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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Greetings to all from Dayton OH!

More than a year into owning my BRZ I'm getting an itch for something smaller, lighter and mid engined. I can count on one hand the number of cars that fit the bill and still have a few fingers left out (unless I brave a kit car). The MR2 is in a unique position of being affordable, but I wonder how well can it be modified for my tastes?

A little background - I started with a Focus ST a few years ago and moved to my current BRZ (2018, manual) just before the COVID lockdowns hit last year. I've been enjoying it quite a bit in daily driving as well as back road drives (in central OH and northern KY). The car as stock is right up my alley - raw and connected and really makes you feel the rear wheels pushing the cars into the corner. I've modded it lightly for my tastes, mostly feel mods (stiffer bushings/inserts and shifter mods), with plans for some suspension work in the future.

Thinking about an MR2, I can't help but compare it to the Elise. I had a quick drive in an Elise a while back and it felt "more" in all departments - lower, rawer, more connected. The manual steering rack was the crown jewel of the Elise for me.

But an Elise comes with plenty of drawbacks, most importantly the purchase price (that is climbing quite alarmingly), the fragility of the clamshells and the general feel of a "too special" car that I'll be afraid to drive (and at the same time feel like I'm not driving it enough to justify it).

The MR2 seems like the perfect solution, checking many of the boxes as an Elise (lightweight, RWD, mid engine) and trumps it in price and in psychological usability. Now for the crux of my questions:
  • Depowering the rack - I know this has been discussed, but I can't really form a solid impression of the feel of the depowered rack. Does it only gain weight or does it produce more feedback? Does the steering wheel squirm in your hands? Does it follow bumps and camber changes? (these are all good things!)
  • 2ZZ swap - I know MWR are pretty close by to me and can do a turn-key swap, but how is it in the day-to-day? I'd really prefer a fire-and-forget swap, where I can treat the car as a regular OEM (with rigorous maintenance befitting a fun car). I don't want to be constantly chasing issues or quirks or living in fear of the engine blowing up or needing costly repairs or time consuming tuning.
  • Suspension + wheels + tires - how good is the support for spirited street driving? I saw plenty of track and autocross discussions, but I'd need a setup that would be good on the public roads, with the main goal of making the MR platform shine.
  • Feel mods - basically things that make the driver more connected to the car - stiffer bushings, short shifter, lower seating position and the like.
The car would be used mostly for fun drives with occasional recitational track or autocross, driven in the summer for a few thousands of miles a year. Practicality aspects are not a concern.
 

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-Power steering can be disabled on a test drive...explain to the owner your interest & ask them to bump start the car. PS will be disabled & you can form your own opinion. FWIW I do a lot of parallel parking so PS is a must for me. I must say I appreciate the precision of the steering & road feedback with the PS.

-A well done 2zz swap gives OEM reliability. For HPD you can look into the need for supporting mods (oil cooler & baffled sump are the main ones) to keep a 2zz reliable however for street driving for all intents & purposes it's a 1zz until you want more. I daily drive mine 6 - 8 months out of the year...only difference is putting premium gas in the tank.

-Suspension & wheel/tire options are plentiful. If you're going to want a high quality setup with a lot of adjustability of course expect to pay more. In addition members & some websites offer additional bracing as well. It doesn't take much for a well sorted street & occasional autocross setup.

-Many available "feel mods" such as short shifter, poly bushings, poly engine mounts, you can go with a lighter flywheel or different clutch if thats your jazz. Seating position doesn't need to be lowered unless you are too tall to fit in the car, the seat is practically on the floor however bucket seats on aftermarket rails is always an option if you desire.

Practicality aspects may not be a concern but far outnumber a Lotus. That and the price are 2 solid notches in the win column for the MR2...do a 2zz swap & the competition narrows further when it comes to driving as well IMHO. If you do a 2zz swap the 6 speed trans (c60 or otherwise) is essentially a must as the stock trans will fall out of lift between gears. In addition best HP requires splurging a bit for the header, midpipe, & exhaust as well as standalone ECU. Again the 2zz swap is of Toyota daily driven quality however absolutely needs additional support (baffled sump & oil cooler) if tracking the car. The only additional thing I do bc of my 2zz swap is swap the ecu from standalone to celica once a year for OBDII compliance on state inspection.

Hope that helps, the MR-S is fun, 2zz is a blast but in all honesty a 2-ar swap may serve you better...& if money was no issue I'd love a well sorted K-swap. I'd say decide on the platform first, then figure out which engine swap is right for you if going that route. FWIW 2zz is the simplest & keeps the car closest to stock configuration. Best of luck
 
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The biggest question here is: do you need to modify an MR-2 for canyon carving?
I would say no, so let me explain.

Steering:
Compared to the Elise, the MR-2 has power steering. The power steering system in the MR-2 is an electrohydraulic system, so the rack is hydraulic and the pump is electric.
The pump only runs at full speed at slow speeds. In my opinion the power steering is never overpowered. I had the luck to also drive an Elise recently and the MR-2 is not as good, but I do not see how depowering the rack improves the driving experience. At slow speeds the power steering is a big plus over an Elise. I would suggest test driving an MR-2 to see if you like the steering. If you do not like it stock, not sure if mods are going to improve it significantly.

Engine swap:
If you like attacking the corners, nothing keeps you from driving the car with the 1ZZ-FE and enjoy it as-is.
The 2ZZ-GE is the easiest engine swap, but it has the same displacement so there is almost no difference below 5000 RPM.
You would also need to swap the C60 gearbox to get most out of the swap. The newest 2ZZ-GE engines are 15 years old, so sourcing a fresh engine is getting more difficult now.
Personally I would skip the 2ZZ-GE and look at a bigger displacement swap like a Honda K20 / K24 or a 2AR-FE.

Wheels and suspension:
Stock wheels work very well with the platform. Tyres are way more important, if you like corner carving make sure to get decent tyres. The stock suspension is also not bad, it is well tuned for spirited driving and street driving. If you want more, I would suggest starting with coil overs first.

Feel mods:
Being a ~20 year old car now, I think the main focus after purchase would be maintenance.
On my 2001 car with 120.000 miles I had to replace the lower steering joint, rebuild all brake calipers and replace all tires before I got a decent impression of the car when driving spirited.
I also drove a much newer and lower milage 2005 car recently and immediately I noticed a busted engine mount...

TL;DR: Please test drive a MR-2 first, I think they are pretty good in stock form
 

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The biggest question here is: do you need to modify an MR-2 for canyon carving?
I would say no, so let me explain.
By and large agree:
I´d do the p.a.s. delete though as it greatly increases feedback.
Also fit a very well supporting bucket.
For the rest simply unbolt all you can do without.
Ah and summer rubber like AD08Rs in stock size on the stock wheels.
Ready!

The 2ZZ would give you LESS fun as it needs to thrashed to perform its best. The 1ZZ simply goes whenever you give it stick.
And without a seriously lower gearing the 2ZZ will be castrated through the canyons.
Just don´t bother and drive the wheels of the car as it is.
Have a look at the photo below and realise that the Spyder really is a lót better than the motoring press wrote. It is a REALLY forgiving cornering tool straight from the box. Get rid of the electric feedback killer and go for it.

Now, when you have gotten to the point of sliding the thing all over the place, get Whiteline ARBs to give it a bit more grip at the front, more oversteer.
Repeat :cool:

 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
-A well done 2zz swap gives OEM reliability. For HPD you can look into the need for supporting mods (oil cooler & baffled sump are the main ones) to keep a 2zz reliable however for street driving for all intents & purposes it's a 1zz until you want more. I daily drive mine 6 - 8 months out of the year...only difference is putting premium gas in the tank.
The 2ZZ-GE is the easiest engine swap
Thanks for the reassurance. I gathered as much from my research but never really saw a longer term evaluation of the swap.

The only additional thing I do bc of my 2zz swap is swap the ecu from standalone to celica once a year for OBDII compliance on state inspection.
Luckily there are no inspections in OH (except around Cleveland), so not a concern for me.

a 2-ar swap may serve you better...& if money was no issue I'd love a well sorted K-swap.
The newest 2ZZ-GE engines are 15 years old, so sourcing a fresh engine is getting more difficult now.
Personally I would skip the 2ZZ-GE and look at a bigger displacement swap like a Honda K20 / K24 or a 2AR-FE.
I tend to favor high revving NA engines, so I don't think I'll enjoy a 2AR. I do agree about the 2ZZs getting old, but the K20s aren't that much younger (although might be more plentiful?) and the K24s sacrifice too much RPM for my tastes. A K swap is also quite a bit more expensive, as you suggested as well.
I also assumed that a 2ZZ swap would be simpler and more reliable. Would a well made K20 swap be as trouble free?

it has the same displacement so there is almost no difference below 5000 RPM.
The 2ZZ would give you LESS fun as it needs to thrashed to perform its best.
That all depends on the driving style and personal preference. I like thrashing the engine and keeping the revs high, so I would think a 2ZZ or K20 would be the better swap for me.

If you like attacking the corners, nothing keeps you from driving the car with the 1ZZ-FE and enjoy it as-is.
Oh for sure. The rough plan is to get a stockish MR2 and work my way through the mods, with a swap being a big investment. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't say no to a prepped and swapped example if one comes up while I'm on the market.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
FWIW I do a lot of parallel parking so PS is a must for me. I must say I appreciate the precision of the steering & road feedback with the PS.
I would suggest test driving an MR-2 to see if you like the steering. If you do not like it stock, not sure if mods are going to improve it significantly.
I´d do the p.a.s. delete though as it greatly increases feedback.
I knew steering would be a point of contention :). I agree that a test drive would be the best bet, with the assist enabled and disabled to compare the two, but that's easier said than done. I see @DaWaN's point about mods only getting you so far along on the steering department, but I would hope that depowering would be a big enough difference to perhaps bridge the gap to the Elise's steering. On the other hand, the Alfa 4C also has manual steering and that isn't praised as much as the Elise steering-wise, so even OEM manual racks need suspension tuning to feel good.

-Suspension & wheel/tire options are plentiful. If you're going to want a high quality setup with a lot of adjustability of course expect to pay more. In addition members & some websites offer additional bracing as well. It doesn't take much for a well sorted street & occasional autocross setup.
Stock wheels work very well with the platform... The stock suspension is also not bad, it is well tuned for spirited driving and street driving.
Thanks for the feedback on the stock setup. For aftermarket, I guess I'm comparing to more common aftermarket supported cars like the Miata or the BRZ/86 twins and got the wrong impression. It's good to hear there are enough options for the street.

Seating position doesn't need to be lowered unless you are too tall to fit in the car, the seat is practically on the floor however bucket seats on aftermarket rails is always an option if you desire.
Also fit a very well supporting bucket.
That's the biggest benefit of a car without side impact airbags - seat swaps are painless!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Being a ~20 year old car now, I think the main focus after purchase would be maintenance.
On my 2001 car with 120.000 miles I had to replace the lower steering joint, rebuild all brake calipers and replace all tires before I got a decent impression of the car when driving spirited.
I also drove a much newer and lower milage 2005 car recently and immediately I noticed a busted engine mount...
Ah, that's a very good point! I actually noticed that most of the cars on sale are pretty high mileage (or more accurately appropriate mileage for the age for a regular car). I would be planning on a fairly extensive refresh, from all maintenance items, through tires and suspension to the potential ball/CV joints, boots, etc.
 

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Just buy the car you want and have it shipped. Shipping is reasonable for the right car. Get what you want ready to enjoy. There are plenty of modified spyders. If you want to drive for free for a couple years buy a 03 up because they are the best value for their appreciation. I have a very collectible phanton grey 2005 with low mileage and as my daily driver I have added TRD sprotivo suspension and a few other TRD parts and a set of SSR Type C wheels. All parts can be removed if the car ever gets sold but have improved performance and handling to make the car really fun. Good luck.
 

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I tend to favor high revving NA engines, so I don't think I'll enjoy a 2AR. I do agree about the 2ZZs getting old, but the K20s aren't that much younger (although might be more plentiful?) and the K24s sacrifice too much RPM for my tastes. A K swap is also quite a bit more expensive, as you suggested as well.
I just finished a K24 swap and added some go-fast and reliability parts to track it. I can't overstate how much more power there is at every engine speed with that engine. From 3k to 8k RPM, the throttle response is instant. My tune hits 170lbs of torque at 3,200RPM and 185lbs at 5,500 RPM. HP hits 216 at 7,200 RPM and drops off to 200 at the 8,200 RPM redline. Coupled with the short-ratio transmission from a Civic Si and an aftermarket LSD, it's just brutally fast. For the street, I would probably go with a taller transmission, because unless you're in 5-6th gear it just wants to take off. A 2zz may get close in terms of HP, but it's just not even in the same ballgame in terms of actual power delivery.
 

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I feel like I'm talking to a past version of me. I have a 2017 "86" that I took to the canyons and track, and would echo what @leepear said. Get a nicer/newer car since the various component bits around the car are getting rarer and harder to source. You'd be correct in noticing a lot of these are plastic pieces, but the costs will quickly eclipse what you would've saved if you decide to hunt for different pieces after you get the car.

I got myself a stock 2003 MR2 a couple years back and slowly adding quality of life (short shifter, hardtop), bracing, and suspension components (e.g., bushings, coilovers, subframe kit) over time, and am really pleased with the results. The Spyder is a car meant for more technical roads, so depending what your favorite canyon roads look like you might find certain upgrades more worth-your-while.

Something else is that you would probably have to modify the MR2 some before it performs on par or better than your BRZ. If your MR2 is stock, then the stock suspension will likely be on its last legs, and you'll probably have to fix some straggling issues the prior owner didn't. The light at the end of the tunnel, however, is that you have a car that'll punch way above its weight, be more fun for canyon driving, and give you bang-for-buck when upgrading.
 

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As someone who owns both of these cars (2004 MR2, 2013 FR-S 10 series), I would say that without some significant suspension upgrades the MR2 just won't handle as well as the 86, particularly if you have good sticky tires on the 86. It's also cheaper to add extra power on the 86.

Adding a hard top to the MR2 helps, but that's another expensive upgrade. Subjectively, the MR2 has more body roll and a more flexible chassis than the 86, even the later 2003+ models that have extra bracing from the factory.

The steering feel of the 86 is hard to beat IMO.

Sent from my SM-G970U1 using Tapatalk
 

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I guess it's just a matter of budget as there are really only a few options in the rear-mid engine sports car class. The spyder is probably somewhere in the middle of the worst/cheapest and best/most expensive option.

What else is on on the table?

Boxster/Cayman
S2000 (front-mid)
Beat (rhd only)
Fiero (on fire, or about to be on fire)
Elise
Solstice/Sky (front-mid)
Ferrari (probably not realistic)
x19 (vintage)


I'm sure I'm missing some.

Also, if you are used to the BRZ power then a stock spyder is probably a comfortable change. It feels about the same power wise. They are both slow.
 

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Feel mods:
Being a ~20 year old car now, I think the main focus after purchase would be maintenance.
On my 2001 car with 120.000 miles I had to replace the lower steering joint, rebuild all brake calipers and replace all tires before I got a decent impression of the car when driving spirited.
I also drove a much newer and lower milage 2005 car recently and immediately I noticed a busted engine mount...
DaWaN - what happened that you had to have the lower steering joint replaced. I am having a weird steering issue right now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
As someone who owns both of these cars (2004 MR2, 2013 FR-S 10 series), I would say that without some significant suspension upgrades the MR2 just won't handle as well as the 86, particularly if you have good sticky tires on the 86. It's also cheaper to add extra power on the 86.

Adding a hard top to the MR2 helps, but that's another expensive upgrade. Subjectively, the MR2 has more body roll and a more flexible chassis than the 86, even the later 2003+ models that have extra bracing from the factory.
That's very interesting! I understand that the MR2, being of older design and a convertible, would "suffer" from a softer ride and less stiff chassis, but I was hoping that the lighter weight and aftermarket suspension would alleviate it.

Perhaps I've had a comparable experience test driving an ND2 Miata right after driving the BRZ - the Miata was much softer than the BRZ. It was weird enough (that I didn't like the Miata, god's gift to the motoring world) that I asked on miata.net about it, and basically was told that with aftermarket coilovers and sway bars the Miata can be as flat as the BRZ.

The steering feel of the 86 is hard to beat IMO.
The Elise beats it easily. That's what I am hoping a depowered MR2 will provide.

Could you share some more of your experience with both cars? When would you prefer the FRS and when the MR2?
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I guess it's just a matter of budget as there are really only a few options in the rear-mid engine sports car class. The spyder is probably somewhere in the middle of the worst/cheapest and best/most expensive option.
Yep, budget is definitely at play here. If I had an unlimited budget I would take an Elise/Exige without hesitation, downsides be damned.

Boxster/Cayman
S2000 (front-mid)
Beat (rhd only)
Fiero (on fire, or about to be on fire)
Elise
Solstice/Sky (front-mid)
Ferrari (probably not realistic)
x19 (vintage)
I wouldn't count front-mid (and if you do, consider the Miata and some older BMWs). The Autozam AZ-1 is another mid engined JDM Kei cars. And obviously other super/hyper cars (Lamborghini, McLaren, etc.). Another vintage option is a Porsche 914.
I think the only two realistic options you've missed is the Alfa 4C, which is automatic only and suffers the same "specialness" as the Elise in the form of extensive carbon-fiber and the Lotus Evora which is 911 money and shares similar downsides to an Elise but with less driving advantages.

Also, if you are used to the BRZ power then a stock spyder is probably a comfortable change. It feels about the same power wise. They are both slow.
Yeah, I'm quite happy with the power level in the BRZ, but more wouldn't be amiss. Going back to my BRZ after a spin in the Elise was quite a shock, so I'll be happy to get a 2ZZ powerplant again :)
 

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A proper 2zz + spyder is about equal price to a boxster/cayman of similar era. I'm still split if I made the right call when I got my spyder.
 

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Poblem with the BRZ/86 is double edged. The car is modern weight; not light and secondly has a none too much torque.
The stock MR2 is significantly lighter and has an engine matching it. It is quite easy to shed a 50 kilos and shedding 100 none too silly.It makes for a near Elise with WAY more forgiving/comfy behaviour.

For the rest I do not know what you guys can get away with but a stock MR2 is a doddle to push up to illegal everything everywhere with the 1ZZ.

Now, if soft top were not a hard MUST for me, I´d have already bought a Yaris GR. End of.

The two add up to the MR2 in OEM trim already being a fun carver easily able to shred the law and beyond that it is all relative.
 

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Would a well made K20 swap be as trouble free?
I cannot think of a reason why not, I prefer Honda engines over Toyota Engines. The Honda platform is much more common and the K24Z3 / K24Z7 was built all the way till 2015, so much easier to source compared to a 2ZZ-GE.

DaWaN - what happened that you had to have the lower steering joint replaced. I am having a weird steering issue right now.
Oh the U-joint went bad, initially it was notchy and added drag. After I sprayed it with penetrant oil, it developed a bit of slack.
I pressed in a new 16x16x40mm U-Joint to fix it.
Snelbaard also has a 'fix' for the source of the problem:
BTW, on my car the previous owner just replaced the shocks before I got it. Shocks are also a common maintenance item.

The Elise beats it easily. That's what I am hoping a depowered MR2 will provide.
A depowered MR2 will not provide anything close to an Elise.
The Elise is even lighter weight, has more rear weight balance and has more more sophisticated front suspension setup.
An MR-2 has McPherson struts at the front, so you are moving a lot more mass compared to the tiny hubs of the double wishbone setup on the Elise when steering.
Also: an hydraulic rack has a valve inside the rack which determines the assist, if you disable the assist this valve will cause slack in the steering.
In order to properly depower, you have to lock out the valve.
By unhooking the pump you are also moving the oil in the rack manually, causing extra drag. By unhooking the pump you create slack and drag.
Adding extra drag might feel better to some drivers, but in my opinion more drag does not equal more feedback.
 

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Also: an hydraulic rack has a valve inside the rack which determines the assist, if you disable the assist this valve will cause slack in the steering.
In order to properly depower, you have to lock out the valve.
Can you add some illustrations? Cannot find that valve.

By unhooking the pump you are also moving the oil in the rack manually, causing extra drag. By unhooking the pump you create slack and drag.
True; connecting the two sides of the piston inside the rack will see you pump a very slight amount through the connecting tube. That will reguire sóme force. When cornering at some speed it is none too much.

Adding extra drag might feel better to some drivers, but in my opinion more drag does not equal more feedback.
The feedback increase is equal to the reduction in assistance.
Only when that assistance nears zero, the ´drag´ outweighs it.

When cornering you want the increased feedback to be better; feel the differences in traction the front tyres have.
To better understand it you must realise that a corner/bend in a continuous change of direction affecting the tyres, not the steering.
What you want is to féél the force you need to hold the steering wheel, wheels pointing in the direction of the trajectory, being the force the tyres excert becuase of the directional change. You want to féél that and notice the slip angle they are at.
Any assistance ´dampens´ the forces = reduces the differences, making them more diffcult to feel.
The movements involved are small and the non assited pumping losses negligeable in this situation.
 

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The spyder power steering is essentially depowered at highway speed. Once you are rolling, it makes no difference that I can tell. However, a spyder without PS is very unpleasant to maneuver at low speed. I doubt that you would want to remove it unless the car is track only.

That said, the steering rack is just a lever system, and has very little to do with the steering feel. The steering feel is a product of the entire chassis design, and the tires in particular.
 
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