The small and light MR2 was something no one had expected from Toyota, known for their economical and practical family cars. The two-seat MR2 was definitely not practical as a family car and nor was it intended to be, having been designed instead with style and sport as priorities. The moniker 'Mid-engined Runabout, 2 Seater' was more than a marketing tool - it was the fundamental design philosophy. The folded angular lines evoked origami paper sculpture.
Other cars with a similar design concept including the Lancia Beta Montecarlo, Fiat X 1/9 and the exotic Lancia Stratos were all produced in the 70s. The most important features of the MR2 were its light body (as low as 2,095 lb (950 kg) in Japan and 2,350 lb (1066 kg) in the US), superior handling and lightly powered, small-displacement engine. The car is often referred to as the AW11, referring to the chassis code of the most common 1.6-litre, A-engined versions.
Some rumors have persisted that the MR2 was designed by Lotus. This is a reference to the Lotus M90 (a.k.a. the X100) project, but this was scrapped after a single prototype was built. This used the same engine and gearbox as the MR2. At the time, Toyota, along with the Chapman family was a major share holder in Lotus, but General Motors later acquired majority control. However, the MR2's suspension and handling were designed by Toyota with the help of Lotus engineer Roger Becker. Toyota's cooperation with Lotus during the prototype phase can be seen in the AW11, and it owes much to Lotus's legendary sports cars of the 1960s and 1970s.
Source: Wikipedia, 2011