2004 Toyota Camry Solara


2004 Toyota Camry Solara

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Re-done Solara scores high as racy looking, refined coupe.
  • Stylish
  • Fast with V-6
  • Good ride and handling
  • Long, heavy doors
  • Difficult rear entry and exit
  • Manual trunk lid hinges

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.

Broader Market
Toyota hopes the new front-wheel-drive Solara will broaden the market for the car, which is based on the Camry sedan. Its wheelbase is up 2 inches to 107.1 inches and overall length has grown one inch to 192.5 inches. Height has increased nearly 2 inches.

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 Solara is fairly economical. Miles per gallon with the 4-cylinder is in the low 20s in the city and low 30s on highways. The V6, which calls for premium fuel, provides an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 28 on highways.

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.

More Space
The larger exterior dimensions allow more space in the quieter interior, which easily can handle four 6-footers. However, there isn't much rear-seat head room to spare for tall occupants, and the rear styling cramps a driver's over-the-shoulder visibility.

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.

Upscale Interior
The cockpit has a definite upscale look, and front bucket seats provide excellent support in curves. Gauges can be quickly read in the restyled instrument panel, and audio and climate system controls are almost oversized—making it easier for a driver to work them when underway.

The new $1,350 navigation system has a 6.5-inch screen that is among the largest on the market.

Long Doors
Long, heavy doors can make it virtually impossible to get in or out in tight parking spots. The large trunk has a low, wide opening, but its lid has old-fashioned manual hinges. The cargo area can be enlarged by flipping the rear seatbacks forward.

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.

While the Solara basically remains a cruiser, it is decidedly sportier than its predecessor. It has agile handling, which is enhanced by larger 16- or 17-inch tires, depending on the model.

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 SE Sport is the most driver-oriented Solara. It has a slightly firmer suspension, 17-inch tires on aluminum wheels, unique lower body styling, dark-charcoal interior with sport gauges and leather-trimmed steering wheel.

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.

Nicely Equipped
Solaras are nicely equipped with comfort and convenience items. Among standard features are a tilt-telescoping wheel, cruise control, an AM/FM/CD sound system, remote keyless entry and power locks and windows. Major options include a $900 power sunroof for all but the SLE, which has that item as standard equipment.

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.


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BB04 - 9/19/2014 3:21:17 AM