The Toyota MR2 Spyder is the long-forgotten mid-engine roadster platform that deserved more attention than it ever received, but Lotus Elise owners know just how comparable this MR2 really is to the Elise. While it isn’t a perfectly affordable rip-off of the car, it was designed to offer drives interested in having a more familiar brand and platform with the Toyota name at a lower price point. While it doesn’t quite offer the same performance and handling, it compares well to the Elise for what the vehicle has to offer, truly making it the ‘poor man’s Lotus Elise.’
Handling and performance
From the factory, you won’t see either of these cars running impressive numbers on the quarter-mile, and their horsepower statistics won’t leave anyone feeling impressed. In fact, neither car breaks 400hp in any model version of the year, but they are still impressive cars performance-wise for what they are designed to do: handle. The Toyota MR2 Spyder may not be as exotic as the Lotus Elise, but they both offer strikingly aggressive handling around corners and turns. The Elise, with an upgraded Bilstein suspension from the factory, no power steering, and a more aggressive race-focused design out handles the MR2, but they still do well to compete against each other.
Appearances and comfort
I doubt any Lotus Elise owner would argue that the interior of the car is actually comfortable. The Elise is designed for weight reduction, as Lotus founder Colin Chapman would say, “simplify, and add lightness” and that moto isn’t escaped by the Elise. The interior is as raw as it can be without becoming a true racecar. The seats are comfortable on the track, but you’ll think twice about making this your road-trip car of choice without calling your chiropractor — the longest I’ve been able to drive mine on surface roads thus far has been a total of 6 hours round trip.
The Toyota MR2 Spyder, on the other hand, is designed to be a road car more than a performance-oriented vehicle, offering plush, decently comfortable seats and a bit more space — both for you and your passenger and for cargo. The interior on either car isn’t particularly overwhelming, but the Elise interior is more functional in promoting the purpose of the vehicle. Still, with the difference in the interior, the Toyota MR2 Spyder is only slightly heavier, with a curb weight of 2,195 lbs compared to the Lotus Elise average curb weight of 2,010. That may not sound like much to some, but in lightweight cars, that difference in weight really does affect handling and performance.
Differences in price for the Lotus Elise and Toyota MR2
Besides appearances, one of the biggest differences between the Toyota MR2 and the Lotus Elise is the purchase price. Where you can typically find the Toyota MR2 priced under $10,000 the Lotus Elise varies greatly in price, sometimes dipping as low as $26,000 in rough condition — I purchased one of the cheapest Elise’s in the country for $18,000 with a completely wrecked front end and many cosmetic and mechanical imperfections. Despite their major differences, maintenance on either isn’t hard to perform if you like DIY projects as both cars share a similar Toyota-based engine platform, with most Elise’s having a 2ZZ and the Toyota MR2 offering an incredibly similar 1ZZ.
The biggest difference in maintenance price is when it comes to having to take it to the mechanic, where most of the even basic jobs like replacing the clutch require the entire rear clam to be removed off of the Lotus Elise — which can take several hours. If you are handy with a wrench, most mechanical parts are easy to find and relatively expensive, and, as a Toyota platform, they are reliable and easy to work on.
Overall, the Toyota MR2 Spyder and Lotus Elise do have as much in common as everyone eludes to, including similar engines, but the appearance and price point, as well as finer tuning of performance aspects, still make the Lotus Elise a superior car — but, that doesn’t mean you should discount the underrated and somewhat homely Toyota MR2.