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     As the sun creeps over the horizon, the morning warmup sesson ends. Itís time to put on the olí race face. The signal light snaps red and the countdown begins. Blip the throttle and slip into lst gear. One final glance at the gauges, then...Greenl With the gas pedal mashed hard into the floorboard, the needle sweeps smartly across the face of the rev counter as the speed builds, the engine delivering a rush of power with an ever-rising note of urgency. A quick tug on the shift lever, and the process begins again. Mirror check. A flash of black and white jumps into view, the ominous spectre causing an immediate separation of right foot from accelerator and a coincident king-sized jolt of adrenaline. The impromptu Grand Prix comes to an early halt due to circumstances beyond our control, the lone participant frustrated but able to slip away otherwise unhassled. But, hey, how can anyone be blamed for failing prey to the sirenís song of Toyotaís scintillating MR2 Supercharged?

    This petite pocket-rocket may lack the pure gut-wrenching power of a modern formula machine. And it wonít outpull a GTP car on the skidpad. But when it comes to putting a big-time glint in the eyes of a driving aficionado, few vehicles on the road today can match this mid-engined wonder. Introduced last year, the visible changes on the Supercharged variant are minimal for 1989. Like the standard MR2, door handles are now painted to match body color; and the center high-mount stoplight, which has been neatly faired into the rear spoiler, uses a new LED display. But the folks at Toyota knew better than to mess with this carís basic character, which remains absolutely delightful. Like it's naturally aspirated sibling, the MR2 Supercharged is powered by a 1.6-liter engine. In this application, the already potent 16-valve DOHC screamer is bolstered by a Roots-type positive-displacement blower working in concert with an air-to-air intercooler. With this supplemental hardware in place, the power jumps 26% from 115 at 6600 rpm to 145 at 6400 rpm. Torque rises an even more impressive 40% from 100 lb-ft at 4800 rpm to 140 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. While most mechanical components are identical to those in the base engine, this extra punch does necessitate a few key alterations. The blown powerplant gets a properly reinforced block, forged pistons, and a stouter head gasket. Due to its pressurized induction system, the twin-runner TVIS intake manifold used to upgrade low-end performance on the naturally aspirated MR2 is replaced by a conventional piece. Finally, the compression ratio has been rolled back from 9.4:1 to 8.0:1

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    To minimize parasitic power loss from the crankshaft-driven supercharger, the engine is fitted with an electrically operated magnetic clutch that disengages the blower drive system under no-load conditions. The package also includes a device that can either route incoming air directly to the engine or send it backward through the supercharger to prevent potentially terminal overboosting. Thanks to its electronic decoupling system, the supercharger extracts only a modest fuel economy penalty during normal driving The 5-speed version we tested earns 24/30 mpg city/highway marks from the EPA as opposed to the 26/31 ratings for the naturally aspirated car. Protracted bouts of hard acceleration have a definite negative effect on mileage. But even with a fair amount of running heavy on the boost, we still averaged a respectable 22.2 mpg.


    To help transfer the extra power to its rear wheels, the MR2 Supercharged gets a 9 in diameter clutch instead of the standard 8.5-in, component and a beefier 5-speed manual gearbox (a stronger 4-speed automatic is also optional). The gear ratios are juggled a bit to better utilize the MR2 Superchargedís enhanced low end power, As with previous MR2s, the linkage remains a tad notchy. But the stubby, short-throw shift lever does facilitate quick, positive gear changes.


    During our formal acceleration regimen, the blown MR2 sprinted from 0-60 mph in 7.84 sec and blasted down the quarter mile in 15.77 sec/ 87.4 mph. The supercharger definitely imparts a measure of bottom end kick thatís missing from many small displacement turbocars, witness its superb 2.32-sec 0-30-mph time. The raspy exhaust and intake whine take on considerably more intensity as revs climb toward the 7500-rpm redline, which is strictly enforced via a fuel shutoff. But the engine never leaves any doubt that itís ready, willing, and able to wind to the max at any moment. The enhanced torque is sufficient to make 5th gear useable from about 1700 rpm. However, sustained uphill runs in this OD cog tended to bleed several miles per hour off speed with the cruise control engaged.

 

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    The MR2ís fully independent suspension has coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers all around. Up front, itís a conventional MacPherson strut design with a single lower control arm, In the rear, each Chapman strutted wheel is located by twin lateral links supplemented by a strut rod/trailing arm. The sole functional change made to the Supercharged car for 1989 is the addition of a rear stabilizer bar. Both front and rear anti-roll bars were standard when the MR2 was introduced in 1985. But since 1986, only a front stabilizer has been used. With the weight of the S-charged MR2 rising from 2390 to 2493 lb and static distribution moving from 44/56% to 42/58%, Toyota engineers decided more rear bite would be beneficial. Their solution came in the form of a modest 11mm rear link that fine-tunes rather than radically alters the carís already excellent handling characteristics.


    Both versions of the MR2 share the same 195/60HR14 steel-belted radial tires. On our car, they happened to be a set of fairly sticky Bridgestone Potenza RE88s. On the Supercharged model, these are fitted onto 14x6.0-in. lightweight alloy wheels, a half inch wider than the standard steel rims. This combo yielded an impressive 0.86g reading on the skidpad.

 


    The MR2 Supercharged possesses stopping capabilities commensurate with its extra go-power. The S-charged model retains the same beefy 10.2-in, vented front and 10.4-in, solid rear discs used on the standard MR2. But the power booster in the force-fed variant has a dual rather than a single diaphragm. Although modulation is quite good, we did experience some late rear lockup under max-effort stops. The measured stopping distances were a bit on the long side: 36 ft from 30-O mph and 146 ft from 6O-0 mph. However, in real-world use, the binders felt considerably stronger and displayed minimal fade.


    Inside, the MR2 offers a driver friendly environment. Although far from claustrophobic, its diminutive but well-finished passenger compartment possesses little more room than an oversized sports racer, and taller drivers are destined to find head room at a premium. The fully adjustable sport seats, which, like the rest of the interior in our test car, were clad in optional leather, strike an admirable balance between comfort and support. A standard adjustable steering column makes it even easier to settle in behind the wheel and ensures an unobstructed view of the full complement of large white-on-black analog gauges. Left and right column-mounted stalks activate the directional signals and cruise control, while a pair of wing levers on either side of the central instrument cluster operate the lights and wipers. All four appendages are within an easy finger flick. The only controls that do require some fishing to find are the power mirror and regular/premium fuel switches, located on lower portion of the instrument binnacle.


    As one might expect, the Supercharged MR2 is at its best where the roads are most challenging, attacking every corner with the same unbridled enthusiasm. While the 18.0:1 non-power rack-and-pinion steering has a touch of on-center deadness, the MR2 turns in crisply on command and provides a driver with positive feedback at all speeds. A relatively wide 56.7in. front/rear track helps offset the MR2ís somewhat abbreviated 91.3-in. wheelbase. But it still responds most favorably to those who embrace a ďsmooth is betterĒ driving philosophy. Very neutral and forgiving during low to medium effort flogging, at the limit it can become a bit of a handful when subjected to radical throttle chops or overly enthusiastic braking. However, the new rear antiroll bar does a yeoman job under most circumstances. And once this tantalizing Toyota takes a firm set, it will happily whiz through high-speed sweepers like it was on rails. When things do tighten up, a well-timed and modulated stab at the throttle or brake will bring the rear around just enough to power out smoothly and go blasting off in search of the next twist in the road. 

    Now, what about the price of admission to this E-ticket ride? The sticker had not been finalized at test time, but Toyota sources say the MR2 Supercharged will base at about $17,580. A fully loaded version like ours, which was fitted with leather upholstery, the power package, A/C, cruise control, and the top-line stereo, will carry an estimated tag of $20,382. Thatís not cheap. But in these days of $70K Ferrari 328s, it strikes us as a pretty fair bargain. The MR2 Supercharged may not be the most practical car out on the road, but itís certainly one of the most exhilarating vehicles weíve driven in a long time. The base MR2 has been earning major kudos in the FTD department since day one. The Supercharged model just takes things one step beyond.                                         MT

 

Second Opinion
   This is itóthe second car I canít afford, my weekend plaything, my ultimate automotive toy! But since I often need to carry more than one passenger and more than a couple small items, for me, this Toyota has only entertainment value. But a good time is guaranteed if you forego practicality. The 1 .6-liter supercharged engine can be quite thirsty when driven hard, and the 10-gal tank of fuel doesnít seem to take you far. But what a ball you can have in just under 200 miles and one tankful! Low-end torque makes this car stronger than a 4-cylinder has any right to be, and thereís smooth, progressive power from there, right up to redline.


   From the beginning, I loved the extra kick provided by the supercharger. Now, among other minor changes to this yearís model, is the addition of a rear anti-roll bar, which offers just enough extra road-holding capacity to keep a smile on your face and the tires on the pavement charging around your favorite bend in the road.


    This is four-star entertainment!


                             óMike Banks