Toyota’s little MR2 (a.k.a. Mister Two, or Mister Spyder for this review) two-seater roadster now offers a sequential manual transmission (SMT) option that completely does away with the clutch pedal—yet it’s still a real five-speed, not another one of those slushbox automatics with gimmicks that let you pretend it’s a manual.
Until now, Toyota has only offered the MR2 with a five-speed manual transmission. It’s a fine gearbox, with a light, smooth clutch, short throws, and confident action. A conventional automatic transmission seems beside the point on a small roadster with a high-revving engine.
Toyota made a good choice in keeping the existing 138 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, rather than upping the horsepower ante. The engine, also offered in the heavier Celica GT, makes plenty of power to take advantage of the capable, light chassis (its curb weight is just over 2200 pounds) without turning it into a fright ride that needs an array of electronics to keep the power on the road.
Toyota’s VVT-I (intelligent variable-valve timing) system helps give the engine a little more smoothness and torque at low revs, but it’s still definitely happier in the upper ranges of the tach. The engine is a little noisy when pressed—and it doesn’t have the aural delight of Honda’s VTEC engines—but it fits with the MR2’s racy-but-not-over-the-edge image and has more character than the Miata’s similar-size engine.