That's the bad news. The good news is that with the exception of some other foibles – such as a rustprone rear subframe, sticky rear brake cables and notchy steering – the Mk3 is a dependable (there are stacks of 130,000-mile daily drivers out there) and cheap-as-chips roadster that’ll put a smile across your face, rain or shine. It’s a real driver’s car, with near-perfect weight distribution, a Torsen limited-slip diff and economy of around 38mpg.
Downsides? Unless your idea of a week’s luggage is a washbag, you’ll struggle to go on tour with a Mk3. There’s simply nowhere to stash stuff. You could cram a few things into the spare wheel under the bonnet and some odds and ends in the cabin cubbies, but that’s your lot. Practical the Mk3 is not.
We mentioned the facelift of late 2002. It’s an important milestone. Prior to that, the Mk3 had a tough five-speed manual gearbox, but the facelift ushered in a sixth gear. Some say Japanese-spec ’boxes have better ratios, and they’re a popular exchange unit with racers, but most people have few complaints with the standard cogs. Before 2002, there was an optional clutchless five-speed ’box, called a sequential manual transmission or SMT, operated by a lever rather than paddles. It, too, gained an extra gear and steering wheel buttons in the facelift. The MR2 also got cruise control, stability control and brake assist.
It’s a rare bird, the auto, and there are some issues with the electronic control unit. It also knocks around 1.0sec off the manual’s 0-62mph sprint time. However, enthusiasts say the faster-shifting, six-speed SMT makes the best Mk3, because it leaves you free to exploit the car’s superb handling. For used car buyers, there’s also the possibility that it hasn’t been thrashed by a keen driver.
Throughout the Mk3’s life, engine power remained the same, at 138bhp, meaning the development engineers had time on their hands. They didn’t waste it. With the facelift, the car gained front and rear bracing to stiffen an already stiff body, as well as revised spring and damper rates to accompany an increase in wheel size from 15in to 16in.
Attention to detail: that’s the secret of the MR2 Mk3. With prices on the floor, it’s also the reason you should buy now before word spreads.
An expert’s view...
BEN BEVAN, MR2-BEN
“You can tweak and personalise the MR2 Mk3 to your heart’s content. By fitting adjustable coilover sets, you can set it up soft for the week and firmer for the weekend. BC Racing’s RA suspension kit costs £763. Some people like to make their MR2 stand out with a C-One bodykit — £460 plus paint and fitting for a full kit. Others are just happy to fit an exhaust back box by Blitz or Cobra — £460 for the Cobra.”