Mister Two Goes to Town


It all depends on your philosophy of sports cars. Maybe your hooked on front engine/rear-drive configurations. Maybe your heart belongs to Detroit's big iron. Maybe you stand on the idea that fewer than eight cylinders is to few and more then two valves per cylinder is too many. If the top doesn't come down, you don't want it. If there's no back seat, where is loverboy going to pitch a little woo?

No sports car can be all things to all things to all people. But I know a little mid-engine, rear drive, 2-seat rocket that knows how to have a blast. The 1989 Toyota Supercharged MR2 has a better attitude than Dale Carnegie and is more fun than Sydney Biddle Barrows (the Mayflower Madam).


Your first look at the MR2, from a distance, won't tell you anything new about it. You'll just be able to decide whether you prefer the car with the rear spoiler or without it. As you get closer, your eyes will come across the discreet badging placed at the rear of the car and on the doors: "SUPERCHARGED". Now open the louvered engine cover. You will find the MR2's always faithful fuel-injected, 16 valve, dohc, 1.6 liter inline-4 engine, but you'll find it in battle ready form.

The heart of this highest performance MR2's power system is it's elegant, Toyota designed, Roots type, supercharger. The supercharger is belt driven off the crankshaft, supplying boost in direct relationship to crankshaft speed. The system uses a

large air-to-air intercooler. Toyota's intercooler drops the temperature of the air going into the combustion chamber by as much as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows for greater air density in the chamber.

Additionally, Toyota has developed a system to ease the constant strain placed on engines by forced air systems. At those times when the MR2 engine is running at low or mid-range and boost os neither needed nor desired, a computer controlled, electromagnetic clutch on the superchargers input shaft is disengaged. While the supercharger sits idling, a bypass valve open to redirect the air around it. This design reduces drag on the engine and help to maintain the MR2's excellent fuel economy, especially on the highway (our average

The 1989 Super Red MR2 SC

fuel consumption figure was 23.0 mpg).

So what do you get for your 23.0 mpg and your extra $2200 above the asking price for the normally aspirated MR2? Power. Lots of it. In supercharged form, the high revving 1.6 liter engine boasts 145 bhp at 6400 rpm and 140 bl-ft of torque at 4000. The result is an instantaneous kick of acceleration when your right foot goes to work. There is none - repeat: not any - of the frustrating lag that we have grudgingly come to live with and hate as drivers of turbocharged engines. The supercharger works directly off the crankshaft, forcing air into the combustion chamber just off idle, so no time is wasted waiting for the blower to "spool up".

This lag-less, torquey acceleration in the Supercharged MR2 represents a second blessing in that the complaint universally uttered about the normally aspirated MR2 was that feet-of-clay off the line. The supercharged version dynamically puts this complaint to rest with an abundance of low end torque.

Driving the Supercharged MR2 is a pleasure. Along with the new power, there is the same willing, affable, neutral handling attitude that we praised so highly when R&T did a long term test of a 1987 MR2. the steering is quick, precise and nimble. The car pulls heroically in all gears all the way up to it's 7500 rpm redline, and cruises the highway effortlessly at 70 mph in 5th

with the tachometer reading a cool 3500 rpm.

Near the limit, the light, little car exhibits very manageable understeer. A tendancy toward drop throttle oversteer in the Supercharged MR2 has been addressed by the addition of a rear anti-roll bar in the 1989 model.

In instrumented testing, the Supercharged MR2 turned in an extremely balanced performance. It's straight line numbers were very livable - 0 to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, the quarter mile in 16.0 and the handling figures were downright classy - 63.4 mph through the slalom and a challenging 0.80g on the skidpad.





Fuel-conscious drivers will want to keep tach mounted supercharger light off. Fun loving drivers will want it on continuously




The Interior

If the styling changes between the 1987 and 1988 MR2 models were subtle, the they are imperceptible in the 1989 version. For better or worse - depending on how your tastes run - this years MR2 looks identical to last year's MR2. It is offered as a hardtop or T-top with lockable glass panels and snap in inserts. The trunk space carved out behind the engine is of only minimal use and heats up like an oven. One nice touch on the 1989 model is the way the center mounted brake light is integrated into the rear spoiler of the aero equipped MR2s.

The interior is still a comfortable cockpit    with seats that feel terrific and are fully adjustable. The thick, tri-spoke steering wheel is grippy, the gauges familiar and very readable. If there is a drawback, it's the ventalation system with it's second rate series of recessed vents.

The gauge pod

s&gt-154c.jpg (98600 bytes)  

Rear view is what most equally priced cars will see in a drag race. Supercharged sticker on left tells them why.










Again, it depends on your philosophy of cars. Historically, Japanese cars have been too consistent to elicit much affection from their owners. An enthusiast driver needs to be needed by his sports car. He needs to be able to throw his arm around the car's shoulder when the heater fan motor burns out or the 2nd gear synchro starts to go and say, "Hey, it could've happened to anyone."

Only rarely does a Japanese car need to be forgiven. Thus the cars have to be appreciated, but not necessarily loved by enthusiasts. The original, affordable MR2 from 1985 (along with it's similarly spirited countryman from Honda, the CRX Si) changed all that. It was still a dead on consistent car, of course, but it's makers also installed it with a zeal and eagerness to perform that couldn't help winning the minds and hearts of U.S. enthusiasts.

In August 1985, Road & Track published a road test in which the 112 bhp/97 lb/ft of torque MR2 effectively trounced a bevy of imported and domestic 2 seat sports cars. The seeds of passion were sown.

In December 1987, those seeds came to fruition as the Supercharged MR2 - priced at $17,500 - found itself on R&T's "10 Best Cars in the World" list in both the "By Value" and "By Passion" catagories.

But time, tide and supercharging have taken their toll on the MR2 in one important area: cost. When Toyota first released its mid-engined bullet four years ago, an inspired and breathless public could show up at the Toyota dealers front door with $10,999 and drive away in a brand new MR2. Today, with the Japanese yen beating the American dollar to a pulp, the Supercharged MR2's price tag is edging toward the "think twice about buying" threshold of $20,000. That cost, combined with performance car insurance rates that are fixed somewhere up in the Van Allen belt, add up to a prescription for hard times for MR2 sales, passion nonwithstanding.

Toyota's answer to the problem of what to do with the MR2 in the future is a provacative one. Due for a change in 1990, it appears as though the next generation MR2 is headed for a big


change. Toyota is reputed to have a 150 mph, $30,000 MR2 online for the 1990 model year. Due for release in Japan early next year, the car will be 8-10 inches longer, an inch wider and an inch lower. It will probably be powered by a 2.0 liter engine, with the extra horses and torque supplied by optional turbocharging. performance is said to be aimed at Porsche 911 and Lotus Turbo Esprit lines. The styling of the new car will be distinct, yet evolutionary, following that of the current MR2.

The prediction is that Toyota has decided to abandon it's niche in the American entry level 2 seater market to actively pursue the upscale sports car buyers who can afford pricey performance cars and the equally pricey add ons like liability insurance. It depends on your philosophy... and your pocketbook.

But for now, at least, there is an inspiring yet affordable 2 seat, mid-engined sports car that appeals to almost anyones philosophy: the Toyota Supercharged MR2. It's a car that has earned it's PhD.

-Richard Homan


Road Test Data