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 SW20 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 – feel free to leave a comment below if you have any evidence to the contrary).
The W10 generation of course had even more limited safety equipment!
How Do I Make My Toyota MR2 Safer?
If you have a Toyota MR2 and want to make it safer, there are a few steps you can take.
Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that you won’t be able to bring the MR2 up to modern safety standards (many of the earlier ones don’t even have a driver’s airbag, for example). However, there are some simple steps that will improve the safety of your MR2:
- Ensure your MR2 has good tires – The tire is your contact with the road, and in a car that can be prone to getting away on you, good tires are even more important than usual! Don’t cheap out when buying tires for your MR2, and also make sure you invest in appropriate tires. For example, if you live somewhere with a lot of rain, then you might need a different tire to the person who lives in a dry climate year-round. If you are concerned with improving the safety of your MR2, then this would be one of the first areas to look at.
- Maintain your car properly, especially brakes and suspension – Tires aren’t the only important factor in making your MR2 safer. It’s also important to keep up-to-date with routine maintenance and any repairs, especially as they relate to your car’s brakes and suspension components. You want your car to be able to stop as quickly as possible, and to also have a properly functioning suspension system that helps the car to drive correctly and handle as the manufacturer intended. If you’ve recently purchased an MR2 and are unsure about anything in this regard, then take your car to a professional mechanic for diagnosis.
- Invest in driver training – Much like with the Nissan 350Z (another “dangerous” car) many of the accidents that occur in MR2s are not really the car’s fault per se – the proclivities of the car merely exacerbate driver mistakes or inability to handle the car properly. If you want to improve your safety in any car, it’s worth investing in driver training, with a focus on how to handle your car properly towards the limit. Depending on where you live, there are likely to be driver training courses that you can take that will help to make you a better driver, and make your MR2 a safer place to be by extension. You could look to start with a standard defensive driving course (these courses tend to focus on safe “normal” driving) and then work your way up to more advanced training as it relates to driving at higher speeds, on the racetrack etc. You only have to watch this old episode of BestMOTORing – where a professional driver is still working hard at controlling a 1990 MR2 GT – to see why having well-honed skills in driving your car at the limit is so important. Remember, driving past the limit (where a car like a Toyota MR2 has the ability to really cause you some problems) isn’t just about the car’s limit – it is also about your limit as a driver!
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 – although prices are rising on these modern classics, and finding good examples is increasingly difficult.
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. Remember that the MR2 has its limits, but the driver also has limits as well (just because you’ve seen someone tear up the track in an MR2 doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skills to do the same yourself). If you recognise your limits – and those of the car – and work at improving your driving ability, then you are far less likely to encounter any problems.
Respect the car, and it will respect you!
If you’re thinking of purchasing an SW20 MR2, then read our Toyota MR2 buyer guide for more information.