Last post on Jan 12, 2004 at 6:39 AM
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Toyota, Toyota Camry Solara, Coupe, Convertible
#658 of 672 Solara is a cute car?
Dec 23, 2003 (8:39 am)
Cute is a word I rarely apply to motor vehicles, but I'm making an exception in the case of the 2004 Toyota Camry Solara.
This second generation of the Solara coupe is cuter than the first ... and the first was pretty cute. ''Ruggedly handsome'' just does not work with this car, especially when the tested model is coated in paint called ''Absolutely Red.''
''Redder-Than-Red'' or ''Blindingly Red'' would have worked, too. The tester all but screamed for attention, accentuated by a saucy new design with a V-shaped grille and an aerodynamic, bumper-to-bumper arc.
Style is important for Solara. Since 1999, the car has been entrenched among Top 10 lists of passenger models preferred by female buyers. The sleeker look for 2004 should do nothing to drop Solara off those lists.
The arc shape raised Solara's roofline by nearly 2 inches compared with the first generation, and Toyota's engineers stretched the new Solara's wheelbase by nearly the same amount. The realignment translates to improved room, which was much needed in the rear seats. Adult legs no longer press up against the front seats.
The power plant also has been upgraded. The tested SLE, the top Solara model among three trim levels offered, came with a 3.3-liter V-6 with variable valve timing technology and 225 horsepower. That's a big step up from the 3-liter, 198-horsepower V-6 in the previous SLE.
The Solara's new engine provided brisk acceleration, with the electronically controlled, five-speed automatic transmission working the shifts smoothly. The gearbox also allows for clutchless manual shifting.
Four-cylinder Solaras can be had with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic, and the base Solara SE with a manual is a genuine bargain with a starting price of $19,120.
In truth, the Solara SLE's performance was most impressive once the engine revs were up. The SLE whipped around traffic on surface streets and area freeways like a champ. It sawed off sharp surface-street corners with sports car-like crispness; kudos to Toyota engineers who designed the car's sport-tuned suspension (independent front and rear).
The Solara's redesigned interior likewise radiated sportiness. A center-mounted gauge display is sharp-looking and easy to read -- especially with illuminated pointers on the gauges. Chrome and woodgrain accents were attractively sprinkled and not overdone.
The impressive list of standard features included a power moonroof and a sweet-sounding JBL premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and eight speakers.
With a new generation come new challenges. Primary among them was an automatic climate-control system on the tested SLE that was consistently about five degrees off in both warming and cooling modes. And recurring warnings from the tire-pressure monitoring system were exceedingly annoying because that jarring exclamation point in the message center always makes the heart skip a couple of beats.
Trips to nearby gas stations showed that the tires were up to Toyota specifications. Cold weather start-ups were the likely cause of the tire-pressure warnings -- one reason that I have serious reservations about good-intentioned, but sometimes-deceiving, tire-pressure monitoring systems.
One other gripe: A large adult needs to do some serious bending and grunting to semi-gracefully slip into or out of the back seat area. In fairness, that's a universal problem native to most midsize coupes. And making the car bigger only makes it more expensive.
Overall, the latest Solara is a positive step in the evolutionary process. Probably the most important thing Toyota could do with the car was make it distinct ... that is something more than a two-door version of a Camry sedan.
Along that line, the automaker did a good job, producing a stylish, agile, two-door passenger model that makes Solara resemble more of a high-spirited, chance-taking cousin than a bland Camry knockoff.
Dec 23, 2003 (3:08 pm)
i personally do not use the "auto" mode any way so i really don't care...
#660 of 672 Gas mileage anyone?
Dec 24, 2003 (11:57 am)
I have been getting somewhere between 16 and 18 mpg in combined city / highway driving. I have not been on any long trips to be able to check highway only mileage, but this seems a bit low to me. I shrugged it off at first, thinking that I had been a little too happy with the gas pedal when I first got the car, but even when I am careful, the mileage is still in the big SUV territory. Anyone else getting this kind of mileage? I am wondering if the pull left /alignment issue is hurting mileage.
Dec 24, 2003 (12:11 pm)
I have a 2002 SE 4 cyl and get 32-34 on the highway at 75 mph. Have not checked city, stop and go mileage
Dec 26, 2003 (7:26 am)
My car is an 04 V6 SLE. I would expect the 4 cyl to get better mileage, but all the reviews have been pretty glowing about what the V6 has been rated for. Am trying to figure out if I have a problem or if reviews / EPA is so much fantasy.
#664 of 672 Is the solara's seat bottom longer?
Dec 27, 2003 (3:07 pm)
I am comparing it to camry. If it is longer, would it fit into the camry? I wish they have the same seat rails since I find the camry's seat to be short and doesn't have enough thigh support. I remember sitting into a solara and elt more comfortable with good thigh support, but I need four doors. Toyota please listen up. Why is it so hard to have a long seat bottom like the prevous generation camry, or the current maxima, galant, mazda6, passat? I hope it's not one of the cost cutting measures.
Jan 07, 2004 (10:48 am)
Anyone have any information on the navigation system that comes as an option on the Solara. We have a Magellan portable system in our other car, and I was wondering if it was worth it to get the standard system in the solara or just to go with a magellan system. Is the solara's system CD based? How is the coverage?
Jan 08, 2004 (12:48 pm)
Any recent car Navigation will be superior than the hand held one. For one, all latest Nav using DVD to cover 48 states. Hand held one use flash memory or compact flash card with up to a state's map and destinations. Some metro area like L.A. take full of the memory. Some larger portable model using CD-Rom which need to replce when travel to a new area. Maybe there are newest models adopting DVD but performance and user friendness can't come close to the better design car NAV. About a year ago, CR did portable NAV testing. The results show none is on par of the system form Japanese and Germany brands. The big three are mixed but they are improving the software and should catch up very soon.
Some reviews have reported the NAV saying is quite good considering its lower price and performance. If I remember right, they claim the NAV system is not as good as those in Lexus and Acura, but better than those in european brands. You can get some idea when test drive. Ask your dealer to find one with NAV for test drive. Then you can play with it to see how easy to use and the precision compared side by side with your portable one.
Jan 08, 2004 (2:29 pm)
The in car DVD based maps are best, but are generally $1300 to $2000 or more. One hidden cost is that you usually are required to buy some other options before you can order the navigation, so the real cost is even higher if you weren't going to get the other options anyway.
In the last year, hand held units have improved. They do not have all the shortcomings you listed, but still are not as nice as a DVD based system.
I can load the maps of CA, Nevada and Oregon on a 256MB SD card on a PDA and have room to spare with some PDA based systems. I can load the entire US on the hard drive of a laptop based system using Routis 2004. If I want to go "cross country" I will fly, not drive, so the PDA system works fine for me.
The GPS software and hardware cost about $200, so it is super cheap if you already own a laptop or newer PDA. If you have to buy a PDA or laptop for the sole purpose of using it for nav and have no need for the portability, then just get the built-in system.