- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2000

Until the motoring public learns to recognize it, Toyota's 2001 MR2 Spyder should have a decent run as a great impostor.
There will be whole cohorts of people who will be absolutely convinced that they're looking at an exotic Italian or German sports car instead of a two-seat roadster in the 20-something price class.
From almost any angle on the highway, the MR2 Spyder fits the modern definition of cool. It's especially striking from the rear, with huge taillights that dominate the corners.
There's nothing practical about it. It's a toy, pure and simple. But there hasn't been anything like it at a decent price since the Mazda Miata arrived on the scene a decade ago.
The name is descriptive: M for midengine, R for rear-wheel drive and 2 for two-seater. The Spyder refers to the fact that it's a soft-top convertible unlike earlier MR2s, which were hardtops and often referred to as Toyota's "Mister Two."
The only other midengine sportscar even remotely close to the MR2Spyder in price is the Porsche Boxster. And it costs about twice as much.
Although there are different color combinations, the MR2 Spyder comes in just one model,for $23,553. The only options, dealer installed, are wheel locks and a tonneau cover.
But the tonneau cover is not even needed. The clever manual top folds and locks down in such a way that the top becomes its own tonneau cover.
Folks who can't shift for themselves need not apply. The drop-top "Mister Two" comes only with a five-speed manual gearbox linked to a 1.8-liter, 138-horsepower, four-cylinder engine perched behind the driver's shoulder blades but forward of the rear axle.
The standard equipment includes anti-lock brakes, power windows and door locks, alloy wheels, a stereo with cassette and CD players, air conditioning and a glass rear window with a built-in defroster. There's no cruise control.
The upholstery is cloth and comes in black, a sickly red and a garish yellow-orange. No leather is available yet although the steering wheel and shift knob are leather covered.
But that's all part of the plan to keep the price down to attract younger buyers.
Driving the MR2 Spyder, top down or up, is a hoot. You sit low in seats that are comfortable and supportive for long-distance driving or romps on twisting mountain roads, and you can see just enough of the fenders to stay oriented.
As on the Porsche Boxster, the main instrument right in front of the driver is the tachometer, not the speedometer, enhancing the MR2's sporting personality.
Despite modest power, low weight makes for unexpected performance. Zero-to-60 acceleration comes up in a whiff under seven seconds and there's plenty of reserve passing power at freeway speeds.
The five-speed shifter is positive but offers resistance as you manipulate the gears. Clutch takeup is light and smooth.
Set up correctly, midengine cars provide neutral handling, meaning that they negotiate curves with no tendency to either plow straight ahead (understeer) or turn too quickly (oversteer).
The MR2 Spyder is slightly biased toward understeer, which is a safer setup for the vast majority of drivers.
Surprisingly, for a car that is under 13 feet long, the MR2 Spyder also has a supple ride. Part of that is the tuning of the suspension system, enhanced by a design that locates the wheels close to the corners of the car.
There's a minimum of wind buffeting in top-down motoring and the manual top is easily raised and lowered in a matter of 20 seconds or so. With some torso twisting, it can even be done from the driver's seat. Top up, a bit of wind and road noise intrude to compete with the engine sounds.
The biggest drawback is the MR2 Spyder's lack of luggage space. There's a small cove under the hood up front and two lockable compartments behind the seats.But the total space is less than 2 cubic feet, so figure on traveling very light.

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