Crucial Cars: Toyota MR2

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without. For this installment, we put the spotlight on Toyota’s feisty sports car, the MR2.

Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater. For you trivia buffs, that’s how Toyota came up with the name of its sports car that debuted in the mid-1980s. Encompassing three generations before bowing out 20 years later, the MR2 endeared itself to thousands of driving enthusiasts.

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The dancing doorstop

The first-generation MR2 debuted for the 1985 model year. Petite, low to the ground and weighing just around 2,300 pounds, the athletic little runabout quickly became the poster car for affordable sports-car thrills. For good reason, car magazines such as Road & Track and Car and Driver raved about the MR2. A 1.6-liter, DOHC 16-valve inline four making 112 horsepower sat behind the cockpit and ran through either a slick-shifting five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic. The buff books called the manual one of the best in the world due to its satisfying, toggle-switch-like action. The engine’s smooth, high-revving nature also made it a blast to run through the gears, and with such little mass to push around it provided sprightly acceleration. As such, 0-60 mph sprints in the 8.5 second range and quarter-mile runs of around 16.5 seconds were possible and very quick for a car powered by a 1.6-liter four.

The MR2 saw a mid-cycle refresh for 1987, with the more notable changes including a slight bump in engine output (to 115 hp), bigger brakes, restyled front bumper/taillights, a T-bar roof option (with removable glass panels) and a sportier three-spoke steering wheel.

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For 1988, those wanting more gusto saw their wish granted in the form of the MR2 Supercharged, which boasted a force-fed 1.6-liter four making a stated 145 hp. The actual output was likely considerably higher, as performance testing had the little rocket hitting 60 mph in less than seven seconds and running the quarter in the low-15-second range. The following year would see only minor changes, such as an LED-strip-style third brake light, more aerodynamic mirrors, and for the Supercharged version, a rear anti-roll bar.

The baby Ferrari follows

After taking 1990 off, the MR2 returned for the 1991 model year completely redesigned. Looking a lot like a 3/4-scale Ferrari 348 minus the cheese-grater side intakes, it boasted not only exotic car looks but increased power, comfort, and performance. It also gained around 300 pounds in curb weight, though most viewed that as a small price to pay given the aforementioned upgrades.

With its 2.2-liter, DOC four making a willing 130 hp, the base MR2 was respectably quick, as it could hit 60 and run the quarter mile a few tenths quicker than its predecessor. As before, the athletic MR2 was more about providing backroads entertainment than it was about straight line thrills. Transmission choices were the same as before. Yet those with more of a need for speed had only to choose the top dog in the lineup, which was now turbocharged rather than supercharged. With its force-fed 2.0-liter four making a robust 200 horses, the new MR2 Turbo could rocket to 60 in just around six seconds flat and rip through the quarter in the mid-14-second range.

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Addressing concerns about the car’s propensity toward snap oversteer when pushed to its cornering limits, Toyota made a number of suspension changes as well as the fitment of 15-inch tires (versus the former 14s) for 1993 to make the car more forgiving of non-expert pilots. That year also saw more standard features for the Turbo (including T-tops, air conditioning and cruise control), as well as a newly optional limited-slip differential for that line-topping model.

For 1994, base versions got five more horses (for a total of 135), while all versions got a revised taillight panel (with a color-keyed center insert). Other update highlights included a one-piece (versus the previous three-piece) rear spoiler and revised power steering that provided more assist at low speeds and less at higher speeds. The following year, this MR2’s last in the U.S. market, saw no changes of note.

Along came a Spyder

After a four-year hiatus, the MR2 returned to the U.S. This third (and last) generation took a somewhat retro tack, as it morphed into a more traditionally styled, soft-top sports car. Toyota emphasized this new theme by adding “Spyder” (basically Italian for convertible sports car) to its name. Aimed squarely at Mazda’s ridiculously popular Miata, the latest MR2 traded its formerly sexy curves for a somewhat blocky body “accented” by oversize headlights and taillights. To say it lost some “eyeball” would be understating things. And there was no longer a pumped-up supercharged or turbocharged version.

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Still, there was plenty to like here. Although the sole engine choice was a 1.8-liter, DOHC, 16-valve four, it featured variable valve timing and cranked out a respectable 138 hp. A five-speed manual gearbox was the only transmission initially offered. Notably, the Spyder was very light, boasting a curb weight of just around 2,200 pounds, which translated into peppy acceleration (0-60 in around seven seconds flat). A longer wheelbase than before gave both a smoother ride over broken pavement along with greater stability when pushed hard on a twisty road. Finally, the MR2 Spyder offered a lot of bang for the buck, and with a price tag of around $24,000, it not only was a blast to drive but came nicely equipped with air conditioning, full power features and sharp alloy wheels. City dwellers or those who just didn’t like clutch pedals could, in 2002, choose the newly optional five-speed, automated clutch manual gearbox. The following year saw that transmission upgraded to six-speeds, slightly restyled front/rear fascias, revised seats and recalibrated suspension components.

For 2004, the MR2 Spyder received an optional Torsen limited-slip differential, a stronger structure (for better crash protection), and, to the chagrin of most enthusiasts, a one-inch taller ride height. To celebrate 2005, the last year for the MR2 Spyder in the U.S., Toyota added a six-disc CD changer to the standard equipment list.

With its two-decade run and massive popularity among driving enthusiasts looking for a fun, dependable, and low-running-cost ride, the Toyota MR2 is hard to beat. A few web sites catering to MR2 fans include MR2 World and International MR2 Owners Club.

Did you own a Toyota MR2? Tell us about it in the comments.

Crucial Cars: Toyota Corolla AE86

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without. For this installment, we put the spotlight on an iconic, rear-drive compact sport coupe – the Toyota Corolla AE86.

For the most part, the Toyota Corolla has long been known as a well-built, very reliable compact car, if not the most exciting thing on four wheels. When friends and relatives of ours are looking for an economical and practical used car that promises many years of trouble-free performance, the Corolla is typically on our short list of recommendations. Although most folks think of a staid four-door sedan when “Corolla” is mentioned, look closely at its family tree and you’ll see that there was a handsome jock or two in the family.

1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S Coupe

1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S Coupe

“Go” to match the “show”

It was 1984, kids accompanied by boomboxes were popping and locking in the streets, the Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. Oh, and Toyota created a hot-rod Corolla.

Although the Corolla coupe had been offered in “SR5” guise, a trim level highlighted by its then-notable 5-speed (rather than 4-speed) manual transmission, since the mid-’70s, a truly athletic version of Toyota’s bread and butter compact had yet to be offered. But that changed big time around midway through 1984 when, for the 1985 model year, Toyota brought out “GT-S” versions of its Corolla coupe and hatchback. The latter pair, also available in base and SR5 trim levels, had just been redesigned for ’84 and had the internal chassis code AE86.

These handsome, new two-door Corolla models retained rear-wheel drive while the also redesigned four-door Corolla sedan went to the increasingly popular front-wheel-drive layout. Although sending the power to the front wheels provided better traction on slippery roads and opened up more interior room, most serious driving enthusiasts preferred rear-wheel drive. The reasons for that preference included better front to rear weight balance, crisper turn-in response and, provided there’s enough sauce under the hood, the ability to powerslide the car’s tail around corners.

The GT-S provided that needed firepower in the form of a free-breathing, double-overhead-cam (DOHC), 16-valve (4 valves rather than the usual 2 per cylinder) 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Although its output of 112 horsepower might seem like a joke nowadays, keep in mind this was during an era where a Camaro Z28’s 5.0-liter V8 made anywhere from 155 to 215 horses. And these Corollas were light, tipping the scales at only around 2,300 pounds. By comparison, today’s Corolla (which is only available in a sedan) weighs 2,800 pounds.

 

1985 Toyota Corolla SR5

1985 Toyota Corolla SR5

According to Motorweek, a GT-S hatchback’s run to 60 mph took 9.8 seconds, not exactly thrilling but respectable for the day. The sprint down the quarter mile was more impressive at 16.7 seconds, a testament to the engine’s high-revving nature. More than numbers on a spec sheet, it was the twin-cam’s smooth and eager nature, channeled through a slick-shifting 5-speed, that made more than a few drivers exuberantly blurt out expletives of joy. The GT-S’ firmed-up suspension, precise steering, and crisp, predictable handling ensured that slicing through a section of twisty blacktop could similarly give cause for celebration.

Drifting away

Produced for just three model years (1985-1987), the Corolla AE86 made for a relatively small but undeniably important chapter in the book of Corolla. As the 1990s and 2000s rolled on, a small but potent wave of turbocharged, all-wheel-drive athletes crashed onto the sport compact scene. During the ’90s the Mitsubishi Eclipse and its cousin the Eagle Talon provided the thrills, while it was the Subaru Impreza WRX / WRX STi and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (“Evo”) models that boosted the pulse rates of drivers after the new millennium dawned.

But the AE86 would come back into the spotlight once more. As the drifting movement from Japan took hold and gained popularity, enthusiasts sought out affordable and easily modded mounts. Naturally, the durable AE86 was still available via the used car classifieds, as was another popular choice, Nissan’s 240SX.

Chapter two, 25 years later

2013 Scion FR-S

2013 Scion FR-S

The everlasting appeal of a small, light, agile, and just plain fun to drive sport coupe was not lost unto Toyota. It took a few decades, but for 2013, the spiritual successor to the AE86 made a triumphant return. In a joint venture with Subaru (who provided the horizontally-opposed four cylinder powertrain), Toyota brought the FR-S to market via its Scion division. Enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced by raising a glass of ’93 octane in its honor (or so we assume).

Right out of the box the FR-S (and its Subaru BRZ twin) was near perfect. With 200 horsepower only propelling about 2,800 pounds, the 0-to-60 sprint took less than 7 seconds. The car’s nimble nature, firm ride, strong brakes, and communicative steering were indicative of a pure sports machine.

Although the FR-S undoubtedly paid tribute to the AE86 Corolla (the badges on the front fenders have a stylized “86” between a pair of horizontally-opposed pistons), there was no denying it had been kicked up more than a few notches. Indeed, one could also say that the “Toyobaru” twins marked the welcome return of an elemental, no frills sports car.

Crucial Cars: Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry photoFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door showcases the midsize miracle that is the Toyota Camry.

32 years later and the Toyota Camry is still battling it out with its arch-nemesis Honda Accord.

First introduced in the U.S. in 1983 to replace the rear-wheel drive Corona, Camry was Toyota’s answer to the Honda Accord’s steadily growing U.S. popularity. The Accord had already been available in the U.S. for seven years when Camry entered the market and one of the ways Toyota helped set the Camry apart from that competition was by making the Camry larger and more powerful. The first Camry’s wheelbase was nearly half a foot longer than Accord’s and had about seven percent more horsepower.

But it would take Camry nearly 14 years to jump ahead of Accord in retail sales, a feat it accomplished in 1997 when it also became the best-selling car in the U.S. The two have traded places numerous times in the years since even as many other Toyota cars were added to the lineup.

Even today, Camry is still compared to Accord, but Nissan’s Altima and Hyundai’s Sonata have been added to the list, as seen on Toyota’s 2015 Camry website. It’s a perplexing comparison, from a consumer’s point of view, in that there’s very little differentiation between the four models and certainly nothing that makes Camry a clear winner or standout in any one of the more than 25 categories. Perhaps that was Toyota’s intention – to position Camry as Accord’s equal and as a solid choice among the numerous Toyota cars, trucks and SUV’s available today.

Camry, like other Toyota cars, has changed with the times, undergoing a redesign approximately every five years. That first Camry’s 2-liter, four-cylinder engine cranked out 92 horsepower compared to today’s 3.5-liter, V-6 engine that delivers 268 horsepower. The V-6’s availability wasn’t an option on Camrys until 1988 when all-wheel drive also became available.Toyota Camry Trunk photo

As Camry grew in popularity, and size, it also increased its reputation for ride comfort, luxury and delivering a quite ride – attributes that helped the 1992 Camry serve as the model for Toyota’s 1992 Lexus ES 300. Even today Toyota still carefully focuses on and promotes Camry’s quite-ride factor, highlighting the 2015 model’s “vortex generators” on the exterior that are designed to smooth turbulent air, increasing efficiency and reducing cabin noise.

Today’s Camry offers seven different models to choose from – LE, SE, XSE, XLE, Hybrid LE, Hybrid SE, and Hybrid XLE. The two models Camry lovers won’t find, however, are the two-door model and the station wagon, both having been discontinued in 1997.

With a base MSRP of $22,970 and 25/35 estimated miles per gallon, Camry’s 2015 design is promoted as bold and aggressive. An available sport-mesh grill, LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels and dual chrome-tipped exhaust are paired with a sporty interior to give it that look. An interior – or “cockpit that’s ready for the fast lane,” as Toyota describes it on some models – features sport seats, moon roof, and paddle shifters mounted to the back of the steering wheel that enable the six-speed automatic to be shifted manually.Toyota Camry Interior photo

Technology designed to enhance driver convenience and comfort is an integral part of Camry’s interior. The Entune® App Suite enables drivers and passenger to perform a wide variety of activities – including access Pandora and iHeartRadio, make dinner reservations or even purchase movie tickets. The wireless charging feature enables Qi-compatible electronic devices to recharge simply by being placed on the non-slip surface.

On the road, Toyota helps drivers keep Camry’s 268 horsepower under control with a wider track, taut suspension, recalibrated springs, shocks and sway bars, and optimized Electric Power Steering as part of a sport handling package.

Safety features abound on the 2015 Camry and include a blind spot monitor, backup camera, lane departure alert, tire pressure monitor, and cruise control that automatically monitors the preset distance between the vehicle and the one in front and adjusts speed accordingly. Also helping protect passengers inside the Camry are 10 airbags – including knee airbags – Whiplash-Injury Lessening (WIL) seats, and several safety systems – including one that connects drivers with Toyota’s 24/7 call center in the event of an emergency, stolen vehicle or need for roadside assistance.

The Toyota Camry has traveled a long way in its 32 years in the U.S. and continues to gain in popularity while garnering strong reviews. For a nostalgic look back, here’s where it all began with one of the earlier Camry’s in 1986 with Toyota parts that look a lot simpler than today’s complex machines.

Editor’s note: Camry? Accord? Whatever camp you fall into, you can rely on Advance Auto Parts for the car parts and supplies you need to maintain your vehicle right. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Toyota Tundra

Toyota TndraFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, our favorite neighborhood mechanic talks through Toyota’s colossal contribution to the full-size truck market.

 If you had told a pickup truck driver in the mid 1970s or ‘80s that Toyota would one day introduce a full-size pickup in the U.S. that would compete with the “traditional” full-size pickup brands—Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and GMC—they probably would have laughed you out of the room. And if you’d also told them that just such a truck would be produced in Texas—where bigger is always better, particularly when it comes to pickups, and hats—they would have known you were crazy for sure. Toyota, after all, was better known then for its gas-sipping, compact cars, as well as its compact Tacoma and mid-size T100 pickups.

Fast forward to 2013 when the full-size Toyota Tundra was the sixth best-selling pickup in America. My how times, attitudes, and even Toyota trucks, have changed.

First introduced in the U.S. in 1999 as a 2000 model year to replace the T100, Toyota’s Tundra was named Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year in both 2000 and 2008. The first-generation Tundras spanned from 1999 to 2006, and with the availability of a 4.7-liter V-8 producing 245 horsepower, were viewed by the industry as the first real foreign threat to the domestic full-size pickup truck market. Tundra’s image among hardcore pickup enthusiasts, however, was still that of a smaller, slightly car-like pickup that wasn’t really up to competing with full-size American pickups just yet, particularly in the area of towing capacity.

That all changed with the second generation, a slightly larger Tundra introduced in 2006 with an available 5.7-liter V-8 engine, towing capacity of 10,000-plus pounds and payload capacity of more than a ton. To illustrate the 2015 Tundra’s towing capacity, since that is such an important consideration for pickup owners, Toyota highlights the 2015 Tundra’s powerful stats in reviewing its latest model online.

“381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque, a 6-speed automatic transmission, plus a standard Tow Package with added engine and transmission oil coolers equal heavy-duty towing capability. Add Double Overhead Cams (DOHC), a 32-valve head design and Dual Independent Variable Valve Timing, and you get a drivetrain that can tow a space shuttle.”

And yeah, it really did tow a space shuttle.

With an MSRP starting at $29,020, the 2015 Tundra backs up its powerful persona with design features that make it a truck suitable for work, play and family. Tundra’s high-tech and driver friendly. Consider the Limited Premium Package with an illuminated entry system and front and rear sonar that help drivers park. Also available on the 2015 model year is a dizzying array of available interior packages and custom features, such as the Entune™ Multimedia Bundle, consisting of an AM/FM/CD player with MP3 capability, 6.1-inch touch-screen display, auxiliary jack, USB 2.0 port, iPod connectivity, control, and hands-free phone capability.

First Generation Toyota Tundra

First Generation Toyota Tundra

The Tundra is particularly well-known and lauded for its passenger-friendly cab. A recent review by Edmunds described the Tundra CrewMax’s interior as “enormous, featuring excellent legroom and a rear seat that not only slides but reclines as well.”

When you can move and recline a rear truck seat – that’s a lot of room.

Cab configurations for the newest Tundra include a regular cab, Double Cab with four, forward-hinged doors, and the previously mentioned CrewMax with even more room and four doors. Either a six-and-a-half-foot bed or an eight-foot bed are available with the regular and Double Cab models, while the only bed option available with the CrewMax model is a five-and-a-half-foot bed.

One potential downside with the Tundra is its lower fuel economy, which is EPA estimated at 15 and 19 MPG for 2015. But, with the recent trend in lower gas prices, that fuel economy might not be as big a concern as it once was for many drivers.

And while we’re talking numbers, consider this not-so-well-known fact—Tundra wasn’t always named Tundra. When it was first introduced, the Tundra’s “concept” or “show” truck models were named the Toyota T150. Sound like another pickup truck you might be familiar with? Yeah, Ford thought so too, and threatened to sue Toyota unless the name was changed.

Given Toyota trucks’ enduring popularity in the U.S. – first with the T100 and Tacoma, along with the Tundra’s more recent introduction – parts for the Tundra, or any Toyota truck for that matter, are widely available and offer endless options for just about anything you want to do to your Toyota truck, whether new or old-school.

My favorite part about the 2015 Tundra, however, just might be Toyota’s creativity in naming several available colors, including “blue ribbon metallic,” “sunset bronze mica,” or my favorite—”attitude black metallic.” I wonder how that’s different from just plain old black, which is also an available color, minus the “plain old” descriptors of course.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re customizing or cleaning your Tundra, Advance Auto Parts has a top selection of parts and supplies. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.