If An Electric Toyota MR2 is Happening, Here's How It Should Be Done: An MR2 Owner's Take
While the GR Supra may have divided the Toyota faithful, the rumored new MR2 doesn't have to, no matter what powers it.
When we first heard years ago that Toyota planned to revive its "three brothers" sports car lineup, and hinted at filling the gap between the 86 and GR Supra with a mid-engined model to honor the MR2, as the owner of two of them I was ecstatic. But that thrill withered quickly before the prospect of this new sports car being electric. It's not because I'm biased against EVs—it's because Toyota's apparent lack of enthusiasm for pure battery power combined with the GR Supra's teething issues gives good reason to worry about any future electric revivals for the Japanese brand's treasured heroes.
And so, speaking as someone who daily drives a 1991 MR2 Turbo and races an '87, I've given a lot of thought to how Toyota should execute an electric mid-engine sports car that lives up to the original's reputation for thrifty, iconoclastic performance. You listening, Toyoda-san?
First, let's get granular about what makes an MR2. No matter what endless comparisons to the Acura NSX and Ferrari 348 led some to believe, the MR2 was never a supercar-slayer straight from the factory. It was always an economical two-seat coupe where the engine happened to be in the middle, and one whose available convertible or T-tops made it just as fitting a summer night cruiser as its weight over the driven rear wheels made it a competent winter car.
Its proportions followed those of six-figure exotics, but price, power and poise were all on the approachable side. And for those seeking to narrow the performance gulf between their super-saver supercars and the real thing, there were also forced induction engines on offer—on the first two generations, anyway; the MR2 Spyder never got the more powerful 2ZZ-GE it deserved.
Most of these attributes aren't inherently hard to replicate in a modern EV. Because modular EV "skateboards" like the one Toyota's co-developing with Subaru can accommodate any body style from a microbus to a beach buggy, designing a two-seat coupe around one would be a trifle for Toyota engineers, T-tops or none. If GMC's doing them on the Hummer EV, Toyota can on an E-MR2. And with rear-wheel drive being the new norm with EVs, their platforms make the perfect basis for a sports car.
But EVs also tend to spread their batteries evenly across their floors to balance weight distribution at 50-50, which would eliminate one of the MR2's defining traits: A heavy rear end and the handling characteristics that come with one. Put simply, tail-heaviness increases stability under acceleration, but decreases it during braking. Skilled drivers can weaponize this instability to rotate the car more quickly, and increase cornering speeds, but those without the chops to master it can throw themselves into a spin, one often blamed on snap oversteer.
Unassisted mid-engined cars don't suffer fools, though any MR2 revival wouldn't be such a car; it would benefit from electronic stability and traction control, and only with these turned off would it bare its teeth.
Simulating the handling of a car with an iron-block four-banger out back, of course, is as simple as biasing a battery rearward. How big that battery needs to be can't be determined without a bunch of other parameters set, but it needs to be as big as Toyota can make it while gunning for a target weight of 3,000 pounds on base models. As heavy as modern cars have gotten, that's perhaps not the challenge it sounds like. Aluminum in mass-produced cars is more common than it was during even the MR2 Spyder's lifetime, EVs can get away with reduced sound deadening, and using the excuse of nodding to nostalgia, Toyota can cut costs with manual crank windows. Gotta accept some compromise in an affordable mid-engined sports car.
But it must be said, even if Toyota ticks all these boxes, it would be ill-considered to call its revived midship runabout two-seater an MR2. EVs can't—at least for the time being—faultlessly replicate fossil-fueled cars' driving experiences, and invoking the MR2 name would inform expectations no spiritual successor, no matter how good, could meet.
This hypothetical sports car needs a name that ties it to the MR2 without suggesting it's truly one of them, and a moniker from the MR2's history can do just that.
Back in the mid-1980s, Toyota was secretly working on an MR2-based rally car with all-wheel drive, a turbocharged 2.0-liter, and a widened, prototype-style body with a giant ducktail spoiler. Called the 222D, it was aimed at a rally category called Group S, the slower, safer, more prototype-friendly successor to the wild Group B. But Group S was dragged into the drink with Group B, leaving Toyota with no place to race the 222D. The car was subsequently consigned to a warehouse, its potential unrealized. But with no legacy comes no baggage and no one to disappoint, so calling the MR2's electric tribute the 222E would honor what could have been, not to mention establish a rally theme for the inevitable high-performance model.
Such a car could gain all-wheel drive from a second (or third, or fourth) motor on the front axle, and to supply the juice to run it, a bigger battery. With how popular overlanding has become, it may as well feature a little lift, all-terrain tires, bash plates, and a Safari Rally-appropriate ducktail spoiler. And as long as I'm daydreaming, a detachable roof rack, be it for a popup tent or a spare set of tires.
Yet all this fantasizing isn't worth squat if Toyota decides against pursuing an EV in the vein of the MR2, never mind an affordable third sports car altogether. The latest rumor out of Japan suggests Toyota's aiming more toward the $100,000 mark with its mid-engined model, a roughly 550-horsepower hybrid along the lines of the Acura NSX. That sure as hell isn't an MR2, if it's anything more than a hoax to begin with. It also assumes Toyota's third sports car isn't dead in the water, which it could well be between tightening emissions and an economy kneecapped by COVID-19.
But if Toyota does produce a third sports car, one that happens to be mid-engined and priced below the GR Supra, cars like the Camry TRD show us Toyota's starting to figure out performance cars again, meaning we have little reason to worry. Assuming the engineering is done in-house, that is, and that Toyota looks to past MR2s for guidance. But if it doesn't, and a fiasco on the scale of the ongoing GR Supra or 86 valve spring debacle unfolds, it'll be all some people need to write off Toyota as a company no longer capable of producing a sports car for a man in dandism, new rich and sports.
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