
Why the market for Japanese sports cars is going crazy right now
As a general rule, vehicles that fall into a certain demographic’s childhood years typically are valued the highest among that demographic. For example, the muscle cars of the 1960s and 70s are popular with the Baby Boomer generation. Gen Xers gravitate to late 70s and early 80s cars.
And now, we’re seeing the Millennial generation begin to treasure the iconic cars from the 90s as the cars they’re willing to spend big money on to own. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and people are willing to pay to relive their “good old days”.
Most millennials are solidly in their peak earning years, so they have the most disposable income to buy cars from their childhood that they grew up having posters on their bedroom walls as kids.
On top of that, the United State’s restrictive 25-year policy on importing foreign vehicles now allows anyone to import and legally drive any JDM vehicle that was manufactured before 1997.
So the iconic Nissan Skyline R32 & R33, the fourth-generation (A80) Toyota Supra, the Z32 Nissan 300ZX, and, of course, the SW20 MR2, are now completely legal to import and register to drive in the United States. A population with money to spend and a wide range of available choices makes for higher transaction costs.
Comparing the MR2 to other Japanese classics
Part of the reason the MR2 was not as idolized as the Skyline, NSX, and Supra was due to its lower horsepower and thus, it continues to command a lower premium than the iconic “halo cars” from the 90s.
The Turbo model was rated for around 200 horsepower (but anyone familiar with the 3GSTE motor knows it’s capable of much more power than that).
The non-turbo model was rated at 135 horsepower, which placed it in the same category as the Mazda Miata MX-5 and Nissan 300ZX in the horsepower-driven minds of many car enthusiasts.
Comparing the MR2 to these two models, the MR2 is much rarer, which helps bolster its low horsepower numbers when it comes to value. The MR2 will cost more than a Miata of the same vintage but makes up for it in uniqueness, rarity, and power-producing capabilities (with the turbocharged engine).
The Nissan 300ZX made more horsepower out of the box than the MR2, but it also weighed much more (approximately 3,300lbs compared to 2,700lbs). This made the 300ZX and the MR2 fundamentally different cars to drive, but their values have remained in the same league. They were both available with T-Tops, though, which are always good for a healthy dose of nostalgia (and Vitamin D)!
Will Toyota ever make a new MR2?
MR2 fans have been hoping for an MR2 rebirth since the departure of the third-generation (ZZW30) MR2 Spyder in the early 2000s. There have been numerous rumors over the years of a return; rumors saying it could return as a gasoline car, a hybrid, or a full-electric car.
The most recent rumor to surface broke in December 2021 when Toyota unveiled 15 EV concepts, with one little orange sports car included. But nothing has been officially announced by Toyota as of this writing.
Naysayers argue that the case is not strong enough to build a niche vehicle like an MR2 in today’s business environment. The number of sales a new MR2 would generate would likely not cover the development costs of a vehicle that most likely would share very few components with other Toyota vehicles. This is probably the biggest hurdle to Toyota building a new MR2.
Optimists, though, point to the latest Toyota Supra and Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ as proof that a new MR2 may still be possible. Toyota partnered with BMW and Subaru to help share development costs and engineering capabilities between two companies, rather than one company swallowing the costs of a new sports car itself.
If the MR2 does make a return, it’s likely that it will return as a partnership between Toyota and another company.
All three generations of the Toyota MR2 are cherished by owners and car enthusiasts because of its styling, performance capabilities, and overall uniqueness. The MR2 represents one of the last mid-engine cars at an affordable price point. As time goes on, the supply of MR2s will unfortunately and inevitably decline, which will cause prices and values to rise.
Take some solace in knowing that the MR2 will most likely not achieve the same valuation and legendary status as the Skyline and Supra. It was an excellent value when new and should continue to be a bargain relative to other Japanese 90s sports cars in the future.
Outside of Mitch’s day job as a marketing and PR professional, he enjoys all things related to cars, motorcycles, travel, and the outdoors. When he turned 16, the SW20 MR2 grabbed his heart and he bought the first 1993 that he could get his hands on. He has since become obsessive about paint and the differences between wax, sealants and ceramic coatings. Read more about Mitch: