Toyota Solara V6 SE

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Keywords: car reviews, automotive reviews, automotive news, toyota camry solara se sport

Description: Toyota's coupe gets distinctive styling with more power, luxury, and space, at a lower cost. Now that's progress.

Toyota's coupe gets distinctive styling with more power, luxury, and space, at a lower cost. Now that's progress.

The first Solara debuted in the fall of 1998 as a two-door companion to Toyota's ubiquitous Camry family sedan. My, how time flies. And look at how the original staid styling has aged since then. Clearly, it's time for a new Solara-one with updated looks, more space, and better performance.

Although the 2004 Solara still depends on the Camry for half its mechanical components, there is much new stuff under the exclusive, sweeping metal skin that promises the new car a destiny very different from its boxy sedan sibling. Instead of the 3.0-liter V-6 you find in cooking Camrys, the Solara features the 3.3-liter V-6 engine found in the Lexus RX330. This bumps maximum output from 198 horsepower to 225 and hoists the torque peak from 212 pound-feet to 240.

That's enough to propel the Solara SE Sport to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds (Toyota modestly claims 7.1) and on through the quarter in 15.4 seconds at 92 mph. The last Solara V-6 coupe we tested took 8.2 seconds to reach 60 mph, so the performance improvement seems substantial. Certainly, the driver's perception is of better throttle response, particularly in the midrange, when the larger engine answers the throttle with a deeper voice and stronger urge.

A new five-speed automatic harnesses the bigger V-6's efforts, providing the usual creamy shifts and jerk-free kickdown we've become accustomed to in Toyota and Lexus drivetrains, along with an intuitive manual override mechanism. A five-speed stick is available only in the four-cylinder model, which is powered by the familiar 2.4-liter VVT-i engine. The four-banger Solara is also offered with an optional four-speed automatic.

The engine is not the only thing that got bigger in the '04 Solara. The whole car grew. It's more than an inch longer and an inch taller and has a wheelbase stretched by two inches and more interior space than its predecessor. Toyota claims 3.5 more inches of legroom and almost an inch more headroom than its nearest competitor in this segment.

The Solara camouflages some of its size with a swooping wedge-shaped silhouette, but there is quite a bit of rear overhang, and the rear bumper is big. Still, most people won't care about that, especially if the car drives precisely and has well-damped body motions. The Solara SE Sport we tested certainly laid claim to both of those virtues, even with its sport-tuned suspension.

Although it may offer a little less involvement than some other cars, there's no deceit in the Solara's steering, no treachery from its chassis, no confusion in its drivetrain, and virtually no unnecessary clamor from any of the mechanical systems. So very much like a Lexus now, the super-stiff and well-insulated Solara body shell fends off so much noise and vibration that critics ought to be seeking what is not there instead of complaining about the scant sensory evidence at their disposal.

When stationary at idle, the Solara is extremely quiet. A slight touch at the pedal has it stepping off as silently as an electric vehicle. Yet the brawny V-6 makes satisfyingly deep noises at full throttle, producing an exhaust twang something like that of a BMW 330i. only a little quieter.

Inside this extremely well-equipped car is a new high-level dashboard-and-console treatment that seems in line with the latest trend away from a low-slung horizon. Perhaps it imparts a greater sense of security in these paranoid times, but the layout works well, and the instrumentation is very visible. There are three little turrets crowning the dashboard, each containing a small digital display. One houses a trip computer, one is a clock, and the third has an outside-temperature gauge and various warning lights.

Like the weird and nonsensical climate-control switches in Toyota's 4Runner. the pods reveal the company's occasional lapses into the illogical. Nobody's perfect, but if you're looking for a two-door indulgence now that the kids are out of college, and you want a pinch of extroverted styling plus a dash of refinement and a big slug of reliability, the Solara might be just about perfect for you.



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