The Toyota MR2 is a car with a certain reputation.
Notably, the MR2 is famed for its propensity to snap oversteer, leaving its occupants hurtling towards the nearest hedgerow or lamppost.
But the MR2 is also one of the finest, most enduring pieces of Japanese performance motoring.
Across three distinct generations (we will cover that in more detail shortly) many have loved – and continue to love – the MR2 for its thrilling performance, excellent handling and ability to put a smile on your face … take money out of your insurer’s pocket.
But can you daily drive a Toyota MR2? Would you want to daily an MR2?
In this edition of Car Facts we will dive deeper into the world of this “midship” modern classic, to determine whether an MR2 is a good option for the aspiring Japanese modern classic driver.
Table of Contents
Which Generation MR2?
One other thing to consider is that the MR2 was sold over three distinct generations, with facelifts/revisions within each.
There was the original AW11 MR2 from the 1980s:
Then the SW20, from the 1990s. This is the most popular MR2 generation, and is the primary focus of this article as that is what most people want to buy.
You then had the W30 generation, which was sold in some markets like the Japanese Domestic Market as the Toyota MR-S:
Unless otherwise specified, the focus of the content here is on the SW20 generation. However, much of the same advice applies to the other generations as well.
Assessing The MR2’s Suitability For Daily Driving
When it comes to determining whether or not a car is a good “candidate” for daily driving, there are several criteria to consider:
- Cost of running (fuel and insurance)
- “Preservation value” (more on that later)
- Smile/fun factor
Here’s our take on each of these for the Toyota MR2.
Toyota MR2 Reliability
If you’re going to daily drive a car, you want it to be reliable.
It’s no fun going to drive to work, and then finding the car won’t start. Even worse is starting your commute, only to wind up stranded on the side of the road.
The good news is that MR2s are generally quite reliable cars, especially if you have a non-turbo example (for the SW20 generation).
The 3S-GE/GTE engines fitted to the MR2 are reliable units, having been used in other Toyota products like the Caldina and Celica (you can read our buyer’s guide here for the Toyota Celica GT-4).
You’ve got a simple RWD setup, and either a conventional manual or torque converter automatic gearbox, neither of which should cause too much trouble. Perhaps the only exception is the SMT transmission option on the 3rd gen MR2/MR-S, but we haven’t heard too many complaints about these.
Compared to some of the more complex performance cars of the era, the MR2 can be a reliable and relatively trouble-free proposition.
From a reliability perspective, the biggest issue with the MR2 is that these cars are getting long in the tooth. No car is forgiving of poor maintenance, and with many years and miles on the clock it might be that your prospective MR2 purchase wasn’t maintained as well as it should have been.
MR2s got cheap enough that people could buy them, abuse them (because they either didn’t care about maintenance and repairs or couldn’t afford it) and then flick them on.
Because of the performance nature of these cars, many have also been driven hard, which can place stress on the car and potentially shorten lifespan.
However, as long as you buy a decent MR2 that has been cared for – and you continue to keep up with the maintenance – then reliability shouldn’t be too much of an issue. These are fundamentally simple cars.
The best thing you can do is read our Toyota MR2 buyer’s guide to learn what to watch out for when inspecting and trying to buy one of these modern classics.
One other note (if you plan to do DIY maintenance) is that the MR2 can be a bit tricky to work on thanks to its cramped engine bay and mid-engine placement.
If you are commuting to work and daily driving, you don’t want to subject yourself to too much pain at the pump.
Luckily, the MR2 isn’t too bad on fuel.
The worst offender is the turbocharged MR2 from the SW20 generation.
NA models across all generations are fairly economical – at least not so bad as to be excessive – thanks to relatively small engines and light chassis weight. The MR2 “modus operandi” was to take a sensible, economical Toyota engine from their existing lineup, and then stick it in a small, lightweight car.
You could do a lot worse than an MR2 from a fuel economy perspective.
Insurance costs can vary drastically from country to country, and depending on your own personal profile and potential “risk” for insurers.
For example, here in New Zealand the MR2 is a relatively affordable car to insure, except if you are under the age of 25 and trying to insure a turbocharged example (then you might need to use a specialty insurer who is going to charge you an arm and a leg and put some potentially strict conditions on your cover).
However, if you like in the UK, then a car like the MR2 might not be insurable for a younger driver.
As values aren’t too crazy high on the MR2, you should be able to get insurance cover and it shouldn’t cost you too much money.
Having a safe car is a good thing for daily driving. If you’re doing lots of miles in busy traffic, you want to be as well protected as possible. Even if you’re the best driver in the world, other road users might not be so competent and capable.
Unfortunately, the MR2 isn’t a very safe car.
In fact, the SW20 MR2 is famed for being a rather dangerous car (at least in the hands of inexperienced drivers) due to its propensity to snap oversteer in the right conditions.
However, we will overlook that particular issue – as it’s really more a case of the driver being in the wrong than the car itself – and instead look at objective safety issues.
The MR2 is an old car now, built in the days when safety standards and technology were nowhere near as robust as they are now. The AW11 is particularly noticeable in this regard, but even the SW20 is sorely lacking in the safety department … and the final generation MR2 is not much better.
In fact, depending on the market in which you buy an MR2, it’s possible to get one without any airbags. Here in New Zealand, there are many ex-Japanese Domestic Market MR2s on the road. Models from the early 1990s would generally come with no airbags on either the driver or passenger side.
If you value safety, then there are far better options out there for daily driving than the MR2.
The MR2 scores poorly here in the practicality stakes. It has only two seats, and little in the way of storage space.
If you’re a single person or only ever take one passenger (and you don’t need to transport more than the occasional bunch of shopping bags) then you probably won’t mind.
However, if you are in charge of car-pooling to work, or have three kids and a dog, then the MR2 isn’t particularly practical as a daily driving proposition.
You need to be realistic about what you need in terms of practicality, and then go from there.
Having sat in all three generations of the MR2, the actual seating position itself is not bad and you could easily chew up the miles in these cars.
However, there isn’t a great deal in terms of creature comforts like heated seats, multiple cup holders, or seat adjustment.
The ride isn’t too bad on the MR2, although many have been modified with the addition of harder, sportier suspension which may affect comfort levels.
If you don’t need all the “mod cons” in your car, then you’ll probably find and MR2 comfortable enough for daily driving. However, if you like to ride around in something plush, then an old Lexus LS 400 would be a far better daily driver, for example.
This is very much a subjective measurement (to be honest, most of the criteria in this article are subjective) but it’s still worth mentioning.
Daily driving a car adds a lot of mileage and potential wear and tear.
If you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, battling for car parks in the tightly-packed multi story etc, then you’re also more likely to have your car damaged.
With MR2s becoming increasingly rare – especially good condition ones – there is an argument to be made that you should be looking to preserve your car.
This doesn’t mean locking it up in a garage and never using it; the MR2 is a perfect ‘weekend warrior’ and it’s a shame to see these great cars stored away, gathering dust.
However, is adding a whole bunch of commuter miles (that could be done more economically, comfortably and safely with a cheap hatchback or sedan as your main car) worth placing additional wear and tear on your MR2?
This is a question only you can answer.
Daily driving a car is generally a boring exercise. You’re stuck in traffic, or cruising along on the motorway, or trying to find yourself a park in the middle of town.
One school of thought says that in these circumstances, you just want the most frugal car possible – regardless of how boring it is to drive.
However, another way to look at it is that you want a car that will put a smile on your face in even the most mundane of circumstances.
The MR2 is such a car. Even a basic, NA MR2 is still fun and exciting to drive. In a sea of derivative SUVs and econo-hatchbacks, the MR2 stands out and offers a genuine sense of occasion every time you climb in the driver’s seat.
If you want to make your commute to work or school more fun, then the MR2 could be a great option.
It’s the sort of car that will make you want to take the long road home, just so you can have a bit more fun.
Conclusion – Can You Daily Drive A Toyota MR2
Yes, you can daily an MR2.
There is no law against it. Many people have done it, and continue to do so.
However, the question is really whether you should daily drive an MR2.
That is where things get a bit more complex.
Realistically, the MR2 isn’t a great option for a daily driver. It’s small – lacking space for more than one passenger or much luggage (even a Miata would be more practical in this regard). It isn’t safe, especially the earlier AW11 and SW20 generations … particularly JDM cars that didn’t come with airbags until fairly late in the piece. Due to the age and performance-focused nature of these cars, they can cost a bit to maintain and aren’t particularly cheap on gas.
More significantly, these cars are now getting sufficiently rare that they really deserve to be preserved.
Of course you can use your MR2 however you see fit. But with good examples getting harder and harder to find, it seems kind of pointless (especially when you consider the aforementioned downsides) to use a car like this as a daily commuter.
Because of its compact nature and relative affordability, the MR2 is a perfect “fun car” for the weekend and other non-commuting use. It’s a shame to see these cars garaged up and never enjoyed as the maker intended, but at the same time you would be remiss to not try and extend the life of your prospective MR2 purchase for as long as possible.
Don’t forget to read our MR2 buyer guides as well:
What do you think about the Toyota MR2 as a daily driver? Leave a comment below – we would love to hear from you, especially if you have used the MR2 as a daily driver.