The Poor Man’s Ferrari: Toyota SW20 MR2
Think back to the last time Toyota released an affordable, mid-engined, turbocharged, rear wheel-drive sports car. In fact, think back to the last time any Japanese manufacturer attempted such a combination.
Chances are, you'll end up in the early 2000s, the bath-tub shaped, slightly flowery roadster that was the MRS. While the MRS wasn't exactly a massive flop (nor a resounding success either), compared to its predecessor, the phenomenal SW20 MR2, many said the MRS was less focused, less refined.
Does the SW20 live up to its reputation, then? Let's find out.
Tareq Ahmed is a veteran in the car scene in Bangladesh. One of the pioneers of the car club scene with ClubGT, he has owned fast cars before most of us were even born. His specialty is rather unique, an encyclopaedia of knowledge on Toyota's mid-engined icon, having owned two examples of the rare MR2. His current car is a stock SW20 MR2, top of the range targa top version, equipped with a screamer of a 2 liter four cylinder mid-mounted turbocharged engine.
The engine is definitely the car's curtain call. The response is a little slow, the 3SGTE taking a little time to spool up before supplying the surge of boost. On the deserted roads of Uttara, the MR2 was docile as a kitten at low speeds, but a downshift and accelerator flooring later, the lightweight little car sprang forward with the lithe prowess of a much bigger cat.
The noise element was subtle and somewhat muted, the stock exhaust and blow off valve making a humble pair of instruments. The jazz that emanates from these two, however: Louis Armstrong would be proud with the restraint shown in this music.
While taking the photos, Rahin suggested we take a few rolling shots. Taking laps around a deserted roundabout, I got a taste of how good the handling of this MR beast is. The mid-engine layout gives the car a very low center of gravity and a very favourable weight distribution, the MR2 planted on the ground at all times and at all speeds. The car's stability was put to the test as, spurred on by his ClubGT colleagues, the owner and the only person authorized to do such a thing, pulled up the handbrake and attempted a 360 degree turn on a deserted roundabout in Uttara Sector 15. It honestly felt completely safe, the car staying level all-throughout and not transmitting a shred of discomfort onto the occupants.
Its a 20 year old car, yet it sounds and moves like it was fashioned out of glass, rubber and metal just yesterday. The suave black interior, with a wide center console and transmission tunnel, is as clean and fresh as the day it was assembled. Only a bit of roughness on the seat lumbar support show its true age.
Outside, the MR2 is truly the last of a kind. The front quarters ape the Ferrari F355, a smartly chiselled face complete with a feature which was a make or break element in 90's sportscars: pop-up headlights. This resemblance to the Ferrari, coupled with the mid-engine, rear drive layout, earned the SW20 the moniker of "the poor man's Ferrari".
Not that you can be poor and own one here, as Tareq Ahmed tells us, "Parts are obviously hard to find here, almost impossible. Forget modification parts, just the regular maintenance parts are expensive and have to be brought in from abroad."
When we say the MR2 is bone stock, we mean performance wise. The wheels are aftermarket items with an aggressive offset, in a shade of bronze that sets it off nicely against the black body of the car. A front lip, smoke effect front indicators and a pair of air intake scoops replacing the single snorkel intake are the exterior upgrades. The interior is stock, with the exception of a Lockwood instrument gauge with both MPH and KPH on display.
What's next on the cards for this MR2? The owner wants to upgrade the exhaust before moving on to intake upgrades, and that's about it. It's the crown jewel of his life, and he loves it as it is. And so do we.