Market Spotlight

MR2 and Fiero: the battle of affordable mid-engined '80s wedges

by Brandan Gillogly
10 March 2023 4 min read
Photos: Toyota, GM

Today, the terms “mid-engine sports car” and “affordable” aren’t terribly compatible. Sure, the Corvette Stingray is a fantastic bargain relative to its peers, and the Porsche Cayman is an absolute delight, but they’re still a big reach for the average enthusiast. However, for a brief time in the 1980s, there were multiple mid-engine cars in the North American market that were legitimately affordable.

The 1970s brought the mid-engine platform from racing to the road, most notably exotics from Italy like Lamborghini’s Miura and Countach, and Ferrari 512 BB. More affordable options came to the masses with the likes of the Fiat X/19. It wasn’t until the ’80s, though, that major players in the U.S. market got in on the act.

The Pontiac Fiero debuted in 1984 to much acclaim, and the Toyota MR2 joined the U.S. market a year later. These were both mainstream brands that primarily churned out more staid layouts—front-engined, front-and rear-wheel drive cars aimed toward everyday transportation. Sure, each had their existing sporty models, but the fact that the MR2 and Fiero were so radically different from their respective stablemates is why we’re still talking about them today. Prices for both models are creeping up, and today, buyers will pay a premium to relive some of that mid-priced mid-engine magic, especially for the most desirable versions.


Our own Jason Cammisa’s dive into the Fiero’s origins is definitely worth watching. The basics: GM brass gave Fiero the green light based on the assumption that it would be an economical commuter. As a result, it borrowed heavily from GM’s parts bin to keep its budget low. Cribbing the front suspension from GM’s compact RWD Chevette and repurposing the front suspension of GM’s front-drive Chevy Citation/Pontiac Phoenix for the back, the Fiero’s underpinnings might have saved money, but the performance didn’t match its eye-catching styling.

Unfortunately, Fiero also never received the powertrain it deserved. The 2.5-liter Iron Duke was the car’s sole powerplant at its launch. Known for dogged reliability and simplicity, it was a 92-hp economy-car engine that fit Fiero’s stated mission, if not the objective that its looks implied. The 2.8-liter V-6 that became optional with the GT model in 1985 was significantly more powerful, with 140 hp, but still hardly the stuff of sports car dreams.

Despite its lackluster powerplants, the Fiero managed to be fun. It was compact, rigid, and relatively lightweight at around 2600 pounds, and Pontiac made tweaks every year to incrementally improve it. The GT model, along with its improved power, brought wider tires and, for 1986, a new pseudo-fastback look. A five-speed manual made its debut in June of that year as well.

The Fiero’s steel spaceframe construction and fiber-reinforced plastic body panels made styling updates a breeze for Pontiac and also contributed to the Fiero’s popularity as a donor vehicle for faux-exotic kit cars of the era. Pontiac dealers even got in on the action by selling the Mera, a Ferrari 308 clone made using a new Fiero, in 1987 and 1988.

The Fiero sold incredibly well at launch, but sales tapered off as the years went on, even as Pontiac added power and the sporty GT fastback. The final year of Fiero production, 1988, saw its lowest sales despite the car finally receiving the improved suspension it needed to live up to its sporty looks. A second-generation Fiero was planned, and a prototype was built, but the sagging sales numbers spelled Fiero’s end.

DW Burnett

While the Fiero was an economy car that would look and eventually drive like a sports car, MR2 was a sports car that happened to deliver good fuel economy. Toyota offered the public a peek at their mid-engine intent when it showed the SW-3 concept in 1983, and it introduced the MR2 in North America in early 1985. The entry price, including destination, was $11,195—about $31,000 in today’s dollars. The MR2 reaped praise for its sharp handling, crisp five-speed gearbox, and finely constructed, 1.6-liter, 112-hp powerplant. In other words, the MR2 delivered the driving experience that its looks promised. Several buff books placed the MR2 into their various “Best of” lists, including Car and Driver (10Best) and Motor Trend (Import car of the Year).

The MR2 received an engine upgrade part-way through its first generation: the addition of an intercooled supercharger. That boosted the little 1.6-liter to a peppy 145 horses. Though available to Japanese buyers in 1986, Americans had to wait until 1988. Enthusiasts got just one angular body style on the MR2, but Toyota made yearly changes to make aero bits, trim, and mirrors body color bit-by-bit. Time has been kind to the MR2’s design—it’s basically a rolling representation of how we like to remember the 1980s.


For collectors, the supercharged version of the MR2 is the most desirable, with the average #2 condition value of a boosted model coming in at $31,200. That’s 44 percent higher than their naturally aspirated counterparts in #2 (Excellent) condition at $21,700. Even more impressive, it’s a 161 percent increase compared to its value just five years ago. In addition to rising interest for the MR2 on its own merits, the rise of the Japanese segment as a whole may well be a contributing factor to this steep growth.

Fieros have been on the march too, just not to the same degree. Five years ago, values for 1988 GTs, the most desirable model, were similar to its supercharged Toyota counterpart. Today they’re up 50 percent, with #2 (Excellent) models coming in at $19,600. That’s a 58-percent premium over the mechanically similar 1988 Formula at $12,400 for #2 (Excellent) condition. Other desirable Fiero models include the 1984 Indy Pace Car, the most valuable Fiero powered by the 92-hp Iron Duke.

Our insurance data suggests that these cars have a solid future as younger buyers are interested in both of them. Sixty-five percent of the people who called us last year for a quote on insurance for a Fiero were Gen–X or younger (compared to their 61-percent share for all enthusiast vehicles). The overall number of insurance quotes for Fieros grew faster than the collector car market as a whole in 2021-2022. The news for MR2 is similarly optimistic. For the 1984–1989 Toyota MR2, the share of quotes from Gen–X and younger in 2022 was 82 percent, and interest is also outpacing the growth of the market as a whole. However, based on sheer volume of quotes, the Fiero is nearly three times more popular than the MR2.

That popularity shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the North American market, Pontiac sold 136,840 Fieros in 1984 alone. That's more than Toyota's entire run of the first two MR2 generations through 1995. In this foray into affordable, mid-engine runabouts, the Fiero emerged victorious in the battle of ’80s mid-engine coupes by sheer volume. However, the MR2, thanks to its rarity and being the more fully-developed sports car from the get-go, brings in higher prices. And since the MR2 survived long enough to fight on in the '90s, you might also say it won the war.


  • Patrick says:

    I’ve got an ’89 Supercharged MR2(White with the “rare” burgandy/maroon interior). This is my 4th Mister 2!. I didn’t buy it as an investment but it’s turned into one. Absolutely love these cars! I’ve get many offers every time I head to a gas station. I will always say, “she’s not for sale”.

    • Patrick says:

      oops,,meant to say, I’ve gotten many offers,,,,

    • hyperv6 says:

      I bought my Fiero new in 1985. Crashed it rebuilt it and have loved every min.

      I bought mine as insurance for my age was too much on a TA. I bought a V6 and for a few years I was a local celebrity. Then the misleading issues and mistakes by GM piles up and I became the fool that bought the a Fiero.

      Times have changed and today it is all positive reactions. Most are unwanted one, wish I had one or I would like to buy one.

      Mine has been upgraded with many rare parts from the 80’s. T tops, the Indy over the roof scoop, Herb Adams VSE suspension upgrades and DGP body parts. I removed the Fiero name on the back and some think it is from Europe.

      It has taken me to Indy where I have done 100 mph laps and Mid Ohio. It has been on display at GM plants and Summit Racings headquarters. I have place at a number of National car shows and taken the top 5 award at the Pontiac Nationals 2 times out of over 600 show cars.

      My car is the little car that could. I drove it through three winters. Yes Pontiac built excitement in the snow. And I hit a Dodge van at 45 mph and drove it home. The van had a hard time getting back into the drive.

      As for the Fiero it is not perfect but little things make a difference.

      Yes they do rust under the skin. Pull the carpet in the trunk on the left side. If it has rust walk away. Many cars have never seen salt or were washed daily like mine. So they are hood one out there.

      Many mechanical parts are interchangeable. So keeping them running is cheap and easy. 88 suspension parts are rare. But with sway bars and removing the steering damper the older cars handle much like the 88.

      Interior parts can be difficult in sone cases.

      The V6 will run forever if not abused. The 4 I would avoid. They leak oil and could catch fire. But a good valve cover gasket fixes this. They still are down on power.

      Note the 4 cylinder cars are great for engine swaps. Pontiac did design the engine compartment to fit the V8. An LS is about the same weight and fits right in like a V6.

      I have had fun with mine and today I could easily sell it for near twice what I paid. No it is not the next Shelby but few cars today will bring close to their original sticker.

      The MR2 first Gen was cool. But rust and mechanical issues can easily lead to engine removal for simple things like pumps, hoses and timing belts. Unless you can do it your self it can get expensive. Few parts interchange if you can find them.

      Best if you buy either look for as low of mile example you can find. Yes you can restore but often the restoration can be more than a low mile clean car.

      If modified check documentation.

      The second Gen MR2 is rare and expensive today and the third Gen was a low powered mess few wanted or liked.

      These are fun affordable cars but condition is everything. Walk away from rust on either or just poor condition.

      FYI working on the Fiero V6 is no different than any FWD car. Not hard to do and you can sit in the truck to work.

  • Rusty says:

    You need to address the 2000-2007 MR 2s. It has more to offer and better styling. A 9 inch longer wheelbase than a Miata, while the Miata is a longer automobile. Also a 1.8 L twin cam high revving engine that can be found with and without a turbo. Oh did mention reliability. All this under 2200 pounds.
    And! Toyota has a new MR 2 in the works. Where is Pontiac now?

    • hyperv6 says:

      Rusty… good name for a Toyota fan.

      The return of the MR2 was a pure failure. It was nothing special and built to a price,

      No one wanted them then or now. It was butt ugly.

      Revs are fine if there is power but there was little to be had.

      The Solstice Turbo or Sky along with the Miata were better choices. As for the new one it better be better than most recent efforts from boring Toyota.

      As for Pontiac years of miss management by GM with their divisions caused the failure not the Fiero. It was just a symptom of the problems.

  • Rick McCarty says:

    Gen 2 MR2 is the one to get. Even the base model with 138 hp is a blast to drive, gets good mpg and looks fantastic!

  • Dennis Cooperson says:

    Was wondering how, when mentioning more affordable examples in the 1970’s, those that weren’t exotics, there’s Fiat, but no Porsche 914? Yes, I know now they aren’t “affordable” for most enthusiasts (like me) especially the 914-6.

    • hyperv6 says:

      The MR2 and Fiero e specially the Fiero were built in much greater numbers.

      The X1/9 rust devoured most as well broken cam belt. 914 6 is rare today mostly because few were built and rust. Their values are going up.

  • paul s murray says:

    They’re both kinda cool in their own way. I knew a guy who had a Fiero GT. The suspension was a bit on the harsh side which, while I don’t mind so much , made it a bit skitzy at speed. It also gave it a fun ‘boy racer’ vibe. I wanted to find one and hack it up too. Not to turn it into a Lambo Countach clone. I was thinking more along the lines of a mid nineties I.M.S.A. Riley & Scott thing. If you blur your eyes you can kinda imagine it. Everybody is ignoring the elephant in the room, the oil leak FIRE! problem. GM found the fix but by then it had such a bad reputation people tended to walk away from them. The original MR 2’s I refer to as ‘the tank turret ‘. However the later (2000 – ?) are handsome cars especially in the flesh and the Spyder even more so. When it comes to reliability isn’t it the MR 2 that has what’s called “the hose from hell” that requires practically pulling the engine/trans to fix? I guess Toyota was taking a page out of Ferrari’s maintenance manual to add some mystique. Patrick don’t be worried bout spelin or graymar. We’re not writing the great american novel here. And Dennis the standard 914 hotrods up just fine even more than the 914/6 with parts availability or ‘hows’ about a TR 8 ?

  • ABikePeddler says:

    As a person who has had exposure to both cars I can say without a shadow of a doubt the Mk1 MR2 reigns supreme in the battle. @hyperv6 claim you have to pull the engine for some maintenance on a Mk1 MR2 is just plain false. Maintenance can be handled with the engine securely in it’s bay and the quality difference between the two cars is, well not comparable. The plastic body panels on the Fiero was a great idea but the execution was typical GM. Shoddy build quality and the sensation that the handling was somehow a hobbled together bunch of bits from the GM parts bin made me move on. After going through 7 Mk1 MR2’s in the past 30 years I finally settled on a 88′ Super Red Supercharged MR2 Manual. It has been restored to very near grade 1 quality with brand new factory parts throughout. It is one of the nicest MR2 S/C’s left and when you drive it it reminds you just how good Toyota can be when they unleash their engineering muscle on a project.

    The MK2 MR2 was better looking, faster and more accesable as a daily driver and that is exactly what I do not like about those cars. Part of the charm of the Mk1 MR2 is it’s “slow car fast” vibe. It is a momentum car. A car you can exercise fully on the public roads. The Mk2 MR2 Turbo is a car that will do 148mph and is fast enough to somehow loose that playful nature of the first gen MR2. The first MR2 felt like you had driven a go-kart out on the the public roads. The 2nd gen feels like you are driving Toyota’s version of a Acura NSX! That sounds great, and it is… but that wasn’t the mission of the first MR2 and this is why Mazda has never made a “fast” Miata. It was not it’s intended purpose.

    @paul s murray Hose from hell in only on the Mk2 MR2. Mk1 MR2’s really have very few weaknesses in their design and engineering with specimens often wracking up huge, trouble free mileage over their life on the road. The 4AGE engine is a hero engine for anybody into JDM vehicles.

  • paul s murray says:

    and (p.s.) since he invited it (see page 14) What do Jay Leno and a Fiero have in common?

  • hyperv6 says:

    Contrary to Peddler the Fiero had very high build qualities and engineering.

    The main issue was shot cuts like the RTV on the 4. Cylinder valve cover. Supp,iver issues on Rods from Oliver.

    The parts bin concept is used everywhere. Yes even in areas on the MR2. But these shared parts today are a blessing. It make it easier to find parts like door handles or engine and transmission parts.

    Even with the funding shortages it was amazing how well the Fiero turned out. I agree with the go kart aspect of both cars.

    Other issues on the MR2 are oil leaks, water leaks on the t roof and engine. This leads to failed alternators and heat could also do damage to it and the starter. GM used cooling fans.

    Yes the turbo cars you have to pull everything. Yes it leaks at around 80,000 miles. Just a poor design.

    Clutches on both are not easy to change. MR2 have had in some cases shifter issues the Fiero worn cable feel.

    The one area the Fiero dominates is the Exhaust. The full stainless exhaust on the V6 is durable and has one of the best non V8 sounds on the market. The 4 cylinders just never had the sound. My exhaust is 50 years old and still like new. MR2 had cracking issues.

  • emmett dearing says:

    Im a retired mechanic instructor and a car nut.
    My grandson 15, has bought a 1986 Fiero for $100, that ran when parked two years ago. the 60 year old lady that owned it had replaced the engine 5 years ago. The lady has owned the car for 20 years or so, and speaks very confidently that it will run and drive with a minimum amount of effort .
    I realize that I may spend $5000 or so with paint and tires, etc., and end up with a nice driver, but-
    my concern is with my grandson!
    Everyone seems to describe these cars as economy with flair. I drove 1985 MR2’s when new and thought they were frightfully slow. I worry that my grandson will feel the same way about the Fiero.
    Im tempted to stay out of this, and keep my opinion to myself- opinions?

    • paul s murray says:

      4 Emmet. Let me get this straight. Your grandson bought ( past tense ) a Fiero for a hundred bucks from a little old lady and your concern is that it’s not the Beach Boys super stock Dodge!? First, who didn’t love their first car? No matter what it was ,it was wheels. It may not have been your dream car but remember that first ride? Of course I was a “can I borrow the car keys” not a “happy graduation” kid but still. Second, when it came time to go to college, ( I commuted for the first 2 yrs. ) having a sporty yet relatively thrifty car was the right choice. It also led me to become, as a guy I worked with said, ” the only person I know who speeds up for corners.” which is the market both of these cars were originally intended for. If you’re in for five grand I think you’ve got at the very least the right to advise. My grandparents bought me my first set of basic Craftsman’s ,that was their contribution. I was happy to get them and still am. So say he finds the Fiero is a bit lackadaisical in the pony department and he’s stuck having to sell a niche market with a following two seater with a fresh resale red paint job. Don’t worry pop-pop I’ll take it! and I love you more! – p.s. Jim, I wouldn’t tell anyone who wanted an x-19 not to buy a clean example that ‘summered’ in Newport

  • TRAGAR says:

    I bought a used ’84 Fiero in the mid-90’s. It was a base SE model, red over grey cloth interior. It only had the 4 cylinder engine and an automatic, but it was still fun, especially in the rain or snow. The visibility by today’s standards was excellent and the cabin was spacious and very comfortable. All in all, it was a great commuter car. I still miss it and toy with the idea of getting a five speed and having Fiero John in New Jersey drop a 3.2 liter V-6 into it for me. Then again, I’m picking up my C-8 in April, so maybe the Fiero idea will have to wait a while longer.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    The Mr2 was the better engineered car. It was solid from the beginning, the second generation was fantastic.

    The Fiero was a good idea, but poorly executed as time went on they fixed the things and at the end it was a good start. That second gen with a possible Quad 4 motor would have been fantastic.

    If I see either car I am excited. I really wished the Fiero had a second generation.

    • Fiero Vice says:

      WRONG! I beg to differ!

    • VolandoBajo says:

      Had a grad school prof with an 88 Fiero. I had a new 88 V8 Thunderbird as my midlife crisis car. When he did a point by point compare I could easily fit 4 sets of golf clubs in my trunk he had trouble with two.

      Ford practically refused to sell my V8. Chasing CAFE numbers. But I could walk away from a turbo 4 easily. 143 mph top. 138 mph tires. Every good option and color choice

      Met the love of my life in that car. When the tranny went at almost 300,000 miles the year our son was born we changed how we rolled.

      But that was a sleeper GT that was surprisingly quick in many different scenarios. Wish now we’d kept it.

  • jim says:

    The real Indy Fiero pace car had the Quad 4 that was modified. The requirement for the pace car was, it had to come off the 4th turn during the start at 140 mph. Poniac could have sold a million Fieros like that one.
    I missed a Fiero my neighbor had for sale 2 years back. 1988 GT, V-6, 5 speed, 32,000 miles, garage kept from the South, perfect Black paint, Grey interior with no wear, showroom quality. I went back later that day with checkbook in hand but he had just sold it…for $7,200.00. That’s a $15,000.00 car today. The time to buy is when you see it. Now they are out of my range.

  • jim says:

    By the way, That Fiat x-19 turns into a rust stain on your driveway within 4 years. Never buy one that has ever been to New England.

  • Fiero Vice says:

    This article is full of errors!!! Brandan Gillogly failed to do a full research & contact Fiero experts.
    Brandan wrote, “but the sagging sales numbers spelled Fiero’s end.” WRONG!!!
    The GM didn’t let Pontiac to go full speed to build the most powerful engine because they did NOT want Fiero to be faster than Corvette. The MR2 is nothing to be proud of. The Fiero could easily beat MR2 with one arm behind back if the GM let Pontiac have its way.
    Despite lower sales, Fiero made a PROFIT for all FIVE years and outsold both MR2 and Corvette. Plus, GM pulled back Fiero’s advertisement since 1987.
    I’m very positive that GM paid the press to be negative & hard on Fiero on purpose. Because when you read Fiero reviews from Europe, it was all positive and how the ride was excellent. Something is fishy here! One of these days, we will know the truth. I personally believe Fiero has so much more potential than MR2. The size of Fiero is awesome! It’s much bigger than SUV interiors. It exceed frontal crash testing & had an excellent idea with space frame. All it needed was a powerful engine which GM has one, but forbidden Pontiac to allow Fiero to be faster than Corvette. The engine bay is big enough to fit in a V8 engine. This article is TRASH!!! DO YOUR HOMEWORK, Brandan!!!

  • paul s murray says:

    and do your homework! elvis is still alive he’s living in a pink fiero hidden in brasil !

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