There are some cars which look like a brick, and as such, handle like one and then there cars which look like they could run circles around a 50 sen coin without breaking a sweat. One such car is the current Toyota MR-2. A short wheelbase with short overhangs make for a car that truly handles as well as it looks. It’s a damn dirty shame Toyota chose not to give it a decent pair of balls.
Past generations of the MR-2 came with engines that got many of us salivating just by reading the spec sheet. The first generation AW10/AW11 MR-2s had the supercharged 1.6 litre 4A-GZE which pumped out a satisfactory 145bhp and the SW20 MR-2, the second generation, came with a fire breathing 2.0 litre turbocharged 3S-GTE which pumped out around 240bhp. The latest MR-2, the ZZW30, had a boring, economical, environmental and emissions friendly, 1.8 litre, 1ZZ-GE powerplant, which pumped out a disappointing 138bhp.
The ZZW30 was light, so it still managed to achieve a respectable 0-60 time of 7 seconds. Alas, it was still slower than its predecessors. Even the archaic AW10/11 MR-2’s achieved a 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds. The SW20 blitzes them both with a 0-60 time of 6 seconds. Many enthusiasts around the world had lost faith in Toyota at this point. Toyota seemed to care more about appeasing the fascist governing boards which prevented many manufacturers from producing powerful and desirable engines for the sake of protecting the environment. This is why the legendary Nissan RB26DETT was forced into retirement by the way. On the bright side, the MR-2 is a good handling car. Car journalists around the world raved on and on about its exceptional handling but they all had one thing to say, “Needs more power.”
All hope is not lost, thanks to the many adept tuners around the world. One MR-2 which has left a lasting impression on this writer is Techno Spirit’s 2ZZ-GE equipped MR-2, one of the very few cars that managed to hand Keiichi Tsuchiya’s own TRD tuned AE86’s ass on a plate during a Best Motoring Touge Battle. The sound that car made was enough to make me break out in an epileptic fit of pleasure. The almost-organic gurgle of the intake coupled with the sharp blare of the exhaust and the way the car negotiated the tight corners with aplomb thanks to its widened track was like watching poetry in motion. The car was almost perfect thanks to excellent handling and it now had enough power to hustle it along the straights. Alas, the car was still outgunned by a higher powered S15 Silvia during a “NA VS. Turbo” battle in a Hot Version video. Many reckon that a turbocharged 1ZZ-FE equipped MR-2 would have done much better at blowing the S15 into the weeds.
Speaking of turbocharged 1ZZ-FE MR2s, here’s one from Trial Tuning Spirit’s Malaysian branch. This car is equipped with a custom turbo kit, completely custom fabricated by Trial. This particular MR-2 is a very rare variant, especially here in Malaysia. It comes equipped with a delicious 6-speed manual gearbox. Most of the MR-2s present on Malaysian roads are equipped with the mushy SMT, or Sequential Manual Transmission, which is basically an auto’ box with optional manual control. This car, equipped with the 6-speed manual, serves as the perfect platform for Trial to get to work on.
As mentioned earlier, the engine is the gutless 1.8 litre 1ZZ-GE, fortified with a Trial fabricated turbo kit. The magic starts with air being sucked in through an Apex’i Power Filter by the turbine which then flows through a tiny ARC intercooler and custom made stainless steel plumbing made by Trial before being forced and squeezed into the intake manifold. From here, the charged air is squeezed into the combustion chambers where it is mixed with fuel supplied by a SARD fuel pump, Denso 385cc injectors and a HKS fuel regulator. Once the compression stroke has finished its journey up the cylinder, the combustion stroke starts with a spark provided by Denso Iridium spark plugs.
The exhaust gases then exit the engine via a custom made tubular exhaust manifold which has been ceramic coated by ASR to keep engine bay temperatures down. This is crucial in the MR-2 since the engine is situated behind the driver and channeling cool air into the engine bay can be a problem, especially since the intercooler is located right next to the manifold. Providing sound effects is a Blitz blow-off valve for the all important ka-psssshhh! and Samco silicone hoses replace all the squishy rubber ones and act as joints for the stainless steel piping. A TRD thermostat replaces the stock one to better withstand the higher temperatures that a turbocharged engine produces. This whole setup puts out approximately 230bhp with a safe 0.6bar of boost. I’d love to see how much power can be extracted with a proper internals upgrade and more boost.
The engine channels its estimated 230bhp to the rear wheels via the 6-speed manual gearbox, bolstered by an ORC Super Single Plate racing clutch. This clutch has tons of bite and grip without making traffic jams a muscle building affair. The ORC clutch is surprisingly light.
Enhancing the already awesome handling characteristics of this tiny roadster is a TEIN coilover set coupled with TEIN’s innovative EDFC or Electronic Damping Force Controller. The TEINs bring the car lower to the ground which not only lowers the centre of gravity, which in turn, enhances handling but also makes the MR-2 look a lot meaner. Front and rear strut bars from C-One Motorsport of Japan strengthen and stiffen the chassis, virtually eliminating any chassis flex. With all these parts installed, the tiny red roadster stays glued to the ground whichever way you fling it into a corner.
Bolted to all four corners are bronze Volk Racing CE28N wheels. These forged, one-piece wheels are JDM nirvana for many car enthusiasts, this writer included. A beautiful, simple and functional design coupled with strength and a light weight, this MR-2 stops and goes as well as it looks with the CE28s. The wheels at the front are 15 inches in diameter while the rears are 16 inches in diameter. All four wheels are wrapped in superb Bridgestone RE-01 tyres.
Governing the engine’s fueling is an Apex’i Power FC with a custom turbo map. Inside the cockpit is the Apex’i Power FC hand-held Commander, a trio of Defi boost, oil temperature and oil pressure gauges, a Pivot shift light and an Apex’i turbo timer.
This car runs around with a hard top most of the time, which was specially ordered from Japan. The cost? You don’t want to know. And I’m thankful that I’ve forgotten how much it costs. All I know is, it’s not cheap.
Enhancing the MR-2’s aesthetic qualities is a Trial carbon fibre GT wing and a C-One carbon fibre bonnet. The bodykit is an original Toyota item and it really beefs up the looks of the MR-2. The stock, wingless and chinless MR-2 reminds me of a pau for some reason; soft, sweet and round.
When I first saw this car parked behind Trial’s shop, it was still in stock form. The car already had the wheels and the wing, but it was still a weakling with its naturally aspirated 138bhp. William and Wan, co-owners of Trial Malaysia, told me to be patient, as they were planning to turbocharge the little red beast. After 4 months, I’m very pleased to say they did not disappoint. They did an excellent job of installing the kit while making the car extremely reliable. The engine bay looks very clean and tidy despite all the extra hardware and the car has been running the kit for over 6 months now and to date; there have been no problems whatsoever, testament to Trial’s philosophy of making safe and reliable power.
Car: ZZW30 Toyota MR-2
Engine: 1ZZ-FE 1.8 litre 4-cylinder, DOHC 16 valve, VVT-i
Engine Modifications: Trial custom turbo kit, ARC intercooler, ASR ceramic coated exhaust manifold, TRD thermostat, Denso 385cc injectors, Apex’I Power Filter, Trial stainless steel piping, HKS fuel regulator, Blitz blow-off valve, Denso Iridium spark plugs, SARD fuel pump, Samco silicone hoses.
Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox, ORC Super Single Plate clutch kit
Suspension and Chassis: TEIN adjustable coilovers, TEIN EDFC, C-One strut bars (F&R)
Wheels and Tyres: Volk Racing CE28N 15 inch(f) 16 inch(r), Bridgestone RE-01 tyres
Electronics: Apex’i Power FC, Defi gauges – Boost, oil pressure & oil temperature, Pivot shift light, Apex’i turbo timer
Exterior: Original Toyota bodykit, Trial CF GT wing, C-One CF bonnet
Trial Tuning Spirit (Malaysia): 603-7981 9992
William: 012-213 9861
Weng Yan: 012-330 8199
Stickers by: StikoJet, 012-280 4848