2004 Toyota Camry Solara
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Despite its rakish new styling, the redesigned Toyota Camry Solara remains much more of a refined touring coupe than a genuine sports model.
That's not a bad thing because many folks want a racy-looking car that is more comfortable being driven casually than one that itches to be pushed hard.
In fact, the 2004 Solara in top-line SLE V6 trim has the looks and refinement to be a decent substitute for the $60,000-plus Lexus SC 430 coupe.
The 2003 Solara came as a coupe and convertible, but the new model is offered only as a coupe. Look for a convertible version next spring.
The Solara comes as the base SE, new SE Sport and top-line SLE V6. Prices range from $19,120 for the 4-cylinder SE with a 5-speed manual gearbox to $25,995 for the SLE V6 with a 5-speed automatic transmission.
A sophisticated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 157 horsepower is carried over. It provides acceptable performance but can't compare with the smooth new 3.3-liter V6, which provides 225 horsepower. The V6 replaces a smaller 198-horsepower V6 and also powers the 2004 Lexus RX 330 sport-utility vehicle.
Decent Fuel Economy
The 4-cylinder engine comes with a 5-speed manual gearbox or 4-speed automatic transmission. The V6 is offered only with a 5-speed automatic with a nifty manual-shift feature.
Only energetic kids will find it easy to get in and out of the back seat, although anyone entering or leaving that area will find front seatbelts in their face.
However, new seatbelt extension arms make it easier for front occupants to reach and engage their belts.
The new $1,350 navigation system has a 6.5-inch screen that is among the largest on the market.
The hood is held open by a hydraulic strut, not an awkward prop rod. Struts are more suited for the trunk lid. Here's betting that most Toyota owners rarely lift the hood.
Steering is precise, and the car won't be too upset if you zip through curves at faster-than-normal speeds—thanks partly to a revised suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars.
The supple suspension soaks up bumps and delivers a smooth ride. The brake pedal is easily modulated, and stopping distances are short. The SLE V6 can be had with a $650 stability control system, although it must be ordered with $400 side-curtain airbags—a curious requirement.
Driver-Oriented SE Sport
The SLE V6 seems to be the most appropriate Solara. Its items include a leather interior, automatic climate control, power driver's seat and premium audio system with a 6-disc, in-dash CD changer.
Front-seat side airbags and a low-pressure tire warning monitor are among the safety equipment.
The new Solara should do well. It's reasonably priced and offers a lot for the money in the growing market for upscale autos.