The last AW11 left the assembly line 24 years ago, and compared to other Toyota products, the 163.000 examples made aren’t all that many - though that’s still more than they sold from the failure, that the third generation MR2 was. I wanted one since i was a kid, and in 2011 i bought this red 1986, with sunroof and a singing-dancing 4A-GE. Two other things of note about my car: it has no tuned parts, even the OZ wheels are of factory size and offset, and it’s rusting right now, in all the usual places, so I will have to get my shit together and pay for a proper body-job and respray. As there are no replacement body panels available from the normal channels, it’ll cost dear. Luckily, the underside and the mechanicals are as sound as they come after 27 years and 157.000 miles, as you’ll see right in a minute.
Disclaimer: this is an European spec car, sold originally in Switzerland, so it gets a cat and 116 DIN ponies out of the 4A-GE, as well as a rear anti-roll bar. This latter thing is important: sometime in 1986 Toyota ceased to include that particular piece of iron in AW11s sold on the US market, which made them handle a bit more on the safe side up until the limit, then snap! oversteer. I have no idea why they did this, because with the bar in there, and good rubber, the MR2 is as gradual in letting the rear go, as they come. For shame, Toyota USA, for shame.
I could go on a lot about how i like the basic stance of the car, how i’m head over heels with dat ass, because that is an ass back there, nothing short of that, and how the flying buttress and the wraparound windscreen, blah. blah, blah. I tend to think about my MR2 as a woman, and as women do, she has sexy angles, gorgeous angles and less-than-flattering angles too. This is a very ‘80s shape, and one that was and still is absolutely recognisable, which must be a huge plus. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it individual, because the Bertone design of the Fiat X 1/9 obviously served as the starting point, but this looks better, and is memorable, and that’s enough for me.
It’s not bland, as the plastics and cloth are better than you would hope for, but it’s not the looks that sell this interior, it’s the, wait for it… space. Believe it or not, but if you’re under 190cm and/or 110kg (6’ 3” and 240 pounds for you Americans), you’ll fit quite comfortably. Also the driving seat adjusts in 5 ways, including the tightness of the side bolstering, which is excellent, and i do wonder why they don’t include this in modern equivalents. As you would expect from a Japanese sports car, the ergonomics are excellent, the pedals are well placed, the steering wheel adjusts for height and the shifter is as close to the wheel as you can get. Oh that shifter… i would say that’s the origo, the ground zero of this car. But i digress. With the huge screen and the big sunroof the cabin is light and airy too and there’s excellent vision all around. No cupholders though, which i miss as i like to take a sip from a bottle of water once in a while, when driving distances. One point deducted because the pedal layout does not help heel-and-toe. It’s doable, but my ancient Peugeot 505 enables this trick much more.
The gearing is relatively short, so much so, that you just can’t get to 100 km/h (62mph) in 2nd, but still: even though curb weight is only a ton (2400 lbs), the 116 HP 4A-GE will not get you anything better than high 8s to 62mph. Lots of family cars can do better than that today, and it wasn’t all that special in 1986 either. At least it feels brisk doing so because you’re not in an NVH-less cocoon. In-gear acceleration is good however. The short gearbox helps, as does the fact the trick induction (called: T-VIS) makes the 4A-GE work under 3000 revs, as well as over 6000 - few engines knew how to do this back then. Best results are attainable over 4200, as thats the switch point of the two-stage induction, so if you really want to shift, grab a lower gear.
As with all ‘80s cars this isn’t a strong point, even if you renew with factory parts (and you can do that, because unlike body parts, mechanicals are abundant). The brakes are less powerful, than on a modern economy car. Brake balance is excellent though, the pedal has feel and is progressive and if you’re unhappy about them, there are easily available upgrades for it, which’ll work wonders, thanks to the low weight. Just don’t forget to upgrade the tires too, as there’s no ABS if you lose traction under braking. Because it’s an older disk design in the back, the e-brake is useless to induce drifts, but otherwise no gripes with the system in itself.
The short wheelbase and light weight means you get to know about it if there’s anything wrong with the pavement, but because it’s not harshly sprung at all, in the end it’s still comfortable. Really, no problems here, if the engine wasn’t that loud at highway speeds, the car would be perfectly ok to travel long distances with. The seats are supportive, there is a dead pedal to rest your left foot, and padding for your arm, but of course it’s no W126.
Go on and try it, if you ever get a chance. It’s up there with the very best of them: short throw, precise action, just the right amount of weight, and general all-round awesomeness. There was an LSD equipped version too, which i would love to try, but if i see right, the engineers included equal-length half-shafts in the design, so the car manages pretty well without that. A lot of “tuners” mess with the handle on the shifter, which they shouldn’t do, as it’s a pistol-grip design, that you can grab in full. Lovely.
Pitiful, in one word. They did bother a bit, because there were several different factory audio options, and one of them was an active subwoofer under the driving seat, which my car has, but it doesn’t work, because it needs a factory head unit. Which are like hens’ teeth nowadays. The two speakers on the dash are small and lo-fi. Later models included speakers behind the seats too, maybe its better that way, but hey there’s a glorious 4A-GE screaming at 7200 behind your back, why would you want to listen to anything else?
The only thing to mention here is that you can take out the sunroof easily, and put it into the front trunk, and even fasten it there. Takes like a minute either way, and it’s almost a targa. Other than that, there’s only what you put into it. But the whole car is a plaything, so nothing's missing.
If there is any rust on the car it’ll take some money to fix it properly but other than that it's cheap to buy and cheap to upkeep. Even the mileage is good, because if you aren’t in a hurry, it’s only a 1.6 Also not expensive at all to upgrade, at least as opposed to more upmarket or left-field cars, but you all know that properly building one to be a track car will cost money.
I left this last, because frankly, this is what’s the whole car is about. I cannot hope to express my feelings in English, and anyway, why talk, when you can show? There’s this video we made, i talk some Hungarian in it, but there are English subtitles (just switch them on), and there is a lot of engine noise and spirited driving. I’m no Monkey Harris, let’s hope you’ll still like it.
In all, the car’s really all about the handling and the packaging - both are enhanced by the MR layout. I know it’s nothing new, but if you think about it there are only a precious few cars that give you this at that price range - Fiero, MG F & TF, Fiat X 1/9 come to mind, and i don’t think you can really argue any of them is better than the AW11. The only real competition i would name is the Miata - lots of them in red, 1.6 with 116 HP, RWD, two-seater, it even has pop-ups just like this - no wonder they are roughly the same price if in the same upkeep, at least on Mobile.de they seem to be. I made my choice, and i do think the MR is the better of the two, but the Miata found a more abundant market - the NA sold more than 400k copies to the AW11s 163k.
TOTAL: 69 points. It’s not for everyone, because there are weak sides to it, but those who like it, love it. I know i do.