15 Years Ago Today - TOYOTA SOLARA SE New Car Review: (1999)


PHOTO

By Matt/Bob Hagin

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

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 21,188
     Price As Tested                                    $ 25,204
     Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 183 cid/2995 cc
     Horsepower                                   200 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               214 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.1"/71.1"/190.0"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     3291 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                      205/65R15
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                 55-percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            21/28/25          
     0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.0 seconds @ 89.5 mph
     Top speed                                           130 mph

     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

(The new Toyota Solara coupe is aimed at "empty-nesters," says Matt Hagin. Bob Hagin says it's just right for "oldsters" who still want to double-date.)

BOB - When the Toyota Supra disappeared last year, it marked the end of the Toyota line of true fire-breathing sports cars - for now. The company still produces a "sporty" car of sorts and it's bound to be a heavy seller as Toyota hasn't made many marketing mistakes in recent memory. For a bunch of reasons, Toyota labels the new car Camry Solara since it's basically a Camry sedan with new skin and lots of special trim. The Solara is a coupe aimed at what the company terms "empty- nesters," or couples who have grown kids that are out on their own and don't need to be shuttled around by Mom and Dad. They're also inclined to view a somewhat "special' car like the Solara as a badge that proclaims that they're not sedentary and ready for the rocking chair. Toyota research has determined that there are 1.5 million Americans entering this demographic category every year and it plans to capitalize on those numbers.

MATT - And those empty-nesters weren't showing any interest in the old fire-breathing Supras. The hottest of them, the Twin Turbo, put out 320 horsepower and since climbing inside the car took a back seat to performance, it was quite a chore for old-timers like you and Mom to get in and out with any sort of grace. This new car is much more sporty than its sedan counterpart, though it isn't simply a Camry sedan with the back doors welded shut. The body style is unique because it's a true coupe in the vintage sense of the word, rather than a plebeian two-door sedan. The doors are longer than those on the four-door Camry so "seniors" can double-date with others of their ilk. Toyota claims that it was totally designed, engineered and manufactured in the U.S. Like the Camry sedan, it's front-wheel driven and there's no all-wheel drive system offered, even as an option.

BOB - The Solara sticks pretty close to its Camry sedan roots in that the basic platforms are identical, but there's a small amount of increased chassis stiffness in the form of an engine bay strut brace, as well as an additional cross brace in the back. It comes in two trim levels, SE and SLE. Our test car was the SE version and while ours came equipped with a 3.0 liter, 200-horsepower V6, it can also be had with a four-banger that puts out 135 horses. These are basically the same powertrains as those used in the Camry sedan, but with a slight power boost for each. Both Solara models can be had with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The suspension system has been tightened up a bit over the sedan with recalibrated shock absorber ratings and stiffer suspension bushings. Anti-lock brakes are standard on the V6-powered cars but like the Camry sedan, the four-cylinder version has anti-lock brakes as an option and uses drum brakes in back. On the V6 versions, discs are on all four wheels and ABS is standard.

MATT - There's a Solara model we didn't test. The SLE is a bit more upscale and only comes with the V6 and the automatic four-speed. And while the standard wheels on the Solara SE are 15" steel units with alloy wheels as an option, they're standard on the SLE and as an option the SLE can be has with 16-inch alloy wheels. The standard tires on both are somewhat on the small size and the Solara could do with bigger and more aggressive tires. And since Toyota is touting this car as a more civilized alternative to the traditional contemporary sports car, an automatic five-speed that could also be used in a manual mode would make the Solara even more sporting.

BOB - It looks like the Solara is spearheading a resurgence of true coupes in this country. When I first met your mother, I was driving a Studebaker Starlight coupe and it was a great deal more classy and attractive that its sibling two-door sedan. It's too bad I had to pull over all the time and re-fill the radiator.

MATT - Dad, she told us kids lots of romantic stories about you and that Studebaker. But she said it always ran out of gas.

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