1992 Toyota MR2 G Limited 2.0 3S-GE (naturally aspirated) petrol
Incredibly fun, fast and satisfying. Unfortunately also troublesome and somewhat badly designed
This car came with an extensive service history showing practically all wear items, a few major repairs, and definitely all recommended services were carried out over the past 10 years (and presumably prior). The previous owner had replaced the gearbox, and overhauled the suspension entirely among many other things; I was certain this car was in good condition despite its age and mileage.
Shortly after purchase the gearbox started to whine and shifting became gradually more vague; I wasn't sure if the gearbox itself or the gear linkages (which are very prone to wear on these) was at fault in the latter case. No matter, I just learned to put up with it and didn't bother attempting to rectify throughout the time I owned the car.
Perhaps that was due to all the other problems I started having afterward...
The driver's window suddenly became very slow one morning; when trying to put it back up it jammed half-way and I needed to pull it strongly upward to get it closed. I took the door panel off to inspect and found that the metal around the bolts which hold the motor to the regulator itself had simply shattered. All four of them! Toyota made the regulators out of much thinner metal than was required; subsequently this is a well known problem which appears in MR2 forums with surprising regularity. Sure enough in my car's service history the driver's window regulator had been replaced THREE times in the past ten years.
Despite also being replaced not too long before I bought the car, the alternator let go on my way home from work during a rainstorm one evening. When I got back home to inspect it, I noticed the design of the bonnet vents allows water to flow down the front of the engine and saturate the alternator (among various electrical connectors and vacuum pipes). I suspect this may have caused its failure, though I'm yet to read the same sentiments on any forums. I replaced the alternator myself with a 2nd hand one from a junkyard; it is an absolute swine to get out due to its location - bottom right corner of engine bay, hard up against firewall and lower control arm of the rear suspension! I got some high-temp polythene stuff to cover the new alternator; no more failures despite many more drives through heavy rain.
The handbrake was pretty useless, so I always kept the car in gear when parked. There is very limited adjustment on the handbrake cable (unlike literally every other car I've ever owned, Toyotas included); I understand the only solution is to completely overhaul the rear brake discs at huge expense. The car still passed its WoF thankfully, so I didn't bother getting this fixed.
The power steering would occasionally decide not to work, usually during cold weather or after sitting for several days. The car would start, but the P/S light would stay illuminated without the power steering functioning; the steering on these is INSANELY heavy when this happens! I was told by a mechanic that these cars have electronic power steering (to save having to run hydraulic lines from the mid-mounted engine to the front steering rack), and are known for the power steering computer conking out. There were no loose relays, old fuses or anything else which could have caused it, so I just drove and hoped it would never suddenly come on while driving.
Coolant leaks started appearing around 195,000km. I replaced the rear heater pipes under the exhaust manifold, and two brass fittings on the engine block, as well as numerous hoses, but could not find the source of those leaks. They were never serious (maybe 10-15 drops overnight) and I stopped them for good with a bit of K-Seal; just as well because this car's engine is an absolute nightmare to do even minor work on!
The engine developed a slightly ominous ticking sound from either the pulleys or underneath the timing cover. I never figured out what was causing it and several mechanics said it was nothing to worry about, so I gave up trying.
Various other issues included the windscreen needing replacement due to delaminating, A/C not blowing cold, various squeaks and rattles, driver's door sag, dashboard lamps blowing for no apparent reason among many, many other niggles.
Although this car always started in the morning and never stranded me anywhere, it still caused me a huge amount of worry; every time I drove it, some new problem seemed to rear its ugly head and threaten either an expensive trip to the mechanic or a few hours driving myself insane working on it. I understand I might simply have gotten a 'dog', since so many other reviews on this site do not tell such a tale of woe, yet certain aspects of the SW20's design strike me as being particularly suspect:
The weak driver's window regulators.
The lack of space in the engine bay, which could have been made so much easier to work on if removable panels in the back of the boot were included.
The design of the bonnet vents, and vulnerability of the alternator to water damage.
The oil filter location; it's right under the exhaust manifold just waiting to singe your fingers when you try to remove it.
The lack of adjustment for the rear brakes.
The gearbox linkages are clearly not strong enough to do the job.
The performance is fantastic! Even the non-turbo variants go very well, and the handling is absolutely phenomenal. The mid engined layout and consequently balanced weight distribution means this car will pretty much corner completely flat at insanely high speed, without any drama whatsoever. I got quite addicted to its maneuverability and never tired of exploring the limits (in the dry that is). The only problem with this configuration is that there is practically no warning before the grip runs out, and once it goes these cars are notoriously difficult to catch again. I didn't dare push it in the wet, but it's still good enough for normal driving without making the amateur driver too nervous.
As well as providing such good handling, the mid engined configuration allows the suspension to be set up soft enough for comfort while still giving practically no discernible body roll. It felt even more comfortable than my softly-sprung '90 Corona, even on a rough surface.
I found the interior to be a bit disappointing, though it was very well screwed together and the plastics were of good enough quality. I suppose these mid-1990s interiors just aren't my thing, with the whole 'melted-bar-of-soap' dashboard shape which plagued cars of this era. That said, the hugely prominent center console provides a great armrest and the ergonomics are perfect for spirited driving. I can't understand why they put a battery gauge right in the center of the instrument panel; an oil pressure gauge would have been much more suitable. Overall, there just wasn't anything special enough about the dashboard which could set it apart from a garden variety Corolla; the MR2 deserved something much sportier and classier.
Boot space is very limited, though if you take the spare tire out of the 'frunk', you might be able to fit enough possessions for a weekend road trip somewhere far out in the countryside.
The heater was very good, as the motor warms up very quickly; also the small interior size meant it also warmed up incredibly fast.
Alright, I might have been a bit harsh on the interior. At least there was a good amount of room for both driver and passenger; mercifully Toyota didn't fall into the age-old trap of turning a 2 seater into a "2+2" and completely ruining the comfort of front seat (and rear seat!) passengers.
All in all, I didn't have any serious complaints about the SW20's performance, and I thoroughly enjoyed driving it. Perhaps this is why I'm so harsh on its failings; the unreliability destroyed what would have been a fantastic ownership experience.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 21st July, 2015