- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

The price of most midengine sports cars is sky high. But the price of the 2003 Toyota MR2 Spyder brings the enjoyment within the realm of possibility.
This little convertible costs about $25,000, and with a couple of options plus delivery charges, the total price of my tester came to $26,783. For many shoppers who enjoy the handling of a genuine sports car that is a doable price.
The Spyder is a two-seater with the engine just behind the driver's seat and slightly in front of the rear wheels. This configuration provides excellent balance, especially when making speed turns. Another desirable feature in the Spyder is rear-wheel drive, which also contributes to its balance. Put the two together and it is understandable why enthusiasts are willing to pay big bucks for a midengine sports car.
The MR2 models have been around for sometime. The name is derived from M for mid, R for rear-wheel drive and 2 for the number of seats. The Spyder is the third generation of the MR2, and with each model has come very desirable improvements.
My tester was equipped with an optional six-speed sequential manual transmission, although a five-speed manual still is available. For those who enjoy playing the gearshift scale, by all means do the six-speed. That's what puts the Spyder in with the high-priced cars.
Initially, I was annoyed by the hesitation as I flipped the shifter into each higher gear. But when I eased off the throttle at the same moment, which allowed the engine torque to get in sync, I was on my way to Funville. The shifter is located in the center console area but shift controls are on the steering wheel as well. The best part is there is no need for clutch operation.
Unlike the more expensive midengine cars, the MR2 can't do the 0-to-60 mph in breathtaking time. It takes about seven or eight seconds compared to four or five seconds in a car costing two or three times the price of the Spyder. But racing performance isn't the intended goal for the Spyder.
There's the usual downside that is associated with most all sports cars: The ride is harsh. That's the nature of the beast and on a long trip that ride can become tiring.
The Spyder has 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces a mere 138 horsepower. But the car is so small and light that there's no need for a more powerful engine. One benefit to the smaller engine is the car's fuel economy, 25 miles per gallon city and 33 highway.
Another notable feature is the power steering. It is very responsive and requires only a slight turn of the wheel to make a 90-degree turn. The Spyder has a tilt-wheel adjustment, so I could adjust my seat and the wheel to accommodate my body size. The car rolls on 16-inch alloy wheels, and it has anti-lock brakes to ensure quick stopping.
The Spyder has door and frontal airbags, plus the conventional seat belt pretensioners. It also has side-impact door beams and an engine immobilizer the safety features included on the expensive midengine car.
In the area of comfort and convenience, my tester had black leather trim on the seats and door panels, power windows and remote door locks. There is a small storage area in the rear, but transporting anything large would be a problem.
My tester also had a convertible top that operated manually, but I would have had to wait until spring to enjoy that feature. What's enjoyable today, however, is the price.


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