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Turbo MR2 blows hot

Our Verdict

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This car marks the start of Toyota’s efforts to cash in on its big-budget F1 involvement. In a spot of uncharacteristic enthusiasm for the road-car side of its business, the Japanese car maker has empowered its German-based Motorsport division to develop a series of performance-enhancing kits for existing Toyota models.

First up is a turbocharger conversion for the already highly rated MR2. Set to be offered through official Toyota channels in the UK, it aims to answer criticism that the little two-seater lacks the power to fully do its mid-engine chassis justice.

For the transformation, which is likely to set you back around £4000 when official sales get underway later this year, Toyota Motorsport starts with the MR2’s standard mid-mounted 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor. It then adds a Garrett turbocharger, air-to-air intercooler and more free-flowing stainless steel exhaust to boost power by around 40 per cent to 195bhp at 6000rpm and torque from 126lb ft to a stout 184lb ft at 3500rpm.

The upgraded engine does wonders for the MR2’s straight-line performance. With just 990kg to shift – 20kg more than the standard car – the blown four-pot hurls the little two-seater to 62mph in 5.9sec – 2.0sec inside the standard car – and on to 145mph, making it only slightly slower than a Vauxhall VX220 Turbo.

This extra power is delivered without any discernible lag as the turbocharger begins to spool up just below 2000rpm – just 0.48 bar of boost is employed to preserve low-end performance.

Channelling the new-found poke back to the MR2’s rear wheels is a six-speed manual gearbox, chosen over Toyota’s sequential shift arrangement due to its ability to handle greater torque loads.

The problem with upping the performance of any car, though, is the added stresses it places on the chassis – something that’s more recognisable in an open car like the MR2 than a closed one. A series of braces to increase longitudinal rigidity are in the pipeline and, in keeping with the retro-fit nature of Toyota Motorsport’s performance packages, will be bolt-on arrangements concealed within the side sills.

The early prototype we drove did without the bracing and it showed; a whole host of chassis tweaks, including chunky 17-inch wheels and firmer springs and dampers, helped ensure grip levels remained high, but the rear-view mirror shimmied and the steering wheel swayed when we attacked corners. Plainly, we’ll have to wait until we drive a fully prepared version of the MR2 Turbo before giving a concrete judgement, but it certainly displays promise.

And it really looks the business, with reprofiled bumpers, a small rear spoiler and valance adding to its junior supercar appeal. Both the suspension and exterior styling mods come separately to the engine kit so you can pick and choose how to modify your MR2.

Toyota Motorsport is looking to finalise development of its MR2 engine kit by June and hopes to kick off UK sales by the end of 2004. By then it also plans to have a supercharger kit for the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine in the Corolla. It’s taken an entry into Formula One, but it looks as though Toyota is finally taking performance seriously.

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