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2005 Car Review: Camry Solara SE Coupe

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MODEL: 2005 Camry Solara SE Coupe
ENGINE: 2.4-liter DOHC four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 157 hp @ 5,600 rpm/162 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 107.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 192.6 x 71.5 x 56.1 in.
TIRES: P215/55R17
TRUNK: 13.8 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway/27.7 mpg test
PRICE: $22,944

There's a strong physical resemblance between the Toyota Solara Coupe and the Lexus SC430. Both are sleek two-door vehicles with tiny rear spoilers.

The difference is that the Solara is a coupe all the time and the SC can become a convertible. The Solara has a four-cylinder engine and a manual transmission, while the Lexus has a V8 and automatic. The Lexus is rear-wheel drive, the Toyota front-wheel drive. The Lexus has leather seats, the Toyota cloth. The Lexus is priced at more than twice the price of the Toyota.

Coming straight from the Lexus, I was concerned about the drop in power. It wasn't bad. The 2.4-liter four pumps out 157 horsepower and is connected to a five-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels. I believe the transmission is the difference as it's possible to extract maximum performance from the engine by using the gears properly. I felt the engine was slightly noisy, but not objectionably so. I also just came out of the Lexus, which was tomb quiet.

The transmission was a joy to work with. The gears were well-chosen for the task. The shifter itself was conveniently placed and there was no hunting for the gears, as is the case with some cars. You always know where you are.

Handling was excellent. The suspension was compliant so that it handled the curves with minimal lean and still didn't jar your kidneys when the road got rough. It was a comfortable car to drive and ride in.

The Solara is built on the Camry platform, so there are quite a few similarities. Oddly, the coupe rides on a longer wheelbase than the sedan and is longer overall. This translates to excellent legroom front and rear. The front seats were comfortable and offered good side support. The rear seats had excellent leg room for a coupe and rivaled many sedans. Rear seat passengers had individual cupholders on the sides as well as a small cubby hole for odds and ends.

Often, rear seat passengers can get strangled by the front seat shoulder belt trying to enter the car. In the Solara, there is a support arm the "presents" the belt to the front passenger. It folds downward making it easier for passengers to enter the rear.

The driver faces a standard instrument panel with the four standard gauges in white numbers on a black background. The top of the dash is "leathered" to reduce glare that reflects off the windshield. There are three pods in the top center of the dash with digital instruments for fuel economy, a clock and outside temperature.

The center stack contains the audio system (AM/FM/6 CD changer/Cassette) and the HVAC system. Controls were dials, not digital. There was also a large two-level storage area in the center console with a 12-volt outlet. The center stack had its own large cubbyhole with a 12-volt outlet.

Under the hood you can see everything because there's no large cover to the engine. All the fillers and dipsticks are in clear view. The hood also has a strut to keep it up so there's no searching for the metal rod support.

Another advantage of the long wheelbase and overall length is a large trunk for a coupe. It's listed at 13.8 cubic feet and is capable of holding three to four golf bags.

The Solara coupe offers consumers all the sleek styling of the Lexus SC at a fraction of the price. True, you aren't going to get the great performance, but you may actually have more fun driving it.

The Solara coupe comes with a sticker price of $22,944. The base price is $20,715, to which are added a power tilt/slide moonroof ($900), a JBL sound system ($630) and a carpet/cargo mat set ($184). Delivery added another $515 to reach the bottom line.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate