MONTEREY, Calif. — For more than a decade now, Toyota has provided the Camry as an answer to most people’s day-to-day needs. Now the Camry Solara coupe arrives as the company's solution for those who don’t need the back seat but seek personal freedom in comfort. Its expressive styling is sporty with a touch of elegance. Fun-to-drive power and performance is complemented by luxury, comfort and convenience.
The re-emergence of upscale coupes on the market is a good indicator that car designers believe many parents are going to be tired of that van or sport-utility when the kids are gone. Coupes like Solara will allow folks the freedom, fun and style that they may have forsaken during their child-rearing and career-developing years.
Solara is aimed at buyers who are nostalgic for the sports cars of their youth but want more room and comfort. It benefits from the highest level of American influence of any Toyota vehicle, given the fact it takes full advantage of Toyota's North American engineering, styling and manufacturing facilities.
North American coupe
Solara was engineered by Toyota jointly in Japan and at the company's Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was styled at Toyota's CALTY Design Center in Newport Beach, Calif., and is built at Toyota's plant in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.
Now Toyota’s West Virginia plant will make 360,000 automatic transmissions per year for North American-built Camrys. The transmission has been the final high-dollar component still imported for Toyota's No.1 selling car. TMMWV will begin producing four-cylinder engines this fall. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to add V-6 engine production. Toyota was the last of the major Japanese automakers to move engine and transmission production to this continent.
Solara is powered by either an inline-four or V-6 engine mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed electronically controlled transmission. The V-6 delivers good fuel economy, with an estimated EPA city/highway mileage of 21/28 with the manual. This follows the welcome trend back to manual transmissions for sporty vehicles.
1999 Toyota Camry Solara
Although the Solara coupe and Camry sedan are built on essentially identical platforms, there is a noticeable difference in how these two vehicles ride, handle and steer. Toyota engineers began by creating a stiffer overall body structure by cross-bracing the front strut towers and substantially reinforcing the rear bulkhead. Shock and spring rates were increased, and suspension mounts were stiffened. The net effect is more balance and control when high-speed cornering.
Rigid and safe
Solara features a highly rigid cabin, which contributes to occupant safety. The car combines a heavily reinforced passenger compartment with front and rear crumple zones designed to absorb and diffuse impact. Side airbags are offered as optional equipment on all Solaras, while traction control is offered as an option only on the SLE grade.
Toyota’s rigid unibody construction creates a safe structure that provides protection from the outside world. A key goal was to isolate passengers from noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) generated by wind, engine and road sounds. Solara prototype interiors were found to exceed the noise-damping effectiveness of anything in its class — performing on a par with the Lexus ES 300.
Solaras are equipped with standard 15-inch wheels and tires. For those looking for a little bit more in the way of control and handling, Solara’s "Sport Package" includes 16-inch wheels and tires; a perforated, leather-wrapped steering wheel; a tighter, more controlled level of suspension tuning; and a rear spoiler to set it apart visually. The package is offered only with the V-6 engine.
Toyota has never been noted for its bold styling, but Solara is quite appealing and distinctive, yet in an understated way. It uses many cues that can be found in the upscale Lexus models, such as the tastefully done rear spoiler.
Flush with features
Standard equipment on the SE models includes power windows, door locks and mirrors; air conditioning; tilt steering wheel; cruise control; wood-grain style trim; fog lamps; and dual-illuminated vanity mirrors. Options include eight-way power adjustable driver's seat; moonroof; JBL premium three-in-one ETR/Cassette/CD audio system with eight speakers (in six locations) and FM diversity antenna; alloy wheels; and leather-trimmed interior.
Top-of-the-line SLE models have a perforated, leather-trimmed interior with eight-way power adjustable driver's seat; alloy wheels; keyless entry security system with an engine immobilizer; automatic climate control with an outside temperature gauge; heated side-view mirrors; three-function HomeLink® electronic remote-control system; and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
As for cost, we think buyers will be impressed with the car’s price range: $18,638 to $29,000.
In nearly every interior dimension, Solara is the equal of the Camry sedan, most notably in the rear seat. Rarely have we encountered a rear seat this comfortable. Wide doors provide easy access to the rear compartment. Its dash layout offers a sweeping view and ready access to all gauges and controls. Special care has been taken to enhance visibility at the possible expense of bolder styling. Heat-absorbing glass better protects passengers from sunburn, reduces the fading of interior components, and assists the effectiveness of the air-conditioning system. Add all this to a large trunk and Solara is ready for weekday chores and weekend delights.