The Toyota Camry is one of the best-selling sedans in America. The coupe and convertible versions of this car carry the Solara badge and unique styling. But while the Camry moved onto a new-generation platform for the 2002 model year, the Solara carries over on the previous platform.
However, the Solara coupe and convertible do get a facelift for 2002, with a new grille, front bumper, headlamps and tail lamps. A new four-cylinder engine for 2002 delivers significantly more power over last year without sacrificing fuel economy or emissions.
Overall, the Solara is smooth and quiet. Its optional V6 delivers strong torque for good acceleration performance. It's comfortable, with terrific seats, and the top is easy to operate.
The Toyota Solara is smooth and quiet and it rides nicely. It isn't a sports car, but feels competent on winding roads.
The optional V6 engine is so smooth at idle that the driver feels almost no vibration through the steering wheel, seats or floorboard. The only hint that the car is running comes as a faint resonance in the gas pedal. Pick up steam and that silky smooth quality remains. At freeway pace, there's little wind noise in the Solara's cabin even on the windiest days. As you'd expect, the convertible model is a bit noisier inside with the top up than the coupe.
Full steam in a Solara V6 comes in short order. With healthy torque, the V6 delivers a steady flow of acceleration. The four-speed automatic, which most Solara buyers will choose, takes full advantage of that power. Downshifts are as immediate as a jab at the gas pedal, and passing maneuvers are a breeze. Off the line, a Solara V6 automatic coupe manages 0-60 mph acceleration runs in the low 7-second range, making it one of the quickest cars in its class. The 3.0-liter V6 generates 200 horsepower at 5300 rpm and 214 pounds-feet of torque at 4400 rpm.
An all-new twin-cam 16-valve 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing comes on the base models. Power has been increased by 22 horsepower (to 157 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 162 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm). Yet it still boasts an EPA city/highway rating of 24/33 mpg (which drops slightly with an automatic and a convertible).
When the road changes direction sharply and frequently, the Solara bears up well. The steering is less numb than that in the Camry sedan. It's more progressive in the effort required by the driver, a little bit sharper, and quick enough to keep up with rapid direction changes.
But the Solara is not a sports car. It's basic handling characteristic is understeer, a pushing at the front of the car the helps keep drivers without racing experience from getting in over their heads as they make turns. It has more body roll, or lean through the corners, than a sports car. But it is well controlled as the car's weight shifts from side. Solara is competent on all kinds of roads, and its supple ride keeps driver and passengers comfortable in all circumstances.
For entertainment value, the manual transmission gives Solara an edge on competitors. The five-speed adds another level of driver involvement, and it quickens acceleration performance and improves fuel economy by 1 mpg.
We're not enamored of Solara's optional traction-control system, however. Traction control works by limiting engine power when the drive wheels slip, and the Solara's system might be useful in climates where slippery conditions are a constant problem. Yet managing power in a front-wheel-drive automobile is less demanding than in a rear-drive car to begin with. And the Solara's system is so aggressive that it turns the car into a turtle in conditions that aren't that difficult. It's safe, mind you, just not very sporting. Fortunately, a switch allows the driver to turn it off when it's not needed.
Does Solara have that intangible quality enthusiast drivers call personality? That's a hard thing to define. Certainly, it doesn't have the spirited performance of favorites like BMW's 3 Series cars. On the other hand, compared to some of the vanilla-flavored cars from staid Toyota, the Solara has personality. It doesn't beg to be driven like a racecar, but it doesn't wilt under pressure, either.
Solara can get the blood pumping fast enough to more than satisfy most drivers. The Honda Accord coupe, Solara's most obvious competitor, has slightly more responsive steering, yet it doesn't feel as substantial as the Solara. And compared to the Chrysler Sebring coupe or convertible, or just about any car in the class, the Solara is smoother and quieter.
The Solara convertible's top operation is very simple. To lower the top, lower the sun visors, release two latches near the top corners of the
The Toyota Solara is well executed. It's solid, roomy and reasonably fun to drive. It offers buyers the benefits of the Toyota Camry (smooth, powerful engines, quiet interiors, and rock-solid dependability) in a slick, two-door body style.
Opting for a Solara SE with the 200-horsepower V6 and available five-speed manual transmission gives the car a sporty edge. Or, the Solara can be ordered as a full-blown luxury coupe with leather upholstery, a concert hall sound system, and automatic climate control. Or, it can be a convertible, delivering top-down, fun in the sun.
Either way, the Solara delivers a blend of comfort, style and reliability that is tough to beat. With Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability, the Solara is a compelling alternative to expensive cars such as the Acura 3.2 CL, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, and Volvo C70. Anyone seeking the mix of looks, performance and practicality that defines a good coupe or convertible may want to have the Toyota Solara on their shopping list.