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.
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. On sporty SE models, the grille is blacked out.
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, by permitting them to move the pedals closer to them and sit 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 and it recalculates quickly. It's available as a stand-alone option for 2006 and we recommend getting it.
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 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 reve
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.
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2008 Toyota Camry Solara$10,999 | 135,955 mi
2008 Toyota Camry Solara$15,985 | 72,900 mi
2007 Toyota Camry Solara$12,888 | 83,602 mi
2007 Toyota Camry Solara$16,988 | 36,006 mi
2007 Toyota Camry Solara$18,985 | 57,886 mi
2006 Toyota Camry Solara$10,999 | 119,255 mi
2006 Toyota Camry Solara$11,977 | 85,297 mi
2006 Toyota Camry Solara$15,613 | 32,587 mi
2006 Toyota Camry Solara$16,991 | 68,771 mi
2005 Toyota Camry Solara$13,997 | 68,427 mi
2004 Toyota Camry Solara$6,988 | no mileage
2004 Toyota Camry Solara$8,991 | 86,039 mi
2003 Toyota Camry Solara$3,551 | 201,690 mi
2002 Toyota Camry Solara$6,271 | 182,553 mi
2001 Toyota Camry Solara$7,995 | 141,641 mi
1999 Toyota Camry Solara$4,499 | 159,361 mi