SOMEHOW, the lawyers were kept out of it. Maybe they were locked in a closet or stuffed in a sack. Perhaps they were found to be troublesome and then kicked out. They certainly were absent -- or sedated -- when Toyota developed the 1991 MR2. The little two-seater is too happy, too sassy, too uncompromised to come out of an environment where lawyers were present and taken seriously.
Heck, even the color of the test model flirted with illegality. It was crimson red -- in your face, go ahead and sue me, ain't nothin' but a thing red. It was the reddest red you've ever seen. It was passionate -- the color, the car, the feel of it all. It was a four-wheeled ode to fun -- totally impractical for anything other than a few bags of groceries, two adult bodies of modest proportions and a high-spirited zip along the road.
The MR2, thus, is not designed for full-time, lifetime use. Its attractiveness probably will diminish as adults' responsibilities increase. But it is not a car that will be dismissed in a contentious divorce. It will be handed over to another generation with love and ceremony, perhaps as an outright gift to a deserving child -- one who is pursuing a career as an engineer, teacher, musician, artist, dancer, writer, scientist, actor, factory worker or something certainly more useful than that as a lawyer.
Background: The MR2 was introduced in the United States in 1985 as Toyota's response to General Motors' Fiero. Both cars were designed as "affordable two-seaters," primarily built for single buyers in their early twenties and thirties. Toyota got it right. GM got it wrong. The Fiero no longer exists. The 1991 MR2 -- which stands for "mid-engine, rear-drive, two-seater" -- represents a substantial improvement over Toyota's first model, and is selling well.
Complaints: There is nothing to complain about if you understand what you are buying when you're buying the MR2. It is a little sports car that rides close to the road, which means it is noisier than most cars. Also, because the car's tiny trunk is next to the engine, the trunk gets rather hot, which makes it undesirable for carrying ice cream or other frozen goods for more than a few blocks.
Praise: The MR2, quite simply, is one of the best, most reasonably priced two-seaters available anywhere. It's a splendid subcompact, long-distance runner for people who enjoy driving sports cars. Oh, and the car has a standard driver's-side air bag too.
Head-turning quotient: I could have charged admission for a look at this car. People went crazy over it.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Superior small-car ride, thanks to a four-wheel independent suspension system featuring McPherson struts. Handling is exceptional. The MR2, with six-inch wide wheels at the front and seven-inch wide wheels at the rear, zips into and out of curves with spine-tingling competence.
Acceleration is excellent. The test car was equipped with a two-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve, turbo-charged 200-horsepower engine. A 2.2-liter, four-cylinder, 130-horsepower engine is sold as standard equipment on less expensive MR2 models.
Sound system: Six speaker, AM/FM stereo radio and cassette. Toyota installed. Excellent.
Mileage: About 23 to the gallon (14.3-gallon tank, premium unleaded fuel, estimated 318-mile range on usable volume), running mostly highway and driver only.
Price: Base price on the tested MR2 Turbo with five-speed manual transmission is $19,128. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $16,163. Price as tested is $21,013, including $1,620 in options and a $265 destination charge.
Purse-strings note: It's a buy for people in the two-seater market. As usual, the options you choose determine the savings you lose.
Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.