Toyota 2-rider: the MR-2 sports coupe

Equipped with a midship, 1.6-liter engine -- 16 valves, 4 cylinders, with double overhead cams and electronic fuel injection -- the mid-engine Toyota MR-2 sports coupe is agile, fast, and extremely responsive on the road. Sitting just aft of the passenger compartment and forward of the rear luggage trunk -- there's more luggage space in the front as well -- the engine [DL]produces 112 hp. at 6,600 r.p.m., one of the best on the road for this size engine. Placement of the drive train ensures good weight distribution and balance for maximum drivability.

The 5-speed overdrive transmission, although a snap to operate, may not please the real car buff, however. Also, the backup gear is noise itself.

Legroom is more than ample. Gas-filled shocks are used all around, as well as stabilizer bars and offset coil springs.

Controls are well placed, on the whole, although the adjustment buttons for the outside mirrors are hard to reach. The analog instrumentation on the test car is very legible and aims not to confuse. No Tokyo-at-night displays here. Bravo!

The interior d'ecor is smart, but not garish. Upholstery in the test car was red and black, dressing up the car and tying it in with the outside paint scheme.

With a curb weight of 2,350 pounds, the MR-2 -- Toyota's first venture into this segment of the marketplace -- will accelerate to 60 m.p.h. in less than 9 seconds.

The wheelbase is 91.3 inches, nearly two inches shorter than the Pontiac Fiero. Also, its overall length is more than 10 inches shorter than the Fiero, but that doesn't mean an extra-tight fit. It's actually much easier to get into the MR-2 than the Pontiac Fiero.

Visibility out the rear-quarter windows is good overall -- and far better than the Fiero. The Toyota has glass where the Fiero has opaque plastic. I prefer glass. With the MR-2, the midship engine can be a bit noisy, especially at higher speeds. And you may even pick up some wind noise. The cast-iron V-6 in the Fiero is much more quiet.

Priced at $10,999 in its base form, the test car MR-2 had automatic air conditioning at a hefty $840, sunroof ($300), power windows and door locks ($305), cruise control ($185), electronic cassette radio ($365), rear spoiler ($150), and mudguards ($15). Toted up, the price tops $13,000. I could do without the rear spoiler and save $150. And who needs power windows and door locks in a coupe?

The MR-2 sport coupe is well thought out, engineered, and executed. A 2-seater car, of course, is not for everyone. And it may not be long before the market for such cars is saturated with contestants as more automakers move into the fray.

One thing is sure: The rash of 2-rider cars is putting the fun back into driving -- and the Toyota MR-2 is one of the best.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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