The Toyota MR2 is one of Japan’s most legendary sports cars.
Produced over three generations from 1984-2007, it was Japan’s first mid-engine production car.
Although all generations have been praised for their enjoyable performance, relative affordability and good reliability (as far as sports cars go) the MR2 has earned a reputation for being a dangerous vehicle.
Therefore, in this article we seek to answer the question “Are Toyota MR2s Dangerous?”
Keep reading to find out more.
Why Toyota MR2s Are Seen As Dangerous
There are a few reasons that Toyota MR2s are perceived by many as being dangerous vehicles (especially in the hands of unskilled drivers).
The second generation (SW20 -- read our buyer’s guide here) gets a particularly bad rap for being dangerous.
In fact, the ‘Poor Man’s Ferrari’ -- especially in turbo guise -- has been referred to on occasion as the most dangerous car in the world.
The biggest reason for this is due to the mid-engined, rear wheel drive nature of the vehicle, as well as its relatively high amount of power it produces (especially the turbo model).
The SW20 MR2 is notorious for “snap oversteer”, which can quickly result in the car spinning off in to the nearest ditch, tree, or oncoming vehicle.
This problem is especially bad in wet or icy conditions, and is obviously more of a concern for inexperienced (and potentially overconfident) drivers.
The earlier and later generation (W10 & W30 respectively) generations of MR2 could still demonstrate a tendency towards snap oversteer, but nowhere to the same extent that the W20 generation was notorious for.
Accessibility Is Part Of The Problem
Part of the genesis of the SW20 MR2’s reputation for danger is the fact that it has been a very accessible, affordable car for quite some time.
Although this might be changing (largely due to a declining stock of available vehicles, and the fact that good examples are definitely rising in value) for a long time it was one of the easiest, most affordable ways to get into a high-performance, rear wheel drive vehicle.
This meant that younger drivers who wanted a performance car on a budget were drawn to the MR2 like moths to a flame.
For a relatively small amount of money, you could get yourself into a lightweight, powerful sports car that has a definite tendency to try and fling you off the road in to the nearest ditch if you’re not careful or skilled in your driving.
Limited Safety Equipment Means Higher Danger
Another factor is the limited safety equipment and small, lightweight nature of the vehicle.
The MR2 was designed and engineered in an era when electronic stability control/ESP was not on the radar for most purchasers (and certainly not mandated).
Furthermore, the MR2 didn’t even come with passenger airbags until fairly late in the revision cycle. For example, this key safety feature wasn’t present on US market cars until Revision 3, and wasn’t an option on Japanese market vehicles until Revision 4.
Here in New Zealand where the authors are based, there are many Japanese import MR2s on the road. The earliest Rev 1/Rev 2 models will often have no airbags at all -- either in the driver or passenger seat (we understand that US market SW20 MR2s all had driver airbags).
The W10 generation of course had even more limited safety equipment!
Conclusion -- Are MR2s Dangerous?
There is no doubt that MR2s are more dangerous than many other cars -- especially the first two generations with their older design, limited (or nonexistent) safety features and relatively high power outputs.
A tendency to snap oversteer, little in the way of protection, and the lightweight, compact nature of the vehicles makes them not only more likely candidates for a crash, but also more likely to cause injury/death in the event of an accident.
Does this mean you should avoid buying an MR2?
We don’t think so. All three generations are fantastic vehicles in their own right, and if you buy a good example you can enjoy some of the finest examples of Japanese performance motoring to have ever graced the roads.
There is probably no more affordable or accessible way to get into mid-engined, RWD performance motoring than with an MR2.
However, you need to treat an MR2 with respect. It is not forgiving of overconfident, underskilled driving. And if you do get in trouble, there are few driver or safety aids to bail you out of trouble.
Make sure you read our Toyota MR2 buyer guide for more information.