Also known as the Mark 1 Toyota MR2
The AW11 is arguably the finest sports car produced by Toyota. In May 1984, the first MR2 rolled off the production line, and became an instant hit. The midmounted engine and rear wheel drive – more likely found in Lamborghini and Ferrari sports cars – combined with well tuned suspension made it an instant hit with motoring enthusiasts. The car is configured as a two door, with the area traditionally occupied with the engine now a boot (trunk in American). The engine bay sat directly behind the cabin, then behind the engine bay was another boot (trunk). This unique layout gave the car near perfect weight distribution, and a surprising amount of luggage space for a small sports car.
The engine is a 4AGE 1600cc, twin cam, fuel injected 4 cylinder. This engine produced a healthy 112hp, and had a tendency to enjoy high revs. Some motoring enthusiasts complained that the engine didn’t have enough power for a sports car, Toyota solved that problem later on in 1986 by adding a supercharger, dubbing the engine 4AGZE. This engine produced 145hp, and the models of MR2 produced with the supercharger are considered by some to be Japan’s finest sports car.
In terms of bodywork, the AW11’s styling is a point of difference between car enthusiasts. Some consider the angular body lines, with a staunch, boxy stance to be the MR2’s greatest characteristic, while others will complain it is a tacky, retro look. Find some pictures and make your own mind up, as you will either love it or hate it. All cars came equipped with pop up headlights, a side vent into the engine bay, and boot spoiler. A facelift model became available in 1986, with side skirts, larger spoilers and resculptured bumpers. These changes were subtle, but combined together make the car look much sportier.
The interior of the car definitely shows the Japanese heritage of the car. No leather here, just simple vinyl and synthetics. The seats are an excellent point of the interior however, although they miss the luxury of leather, they are almost bucket seats, and are adjustable for lumbar support and reclinable. The seats have plenty of lateral protection for high speed cornering. The AW11’s centre console is almost up to elbow height, and with the doors closed and seat adjusted, it gives a tight and secure feeling inside the cabin, almost with the feeling of a fighter plane. The interior options included electric windows and mirrors, and air conditioning.
So here are the performance stats for the car:
Weight: 950 kg / 2094 lbs
Top speed: 193.1 kph / 120.0 mph
0-400m (quarter mile): 16.9 seconds (this figure for the 4AGE N/A engine – approx. 14.5 for a supercharged model)
0-60 mph: 8.9 seconds (4AGE N/A)
Lateral Acceleration: 0.816g
The AW11 is a great car to drive. Even with the lack of power steering, the car has light but firm steering, which suits both car parks and the open road. The reasonably hard suspension adores twisty bits in the road, but does not bump or ride too rough around town. The N/A engine is responsive throughout the rev range thanks to the variable intake (TVIS) system. Manual models have a fairly notchy gearbox, but with enough practice they are superb once mastered. Automatic models are very smooth, and through electronic controls on the dash can be adjusted into a sports mode, however they lack that great takeoff the manual model can provide. Braking is excellent, the disk brakes at all 4 wheels equate to responsive breaking, and the relatively light frame is easy to stop.
Maintenance with the MR2 is very important, as with most cars with midmounted engines. The radiator is at the front, with very long lines, so the cooling system takes an epic 13 litres of coolant. As it is very easy to get air trapped in the system, I advise that when flushing and changing the coolant, have the owner’s manual or workshop manual handy to follow the correct procedure. The car will overheat very easily if the cooling system is not correctly filled. The engine is very reliable, even older cars need minimal oil top ups or plug changes. However, always check these frequently, along with the plug leads, air filter, transmission fluid in the engine bay, and the clutch and brake fluids found in the front compartment. Being an older car, a workshop manual is advisable as it is unlikely that the owner’s manual will still be with the car.
If you are buying an AW11, just like any used car, it won’t be perfect. However, the AW11 can have many problems that are hard to see even from a trained eye, so here are a few things to look out for. Rust has always been a big enemy of Japanese cars, especially here in NZ. Important places to check are round the doors and the pillars, under the rubber cap or side skirts, along seam that runs across the firewall in the front compartment, underneath the car, and underneath the plastic trim that down the back of rear pillars (the triangular pillars behind the quarterlight window). These are spots that rust is often found on an AW11. Another important check is the front chassis integrity. Check the rails that hold the front crossmember behind the bumper. They are often hard to see, so remove any trim around them if possible. If these are creased or have been repainted or welded, ask the owner about it. It may not be a major problem, but there is also a possibility that the whole front of the car may be bent. Another telltale sign of this is the front indicators in the bumper. The indicators are mounted on the crossmember, so if they aren’t sitting straight, the crossmember isn’t straight. These things are just the particular issues with used AW11’s, so always do the rest of your usual checks when buying.
Many modified examples of MR2’s are around, and there are many options open to modifiers. A few body kits exist, so shop around, a few places online may have something you are looking for. As the AW11 uses a common stud pattern for the wheels (same as most Hondas, Mazdas, and other Toyotas of the same era), new rims and tires should be easy to acquire. As the engine is the same in many different Toyotas, such performance parts can be found under listings for Trueno, AE86 Levin (Corolla GTS in the USA?), Corolla GT, FXGT etc. that will fit the MR2. For supercharged models, larger pulleys for the supercharger are a common and easy modification. Going into harder and more expensive options, we have turbocharging the 4AGZE engine, swapping the 16 valve engine to the later 20 valve found in 90’s models of Trueno and Levin, the HKS twin charge (turbo and supercharge) kit for the supercharged engine. It is advisable that you join a club as there are many pitfalls in modifying an AW11, and the advice of those who have been there before can save you lots of time and money (and sanity).
Site suggestions and bibliography
Haynes MR2 Workshop manual
Performance figures may vary between US, Japanese and Australasian models. I may have quoted some things wrong, /msg me and I will try and correct them.