New Car/Review

1999 Toyota Camry Solara SE V6 Coupe

by Carey Russ

Toyota Full Line factory footage (15:01) 28.8, 56k or 200k

The new Toyota Solara is a personal luxury coupe at a middle- class price. It is a very special vehicle for Toyota, designed in and made expressly for the North American marketplace. It differs from most other cars in its class in its emphasis on quiet, refined comfort rather than pure performance. According to Toyota spokesman and product launch manager Dave Bora, it is for "a lifestyle, not a life stage... a reward for freedom from previous commitments." If that sounds like Toyota is aiming at an older buyer than most sports coupes, it's true. It is meant to appeal to empty-nesters as much or more than young enthusiasts. The Solara has inherited much of its character from Toyota's upscale Lexus division.

Styled in Southern California, engineered in Michigan and Japan, and manufactured in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, the Solara has the highest level of North American influence of any Toyota ever built. Although based on the Camry platform, and sharing chassis, basic suspension design, and engines with the Camry sedans, the Solara and Camry sedan share no external body parts. And so there is no visible Camry badging, although the Solara is technically a Camry model.

To meet diverse customer needs, three trim levels, SE, SE V6, and SLE, are offered. The 2.2-liter, 135-horsepower four-cylinder engine in the SE and the 3.0-liter, 200-horsepower V6 in the SE V6 and SLE models are familiar from the Camry. In the SE grade, both engines may be had with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Befitting the near-luxury nature of the SLE, it is available only with the automatic. "The right product at the right price" was a design goal, and amenities such as power windows, mirrors, and door locks, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel and cruise control are standard on all Solaras. The SLE features leather upholstery and more luxury amenities that make it as well-appointed as many higher-priced luxury cars.

I just finished a week with what is expected to be the most popular model of Solara, an SE V6. Quiet, comfortable, and very near a Camry in interior and trunk room, it was very much a refuge-from- the-world personal luxury car even without leather and wood trim.

APPEARANCE: The Solara has the shape of a contemporary sports coupe, but is larger than the norm for the genre. There is absolutely no external clue to its Camry affinity, and little similarity to other Toyotas. The external styling was done at Toyota's Southern California CALTY styling facility by some of the same people responsible for the Lexus SC coupes, and, particularly from front or rear quarter views, the Solara looks very much like an updated SC400 in shape. It is edgier and more contemporary than the Lexus, with sharp creases giving character to the hood and fender lines. A curving pentagonal grille, bisected by a single bar holding the corporate logo and flanked by elongated headlights, is unlike that of any other Toyota. An indented, upward-sweeping shoulder line gives the Solara character. Although the Solara has a fastback appearance, for improved structural rigidity and noise reduction it has a separate trunk opening, not a hatch.

COMFORT: The Solara's interior design is very much like that of its cousin, the Lexus ES300. This is largely due to the center console extension in the instrument panel that, in style, is a near-copy of that in the ES. The two-tone, dark gray-over-cream interior color scheme is also very reminiscent of the ES300 interior. Woodgrain instead of real wood trim is one of the few differences. The spacious feeling imparted is no illusion, as the Solara has nearly as much interior space as a Camry. Coupe owners do need the back seat at times, and that in the Solara is useful. A six-foot two-inch friend fit perfectly well, much to his surprise. There was still plenty of legroom in the front. The SE trim level has cloth upholstery; leather is optional and standard on the SLE. Well-designed seats, good visibility, and interior quiet levels equal to a Lexus ES300 make the Solara a pleasant car for touring and a refuge from chaos in commuting. Good instrument and control design make it a driver's car.

SAFETY: Safety cage and crumple zone construction, dual front and optional front side airbags, three-point safety belts for all occupants, and daytime running lights are safety features of the 1999 Toyota Solara.

ROADABILITY: Much like a smaller edition of a Lexus Coupe, the Toyota Solara is a very civilized, comfortable touring car for the real world. Unlike most entries in the small coupe class, it isn't a narrowly- focused, hardcore sports coupe, nor was it meant to be. With or without the sport package, recalibrated fully-independent suspension, faster steering, and chassis modifications give the Solara a tighter, more sporting ride, better handling, and greater comfort than a Camry. It feels more refined than a Camry - high praise, indeed.

PERFORMANCE: The 3.0-liter, four cam, 24-valve V6 in the Solara is the familiar Camry engine, with 200 horsepower and 212 lb-ft of torque. For the Solara's purpose and personality, the four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission is perfect. The combination is smooth and quiet, with the engine note noticeable only under hard acceleration. It is plenty quick enough for any situation in the real world.

CONCLUSIONS: The quiet refinement of personal luxury is not only for the wealthy. See the new Toyota Solara for details.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 21,988
Price As Tested          $ 24,567
Engine Type              Aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 24-
                         valve V6
Engine Size              3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower               200 @ 5200
Torque (lb-ft)           214 @ 4400
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled
                         automatic
Wheelbase / Length       105.1 in. / 190.0 in.
Curb Weight              3265 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    16.2
Fuel Capacity            18.5  gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium, 91 octane
Tires                    P205/60 HR 16 Bridgestone Potenza
                         RE92
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                         independent dual link
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 28 / 23
0 to 60 mph                             7.5 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                        15.5 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)                   0.31

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Driver and passenger side-impact airbags     $    250
CA / MA / NY / CT emissions requirement      $     63
Deluxe 6-speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo    $    150
Sport Upgrade Package #3 - includes:
  8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, P205/60R16
  tires and 16" alloy wheels, rear spoiler with 
  integrated stop lamp, leather-wrapped
   steering wheel                            $  1,530
Carpet and cargo mat set                     $    166
Destination charge                           $    420

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