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Toyota Camry outsells other midsize cars in America largely because of Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability. Camry is the perfect transportation appliance, flawlessly performing its duties, never annoying its owner. Its soft suspension smoothes out beat-up city streets. The interior is ergonomically excellent, with big climate and audio knobs that are easy to adjust, and the seats are comfortable.
For 2005, Toyota has freshened the Camry's appearance, bolstered performance for four-cylinder models with a sophisticated new five-speed automatic transmission, and made anti-lock brakes standard at all trim levels. Electronic Vehicle Stability Control, which greatly increases safety, is now available on four-cylinder as well as V6 models. At the same time, Toyota has added a new entry-level Camry sedan that drops the price of entry by $1,000.
Drivers who want little more pizzazz than the Camry sedan, Toyota offers the Camry Solara. Available in coupe and convertible versions, the two-door Solara is built on the same platform as the Camry sedan, promising the same quality, durability and reliability.
The Solara coupe implies a sportier lifestyle while featuring the practicality of a truly useful rear seat. The Solara convertible puts the wind in your hair and brings a ray of sunshine into your life. Both add style to your lifestyle without the cost and impracticality of a true sports car. Both are high-quality cars. If you want two doors and a swoopy look, Camry Solara is a safe, smart choice. The Solara coupe and convertible were all-new last year (the convertible appeared only in February), and continue into 2005 unchanged.
Choose a Camry sedan, Solara coupe or convertible, and you'll have a smooth, quiet car that should offer years of reliable service.
The 2005 Toyota Camry sedan comes in four trim levels: base, LE, SE, and XLE.
A 160-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard on Camry, LE and SE models; a five-speed manual transmission is standard, the new five-speed automatic transmission is optional ($830).
LE is available with a 210-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 ($2,405) rated at 210 horsepower; the V6 comes with the automatic transmission, included in the option price. XLE is available with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder or the 3.0-liter V6, both with automatic transmission only. SE is available with a newer 3.3-liter V6 rated at 225 horsepower ($2,820), which comes with the five-speed automatic.
The base sedan ($18,045) comes with air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, mirrors and locks; six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo; a 60/40 split rear seat; ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD); and P205/65R15 all-season tires on 15-inch steel wheels.
Upgrading to the LE ($19,145) adds interior brightwork, upgraded cloth upholstery, power driver's seat, remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, driver-information center and a full-size spare tire. The LE V6 ($22,260) also gets 15-inch aluminum wheels.
Camry SE ($19,975) is a sportier model, with higher-rate springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars, along with higher-effort steering and bigger (16-inch) steel wheels and P215/60 summer-only tires. A three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and lots of bright trim add zing to the interior. The SE V6 ($23,625) adds the engine immobilizer, 17-inch aluminum wheels, and power sunroof.
The XLE ($22,395) is the most luxurious Camry, featuring wood-grain interior trim, power driver and passenger seats, automatic climate control, side-curtain airbags, JBL premium stereo with in-dash six-CD changer, a more advanced driver information center, an alarm system with engine immobilizer, a cargo net, a rear-window sunshade, and P215/60 all-season tires on 16-inch steel rims. The XLE V6 ($25,405) comes with leather seats and fancier gauges and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The Camry Solara coupe comes in SE, SE Sport, and SLE trim levels. All coupes are available with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder or the 3.3-liter V6. Automatic transmission is standard on all except the four-cylinder SE and SE Sport, which are available with a five-speed manual. Four-cylinder Solaras still use the old four-speed automatic rather than the new five-speed automatic.
The Solara convertible comes only in SE and SLE trim, and only with a V6 and automatic transmission.
The Solara SE coupe ($19,220) is the base level in the two-door lineup and comes standard with ABS; side-impact airbags; P215/60 all-season tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels; air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry; and AM/FM/CD audio. The SE V6 coupe ($21,550) is similarly equipped. Side curtain airbags are optional.
The Solara SE Sport coupe ($20,715) comes with sport-tuned suspension and P215/55R17 all-season tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels; it also gets aggressive exterior appliques; and substitutes Graphite and Charcoal trim for a lot of the SE's interior brightwork. Solara SE Sport V6 ($23,045) is similarly equipped.
The Solara SLE ($23,095) is the most luxurious model with automatic climate control, power moonroof, JBL stereo with six-disc CD changer, power seats and woodgrain interior trim. Choose the SLE V6 ($26,095) and you also get leather seats and the same sport suspension and performance tires as the SE Sport.
Solara SE V6 convertible ($25,950) comes with the SE Sport's dark interior trim and 17-inch wheels, but is otherwise equipped much like the SE V6 coupe. The SLE V6 convertible ($29,450) is equipped the same as the SLE V6 coupe.
Leather upholstery is optional for the Camry SE and XLE sedans and Solara SLE coupe ($1,365-$1,630). A DVD-based Navigation Package, which includes leather upholstery, is optional on the Camry SE
Overall, the Toyota Camry is a solid-looking car, stylish yet conservatively so. The Camry presents a sculptured appearance, with slightly flared wheel arches and a distinct dual crease line in the hood, the latter leading nicely into the grille. To some extent its smooth lines camouflage its height; the current Camry stands 2 inches taller than pre-2002 models.
The 2005 Camry gets a new grille and new headlamps that give it a bolder appearance than before up front. Out back, new taillights feature trendy circular lighting elements. On sporty SE models, the grille is blacked out.
Like the sedan, the Solara looks rounder and more massive than the previous-generation model, and it is in fact larger. Solara shares the sedan's 107-inch wheelbase, but is 3.3 inches longer overall than the Camry, measuring 192.5 inches from bumper to bumper.
The Solara coupe looks like a stylized version of the sedan. It's a more adventurous design. The roofline is sleeker and the rear is totally different from the Camry sedan's, reminding us of the Lexus SC 430. The arc-shaped theme features a continuous line from the front bumper, over the roof, and down to the rear bumper. Just below the beltline, a character line flows in a gentle S-curve from the teardrop headlamps to the teardrop taillights. The Solara looks aerodynamically efficient, and it is, with a drag coefficient of just 0.29 Cd, making it slip through the air much more easily than the previous Solara, good for wind noise, gas mileage, and speed. The outside door handles are easy to grab, much better than lever-style handles.
Toyota says the convertible's body structure was designed from the ground up for topless motoring, unlike the previous-generation convertible, which was adapted from the then-current coupe. The current Solara offers improved torsional rigidity over the previous model, which translates into a more solid feel and a quieter ride. The Solara was designed and engineered in the U.S. and is built in the U.S.
The Toyota Camry has a comfortable interior with controls that are straightforward and easy to operate. Everything is laid out simply. Optional power-adjustable pedals help shorter drivers find a safer, more comfortable driving position, moving the pedals closer to them and permitting them to move farther from the airbag-armed steering wheel.
Radio and climate controls are mounted high in the center of the dash for easy access. Three big knobs mounted prominently in the center of the dashboard are used to manually control heating, ventilation, and air conditioning on base, SE and LE models. XLE models get automatic climate controls with a smooth tactile feel that reminds us of Lexus, which set the modern standard. The stereo uses big tuning and volume knobs and big buttons that make it easy to operate, whether scanning for radio stations or moving between songs on a CD. We found the audio quality on the available JBL sound system a bit lacking, however.
We found the optional navigation system easy to use, easier than system on expensive European cars, and it recalculates quickly.
The instruments are located in a relatively small pod directly in front of the steering wheel, with a large half-moon tachometer and matching speedometer. The fuel and temperature gauges are located within the two larger instruments. Lights and windshield wiper/washer controls are on stalks on the steering column, leaving the left lower edge of the dash free of switches.
The Camry dashboard is relatively plain, with no large curved surfaces, and it is set relatively high. The dash blends nicely into the door panels, but the cover for the passenger-side air bag is noticeable as the seams show clearly. Many other manufacturers have made the passenger-side air bag invisible.
A wide center console separates the two front bucket seats and contains useful storage areas. The parking brake on the base and LE is located in the center console, whereas the SE and XLE get foot-operated parking brakes.
Rear-seat passengers will find the Camry's accommodations quite pleasant for a mid-size sedan. The rear seat splits 60/40, allowing long objects to pass through from the trunk, although the opening is small. The trunk itself is a decent size and shape. Gooseneck hinges steal some space, but are hidden under a cover, reducing the chance that they will damage trunk contents as the lid is closed.
The Solara adds a dash of panache with a sweeping console that invokes the intimate atmosphere of a sporty coupe. The seats are relatively flat, which makes sliding in and out easy, but we'd prefer a little more side support. The cloth is nice, though it's a bit bland. But the faux wood in the 2005 Solara convertible we tested looked like plastic and some of the silver reflective material on the lower center stack was too reflective for our taste.
In sharp contrast to the sedan's flat dash, the Solara's shapely instrument panel suggests separate nacelles for driver and passenger, giving it more of a cockpit feel. Instrumentation is divided into three pods, with a five-function trip computer sharing the left pod with the tachometer. A futuristic, multi-function display dominates the bulging center stack. The separate HVAC (heater) controls are easy to operate. On V6 models, a gated shifter for the automatic transmission allows manual gear selection.
The rear seats are surprisingly roomy, though less so than in the Camry sedan. Compared to the Honda Accord coupe, the Solara provides significantly more rear-seat hip room (50.3 inches vs. 46.1) and leg room (35.4 vs. 31.9) and a bit more headroom. The convertible is roomy as well. With the top up, there's actually 2 inches more rear-seat headroom than in the coupe. (And with the top down, there's lots more headroom.)
The Solara coupe can carry a tad more luggage than the Accord coupe, 13.8 cubic feet vs. 12.8. And the rear seats fold down to reveal a big pass-through.
Toyota knows how to build a quiet car with a comfortable ride. Toyota's Lexus division has excelled in this area and this expertise has worked its way into the Camry. Engines are quiet, with an innovative mounting system that further reduces vibration. Stiff body structures and asphalt sheet insulation ensure that even when the four-cylinder engine is driven hard, engine noise is subdued.
The Camry is an easy car to drive. There is nothing untoward or strange about it. It does everything just right. An enthusiast driver might complain that it's soft and lacks character, but for the average driver that's a plus. They can buy a Camry then turn their attention back to other, more important matters that don't involve automobiles.
The Camry's ride is pleasant, verging on luxurious, with enough cushioning to make passengers feel comfortable. The steering is light but not sloppy. The Camry's soft suspension tuning makes for a smooth, impact-free ride on bumpy pavement. Those who like sportier, more precise handling will notice that the different suspension setup and tires on the SE sedan do make the Camry feel crisper, though it's still not a sports sedan.
The Solara is sprung softly as well. The suspension filters bumps and noise yet it doesn't isolate the driver from valuable road feel. Still, Solara is no sports car, either. It corners fairly flat, but the tires start squealing when it's driven hard. Most Solara drivers will never experience this.
Camry's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has 16 valves and double overhead camshafts; it develops 160 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 163 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. More than two-thirds of all Camrys are sold with the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. This is an inexpensive combination and it provides plenty of power.
Optional in the Camry LE sedan and XLE sedan is a 3.0-liter V6 that develops 210 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 220 pound-feet at 4400. The 3.3-liter V6 that's optional in the SE sedan, and in all Solaras, produces 225 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 240 pound-feet at 3600 rpm. The most important of these numbers is the lower engine speed where peak torque is developed; the higher torque at lower rpm means the 3.3-liter engine will be a more flexible engine that's more responsive in any given situation.
You'd never know from driving the car, but the gas pedal is a drive-by-wire affair: Instead of being connected to the engine by a cable, the pedal activates a sensor connected to a computer, just like the controls in modern aircraft. One advantage of this arrangement is that the optional Vehicle Skid Control system can take over the throttle in an emergency and apply just the right amount of throttle and braking to keep the vehicle on a more stable path. Formula 1 racing cars, the fastest cars in the world, use drive-by-wire.
Last year, Toyota introduced its new five-speed automatic, called 5ECTi (for Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence), on Camry V6 models. For 2005, four-cylinder Camry sedans get the more sophisticated five-speed automatic as well. Five-speed automatics generally offer better response and better fuel economy than four-speed automatics, because more gears mean the engine runs closer to maximum efficiency more of the time. Toyota's transmission adds computer logic: The Camry "knows" when it is going up hill or down hill, and the transmission shifts gears accordingly. It can hold a lower gear longer when necessary to avoid the annoying shifting up and down that occurs in some automatics. Though it offers a manual-shift feature, we found it best to leave it in Drive as its performance is a bit mushy.
All three Camry engines are equipped with Toyota's VVT-i system (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) for optimum power and efficiency and lower emissions. All are cast from lightweight aluminum, and all achieve an ultra-low ULEV II emissions rating.
The Toyota Camry is the ultimate transportation appliance. It's a safe buy, a good vehicle to recommend to your friends. It pleases many buyers by offending none. It is in many ways an unremarkable car. But it is remarkable for its lack of identifiable flaws. It does not have the sporty personality of a Nissan Altima, but it's much more refined. It will transport its occupants from A to B and back without drama, or any worries about reliability, year in and year out. It's comfortable, smooth and quiet. Its controls are easy to operate. You never have to try to figure out how to work something.
The Solara puts all the benefits of the Camry in sporty coupe and convertible models. Solara has a genuinely useful back seat and a good-sized trunk. The convertible offers the freedom of being able to drop the top. And there's a lot to be said for warm summer nights under the stars, without any worries about reliability.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reports from Los Angeles, with John Rettie in Santa Barbara, California.