Sometimes when you’re looking for feature content, all you have to do is look out the window, which is what we did for this week’s Weekly Motor Fix. As it turns out, our new art director, Mark Tate, drives a fairly modified Toyota MR2 every day. As I’ve always wanted to drive, and possibly own, an MR2 one day, I thought why don’t we take it for a drive and see what all of the fuss is about.

After the AW11, the SW20-series MR2 was redesigned completely. Instead of using a high-revving 1600cc 4A-series engine — either supercharged or naturally aspirated — the SW20 received a 2000cc 3SGE, or the turbocharged 3SGTE like Mark’s example. When I was younger, I owned a Toyota Celica ST185 with the same engine, so I was curious to see how the upgrades Mark has installed increased performance in the lighter rear-wheel midship runabout.

Weighing in at 1262kg, the second-generation MR2 was no heavyweight — combine this with a 163kW (218hp) two-litre, four-cylinder and you have a very entertaining little coupe. However, if, like Mark, you upgrade the turbocharger to a hybrid CT20B, install a Link G4 ECU, increase the size of the intercooler, and install a gnarly turbo-back Departure II exhaust system, things start to get a little more exciting.

After the MR2’s initial tune, it produced 197kW at the wheels on around 20psi of boost, which for a car of this weight is more than enough. The hybrid CT20B is a fantastic upgrade for these engines — it bolts up to the factory location, uses a similar downpipe, and flows much more air efficiently when compared to the factory CT26. The boost came on almost quicker than factory, and didn’t taper off after 5000rpm like the factory unit does.

All of this aside, the MR2 really is built to go around corners, so after a bit of arm twisting, I convinced Mark to let me take it out to Bethells Beach. If you’ve been out there before, you’ll know as you get closer to the beach there is hairpin after hairpin — the ultimate testing ground. What was instantly noticeable in the MR2 was its agility. I felt in control and as if I was behind the wheel of a go-kart.

The Momo steering wheel helped hugely with this, combined with the fact that it could be adjusted to every angle imaginable, ensuring you get the perfect fit. Mark’s MR2 is riding on Tein S Tech lowering springs and Bilstein shocks. This provided a decent handling upgrade, without the added harshness of some coilovers on the market today — it is a daily driver after all. With Rays Engineering split wheels all round, shod-in Hankook rubber up front, and some thrashed Firestones down the rear, the MR2 felt surprisingly planted with plenty of traction, which, considering it doesn’t have an LSD, is quite impressive.

After cooking the brakes at a local track day, Mark had the lot replaced with new factory rotors and upgraded EBC Greenstuff pads for a bit more bite. I’ve never driven a car with EBC pads and what I liked about these ones was the initial bite — something my GTO seriously lacks at the moment.

The interior in an MR2 is a very nice place to be. The materials used are of a good quality (even for a Toyota), and, as I mentioned earlier, the steering wheel has several adjustments to ensure that you’re sitting where you feel most comfortable.

After watching the unreliable factory boost gauge for so long, Mark managed to track down a mechanical HKS boost gauge, which he grafted into the factory gauge cluster in the factory location — probably one of my favourite gauge mods seen to date. A TRD gear knob gives you a nice place to rest your hand when driving, and the upgraded USB head unit provides the tunes for summer cruising.


To tidy things up after years of use and abuse, clear front and side indicators were sourced for a more modern look, along with a set of third-generation tail lights. Mark told us he has a Border front bumper, Trust side skirts, and Border rear at home, but he isn’t sure he’ll get into the driveway at work if they make their way on.

With previous project cars of the Italian kind, and a string of kit cars along the way, we’re sure that our new art director will keep on trucking with his project MR2, so we’ll keep you updated.

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.