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Toyota has been teasing a new sports car for years and in December 2021 we got our best look yet at what’s likely to be the all-new MR2.
It was almost lost in the crowd as Toyota unveiled 17 electric concept cars on the same day, but the GR-badged, mid-engine-proportioned sports car stood out in its yellow finish. While it wasn’t called an ‘MR2’ in the official announcement (and was referred to only as ‘Sports EV’), the size and styling clearly draw a connection to the brand’s mid-engined sports car that ran through two generations from 1984 until 2007.
Here’s everything we know so far about Toyota’s plans for another sports car to join the GR Supra, GR 86 and GR Yaris in an expanding Gazoo Racing portfolio.
Tetsuya Tada, Toyota’s chief engineer behind the reborn 86 and Supra has long spoken of his desire to revive the Japanese brand’s so-called ‘three brothers’ from the 1980s and ‘90s - the Supra, Celica and MR2.
With the Supra and 86 both in the current line-up attention has turned to the ‘third brother’ with rumours of an MR2 return whispered for years. While Toyota has yet to officially confirm its return, the presence of the MR2-esque concept in its EV Strategy presentation makes it clear those rumours have some substance to them.
Toyota was conspicuously quiet about that ‘Sports EV’ concept, preferring to focus on Lexus’ planned electric LFA successor, but the presence of a full-scale concept car is a sign that the brand sees a new sports car model in its future.
The obvious hurdle for Toyota is the cost of developing both battery electric vehicles and sports cars - and especially a combination of both - is high and as a mainstream brand it cannot price itself into the premium market.
That means it will have to find a partner for the MR2 project, just like it has for Supra and 86 - and there is seemingly no shortage of potential suitors. In the past we've read reports of Toyota being linked with Porsche, Lotus and even Suzuki for this project.
The most obvious candidate would seem to be Lotus, as the two companies already share a productive working relationship with Toyota supplying petrol engines to the British brand. Then there’s Lotus’ well-established plan to have a new all-electric sports car by 2026.
Geely-owned Lotus is already partnering with Renault-owned Alpine to share development of the ‘E-Sports platform’ that will underpin a pair of sports cars for the two brands. Adding another client would be a boost for Lotus, as the brand has made no secret it sees the E-Sports platform as a potential revenue stream. This would repeat the success Lotus had with the aluminium underpinnings from the Elise, which not only became the basis for the Exige and Evora but also the Tesla Roadster and Opel Speedster/Vauxhall VX220
MR2 stood for ‘mid-engine, rear-drive, 2-seater’ and there’s no reason why the switch to electrification will change that. Lotus’ E-Sports platform is being developed to have the electric motors mounted behind the cabin, which means it could be considered both ‘mid-engined’ and have rear-wheel drive. Lotus says it can be stretched to fit four seats in a 2+2 configuration, but if it sticks to just a pair, this new MR2 would live up to the acronym.
As for question marks about its performance, Lotus Cars managing director Matt Windle, has spoken about his goals for the project with a focus on making it light and flexible.
“The E-Sports architecture will be flexible and modular, and will generate an exciting new sports car for the Lotus brand, with contemporary styling, class-leading ride and handling, explosive performance and that unmistakable Lotus character – a pure dynamic experience that is ‘For the Drivers’,” Windle said. “I have challenged our teams to target the same weight as our latest combustion engine sports cars.”
Despite the limited information Toyota offered up on the ‘Sports EV’ perhaps the most important thing the company’s global chief, Akio Toyoda, said was that all the concepts shown off it December are “by no means far away” and promised most would be available in the “next few years”.
That fits with the timing for both Alpine and Lotus with their electric sports cars. The French brand is due to launch its version in 2025 with the Lotus (codenamed Type 135) expected in 2026. That means a Toyota spin-off could arrive within the next three or four years, because even though the company is yet to announce anything definitive, the ‘Sports EV’ concept shows work is already well underway behind-the-scenes.