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Toyota Camry outsells all the other midsize cars largely because of Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability. The 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 2006, the Camry soldiers on virtually unchanged. (An all-new Camry is being launched for model year 2007.)
The two-door Solara comes in coupe and convertible versions. Built on the same platform as the Camry sedan, the Solara offers high levels of quality, durability and reliability. The Solara coupe features the practicality of a truly useful rear seat and adds style to your lifestyle without the cost and impracticality of a true sports car. The Solara convertible puts the wind in your hair and brings a ray of sunshine into your life. Both are high-quality cars. If you want two doors and a swoopy look, Camry Solara is a safe, smart choice.
For 2006, a five-speed automatic comes with the available four-cylinder engine. As before, the Solara is also available with a V6 engine. The 2006 Solara SE and SE Sport models come standard with power driver's lumbar support.
Choose a Camry sedan, Solara coupe, or Solara convertible, and you'll have a smooth, quiet car that should offer years of reliable service.
The Toyota Camry is quiet and comfortable. The engines are quiet and the car has been engineered to keep noise and vibration out of the cabin.
The Camry is an easy car to drive. There is nothing untoward or strange about it. It does everything just right. The 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 Camry SE make the handling feel crisper, though this is 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, the Solara is no sports car, either. It corners fairly flat, but the tires start squealing when it's driven hard. For most people, this is not an issue.
Camry's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has 16 valves and double overhead camshafts; it develops 154 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 160 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. More than two-thirds of all Camry models are sold with the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. This is an inexpensive combination and it provides plenty of power.
The 3.0-liter V6 optional for the Camry LE sedan and XLE sedan develops 190 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 197 pound-feet at 4400. The 3.3-liter V6 optional for the SE sedan and all Solaras produces 210 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 220 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.
The Camry and Solara offer sophisticated five-speed automatics for all engine options. 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. Four-cylinder models sold in California produce only 145 horsepower, but meet Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) standards.
The Solara convertible is not as quiet as the other models, of course. Its soft top lets in noise, especially from the rear. Road noise, engine noise, even bicyclists talking to each other could be heard when the top up. Though Toyota claims the convertible's chassis is rigid, we found the level of refinement a bit disappointing. The convertible shudders a bit over potholes, generating cowl shake (the dash shakes).
The 2006 Toyota Camry pleases many buyers and offends none. It is remarkable for its lack of identifiable flaws. It's quiet, comfortable and refined. It's reliable. Its controls are easy to operate. The Solara coupe has a genuinely useful back seat and a good-sized trunk. The Solara convertible offers the freedom of being able to drop the top. Both offer top levels of quality, durability and reliability.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed the original report and is based in Santa Barbara, California.