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The Mk2 MR2 Turbo and G-Ltd spec cars were never officially introduced into the UK market by Toyota. The G-Ltd can be considered as an import, which is not fitted with a turbo.
The Mk2 MR2 Turbo and G-Ltd spec cars were never officially introduced into the UK market by Toyota. The G-Ltd can be considered as an import, which is not fitted with a turbo. This was a great shame as these cars are really something very special indeed. This report will focus mainly on the Turbo model.
In recent years the UK press has almost completely overlooked the potential of the revised spec post 94 MR2 Turbos, choosing to concentrate on cars only available to the UK market. Even when some specialist press magazines did mention the car they wrote only negative light hearted tongue-in-cheek reviews. Much preferring to highlight and exaggerate the earlier cars' propensity to spin on the limits of adhesion.
The handling of the MR2 Turbo, at least the 1994+ cars anyway are superb. (You can tell a revised spec model apart by looking for its round shaped rear taillights and colour co-ordinated body side strips). The cars behave themselves incredibly well, with their scorching performance and heart stopping brakes helping to dish out serious adrenaline on demand.
High speed cornering too is excellent and very well controlled, with accurate steering response and good road feeling. High speed motorway driving does take some getting used to if you come from a fwd car as steering feels pretty light at speeds above 80mph - this I attributed to the car's mid-ship engine configuration. Caution must be taken when stopping, the brakes are so good (distance cited at around 110ft from 60-0) that you must check your rear mirror before stopping abruptly, otherwise people behind will probably not stop in time. Thankfully a high level brake light is fitted on later models as standard.
Mechanical aids in the form of wide, high grip tyres, traction control (optional), a limited slip differential, excellent Blistein up-rated dampers, revised geometry settings, bigger brakes and sports 4 wheel ABS have all but tamed the earlier car's tail happy tendencies. Even engine position was altered on post 1994 models. Now you have to try really hard to make the rear end step out of line. Still, my advice is to err on the side of caution in severe wet weather conditions.
Considering the performance of the MR2 Turbo they are understated ‘street-sleepers’. Turbos are quite difficult to tell apart from the UK models (the engine cover has raised vents). Yet they have the capability to quite comfortably leave almost anything on the British roads standing still at the lights. The cars were built as a top-of-the-range model for the rich, performance obsessed Japanese and American markets. Therefore if you yearn for the extra power (and huge fun) that the Turbo has to offer then you need this imported car.
As a guide to performance, a late MR2 Turbo in a straight line can shame some very well respected (and expensive) machinery of the same period such as the BMW M3, Escort Cosworth, Subaru Impreza, Nissan Skyline GT-R and even race car like featherweight Lotus Elise. Tuned MR2 Turbos can keep up with some serious super cars like Porsche Carrera Turbos and even the TVR Cerbera – that’s a 0-60 time in the low 4 seconds region. The highest power MR2 Turbo I have heard about was an insane car uprated to 658bhp! Almost every year from the launch in 1989 the cars were fettled and tweaked by Toyota (God bless those Japanese engineers). By 1992 the power output for the Japanese model was rated at 235ps and by 1994 it was upped once more to 245ps (241bhp) giving a scorching 0-60 take off time of just 5.27 seconds! It is not even worth contemplating tuning a non turbo GT model since Turbo cars are currently selling at almost the same price as the UK GT's - incredible but true!
Buying an Import
Before you can dash out and buy the MR2 Turbo of your dreams you really do need to know about imports. If you try to buy a car without this understanding it can be a real minefield and you will be left feeling bewildered when things go pear shaped.
The topic of import vehicles is a controversial subject that in recent years has grown in popularity. Imports have been known to upset many people including governments, manufacturers, dealers and even the general public. As the number of cars being imported increases, the public can lose out quite substantially in the short term. With prices of second hand non-import vehicles dropping into free fall in order to keep in line with the keen prices and better quality that imports can offer. This is the story of New Zealand. Long term this drives down prices in the whole market leading to more realistic new car pricing. This naturally means that manufacturers are keen to play down buying of imports - with some flatly refusing to service or have anything to do with imported cars. Manufacturers are running scared.
If you’re not after a Turbo, why would anybody want to choose an imported car over a regular UK registered vehicle? Well in order to answer this we need to understand the nature of imports. It all boils down to money really. An imported or 'Grey' vehicle is one that has been built for use outside of the UK. It is quite probable that both models will have been made on the same production line. This means a car may even have been built in the UK but destined for use outside of the UK. A car becomes classed as an import once it has been brought into the UK. When buying a new car here in Britain we have to pay significantly more than people in other parts of Europe, Japan, USA, etc. So much more in fact that it can be cheaper to re-import a car like a brand new Rover MGF (a British made car) back into the UK and still save thousands on the UK list price.
Engines, Servicing, Parts and Inspections
All the mainstream car manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Ford, Rover, Subaru, etc. these days are building 'World Cars'. In other words, cars designed to be used and sold in all regions of the world. The MR2 is a world car. Cars which are not designed to be used in Europe may not meet standards required by UK law for use on our roads - thankfully these types of cars are as rare as hen's teeth. It's only really cars with unique engines, body parts and glass panels you have to watch out for as getting parts for these can take weeks and be pretty expensive too.
In order to satisfy the legal requirements and tastes of the destination country, imports may have been built to different specifications than normal UK cars. This too can sometimes lead to difficulties in obtaining spares. For popular cars like the MR2 however, problems in locating parts are pretty minimal. This is really because models such as this have always been available to the UK market and so basics like interior switches, body panels and servicing parts are easily available via the normal channels such as dealers or motor factors.
The engine that SW20 MR2 GTs use is Toyota`s 3S series. Special editions and higher specification top-of range models like the MR2 Turbo complicate things a little, but even then it’s not as bad as you may think. While British MR2s use a 3S-GE normally aspirated engine design, turbo cars use a derivative, the 3S-GTE forced induction engine - it is still based on the 3S-GE but with modifications including a twin entry Garett tubocharger and intercooler, different but thankfully a familiar engine in the UK. It is used in Toyota`s Celica GT4. This means that any garages that can service a Celica GT4 can handle an MR2 Turbo.
Most Toyota dealers are quite happy to service MR2 Turbos, in fact I am yet to find one that has flatly refused. At dealers the prices of servicing for a Celica GT4 can be used as a guide to cost - and yes you can still get the discounts that membership of the MR2DC offers. Hurray! One dealer quoted me £210 (Celica Engine Rate) for a C Service, but with the 20% club discount this comes out at just £168! Very reasonable.
In light of the 3S-GTE engine being used in other UK model Toyota cars, organisations like the AA are quite happy to carry out a pre-purchase inspection on MR2 Turbos.
For peace of mind, this I would certainly recommend, even if only to check for accident damage. Other differences between normally aspirated and turbo cars seem to be limited to larger brake discs (but not pads), clutch (and gearbox) and exhaust. And in any case 3rd Party tuning companies like Fensport can provide standard and uprated versions of all these parts. Brake discs are supposed to last between 60-100,000 miles, but if used with harder compound (non Toyota) racing pads and used hard, they can last as little as just 20,000 miles! Check those discs for lips, scoring, chips and warping, replacement front discs and pads cost about £250-£300.
Are Japanese imports any good?
It is not true to say an imported vehicle will be of a lower quality standard either. Indeed it is usually the case that cars destined for use outside of the UK tend to have higher specifications. For instance in Japan and America for years now virtually every car built has come with air conditioning or climate control as standard. In the UK air con is normally offered as an option. Japanese secondhand cars generally have higher 'standard' specifications, lower mileage, good main dealer service records and better bodywork.
The Japanese have an excellent public transport network and the many road tolls and parking costs (which can exceed £20,000 per year) discourage use of cars for daily commuting. Most cars therefore have very low mileage and are mainly used for leisure purposes. Japanese emissions laws are much stricter than in the UK, this coupled with ‘Shaken’ regulations mean cars de-value very quickly after three years. ('Shaken' loosely compared to our system is the equivalent of insurance, tax and MOT paid in one lump sum for a three year period, ouch!). There is virtually no second hand car market in Japan and manufacturers encourage and promote regular trade ups to next year's models through lucrative deals.
Many turbo-charged cars coming over from Japan have been heavily modified by their rich previous owners. I would personally advise against buying an extensively modified turbo motor, or at least be very careful and definitely get a full inspection carried out. Insurance should be a serious consideration too as modifications can make your policy costs rocket.
Very often cars that are modified in Japan are driven pretty hard and used for racing around tracks, (a favourite weekend pastime) so even if they have low mileage they could still require expensive suspension and brake replacements - and who knows what else. Also modified turbo motors could have had ‘upped’ boost levels well in excess of recommended levels which can seriously reduce engine longevity and reliability in the quest for even greater performance.
Tell tale signs to look out for are induction cones replacing the original engine air box (they look like a large mushroom), sports steering wheel and non standard bucket seats. Check the bolts on the seats for any rounding to see if they have been removed/replaced.
Converting an import for UK use
Conversion of a Japanese car to pass UK MOT regulations is quite simple and pretty cheap to do. Normally this consists of adding a rear fog light (£25), changing the speedometer dial faces to MPH from KM and getting it re-calibrated (about £100). Also adding a radio band extender (£25 or simply replacing the stereo), and if really needed (not essential) removing the speed restriction limits which is usually 125mph or higher (£150). Some cars have side lights that need to be changed to light up yellow instead of orange - most MOT stations don’t really care for the last point. Finally, if the car is less than 3 years old it will need to pass an SVA test - I believe this costs about £130 and at the end of the day is really just a two hour, more comprehensive version of a MOT test which needs to be booked via DVLA.
Sports cars are favoured by importers so they are top of the list to be brought into the country. Therefore it may be easier to simply buy a car that has already been imported or deal with a company that can handle these issues for you. With the number of imported MR2’s already in the UK you will certainly have a good selection to choose from.
It is worth checking that these points have been addressed when buying an imported MR2. You can tell an imported MR2 by looking at the rear bumper, imports will have a small square number plate at the back, whereas UK cars will have a standard letterbox shaped rear plate. If you are dealing with an import company, ask to see the auctioneer's report from Japan. Japanese auctions are very honest and usually highlight problems with cars, rating all cars based on their quality assessment. If you cannot be shown this you should be a little suspect.
Here goes a very simplified run down, relating specifically to 1990-92 cars, but also basically applicable to later vehicles:
3 engine options - single cam 2.0. UK coupe. No rear spoiler. Only UK version available with auto. Not available after about 1992. Twin Cam 2.0. UK or import. UK is GT. Imports are G or G-Limited. - Available with auto on import.
Turbo. Import only. No auto. GT-S or GT (GT has half leather - interior and folding wing mirrors)
Roof - UK cars have Sun roof or T-Bar - Imports have solid roof or T-Bar
Imports have side indicator repeaters in front of front wheel instead of behind, narrow rear number plate hole, climate control, power steering, 'steering' front fog lights. G-Limited very similar to UK spec, but G is lower spec.(avoid?) GT-S and GT are turbos. Most specs of imports are available with T-Bar, and/or cruise, etc.
It is wise to speak with your insurer before considering the purchase of an imported MR2, as insurance premium tend to be higher with an imported model, especially a Turbo one. Some insurer will not insure a Turbo MR2 is the driver is less than 26 years old, so please do check first if you are lucky to be that young!
Special thanks to Trevor Mensah for this article.