An odd thing happened to the Toyota MR2 on its way to becoming a budget supercar. Oh, it had great performance and styling suitable for a Lamborghini, but gone was the sweet feet of the original. The second generation MR2 aspired to be more than a cheerful little sports car, and it somehow turned out less than the sum of its impressive parts.
Toyota laid plans for "Mr. Two" two during the bubbly 1980s, when the market for expensive -- and profitable -- sports cars seemed bright. Thus, the redesigned MR2 released for 1991 (there was no 1990 model) had more of everything. There was 3.2 inches more wheelbase for more cockpit space, 8.7 inches more body length for a roomier rear trunk, and curb weight increased more than 400 lbs. Its dohc four-cylinder engines also had more horsepower: 135 for the 2.2-liter base unit and 200 for the uplevel choice, now a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0. Torque increased 40 percent. ABS was a new option, and the rear tires were now wider than the fronts. The more luxurious interior featured a driver-side air bag.
It was the MR2 Turbo that best mimicked a supercar, with its sleek mid-engine design, beckoning 7,000-rpm redline, and sophisticated mechanical air. But the engineers had miscalculated. The new car was treacherous in fast, hard cornering. Sudden oversteer, present only at the very limit in the first generation MR2, now came more easily, especially to the powerful Turbo. The '93s got significant rear-suspension revisions, wider-still rear tires, and for good measure, larger, stronger brakes.
Toyota could fix the handling but was powerless against the yen. Base prices in 1991 were a reasonable $14,898 for the standard model and $18,228 for the Turbo, but by '95 it had ballooned to $24,000 and near $30,000. This in a nervous economy and amid insurers hostile to two-seaters. U.S. sales that topped 14,000 in calendar '91 shriveled to 387 for 1995. There was no '96 model.
The second-generation MR2 had combined exotic-car credentials with Toyota reliability, but few mourned its passing. "Somehow a critical ingredient has been lost in the recipe," wrote Brock Yates in a Car and Driver review of the '93 model. ". . .all it soul . . . For all its mechanical sophistication, the MR2 remains mysteriously tepid . . . Try as we might, our enthusiasm lags."