A modest face-lift for 2002 is evident on Toyotas Camry-derived midsize two-door coupe and convertible. Appearance revisions include a fresh front fascia with a restyled grille, bumper and headlights. Daytime running lights have been installed, with an off switch. A new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is available, but the V-6 is unchanged. A new Appearance Package is offered for the SE coupe.
Designed in California and sportier in style than the previous-generation Camry sedan, the twin Solaras use the same front-drive chassis and engines, targeting middle-age baby boomers. For the younger crowd, Toyota focuses on the smaller Celica sport coupe.
Introduced for 1999, the Solara coupe is a two-door spin-off of the Camry sedan; a convertible joined the original coupe in the spring of 2000. Both come in SE and SLE trims, and the SLE is offered only with a V-6 engine.
Softer lines give the Solara more flamboyant styling and a more intense personality than the Camry on which it was based. Relatively small headlights surround a more prominent grille, with a toothy air intake standing out below the front bumper. Toyota refers to the 2002 grille as aggressive, noting that it is complemented by fog lamps and four-bulb headlights.
Both body styles ride a 105.1-inch wheelbase and measure 71.1 inches wide and 191.5 inches long overall. The coupe is 54.3 inches high, while the convertible stands 55.5 inches tall. Trunk capacity is 13.8 cubic feet in the sedan vs. a more modest 8.8 cubic feet for the convertible.
The convertible has a standard power top with a glass rear window. The SE features restyled 15-inch wheel covers, while the SLE gets different 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and front and rear mudguards.
A lot of the Solaras interior design has its roots in the Camry. But in the transition to two-door form, some space was lost. The rear seats, for instance, are tighter than those in the Camry sedan, and getting in and out is tough because occupants must squeeze past the front seats. The front passenger seat lacks the slide-forward feature that is found on many two-door coupes.
For 2002, additional wood trim surrounds the gearshift lever. The SE model has air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, CD and cassette players, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The SLE edition adds perforated-leather upholstery, automatic climate control, a remote keyless entry system, heated mirrors, and other comfort and convenience features. Options include a 200-watt JBL premium cassette/CD stereo, heated front seats and a power moonroof. Convertibles may be equipped with a 300-watt JBL sound system that incorporates automatic equalization.
Under the Hood
A new 157-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in the SE, and a 3.0-liter V-6 rated at 200 hp comes standard in the SLE and as an option in the SE. Both engines can mate with either a five-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission in the Solara coupe. All convertible versions come with the automatic gearbox only.
Antilock brakes are standard on V-6 models but optional on the four-cylinder SE. Side-impact airbags are optional on all Solaras.
Underrated by some, Toyotas two-door models have a lot to offer, even though their prices arent the lowest. The Solara is smoothly shaped and rich in appearance, so it defies the criticism of Toyota products as lackluster in design. Performance is similar to that of the Camry, and acceleration with the V-6 engine is about as smooth as it gets.
The Solaras suspension is taut, but it deals competently with pavement imperfection to yield a beautiful ride, whether youre out on the highway or driving in the city. The coupe and convertible handle with proficiency, perform stably on the highway and remain pleasantly close to flat through curves. Its no sports car, but the Solara might just satisfy all but the most ardent precision-minded drivers.
Headroom in the front seats is less than abundant, and backseat passengers are likely to bump their heads on the rear window. The seats are both comfortable and supportive.
Convertibles arent common in the midsize field. Other than the Chrysler Sebring, which has become the class leader partly by virtue of its longevity, the soft-top Solara has little competition. Suave and refined, and augmented by Toyotas reputation for high resale value and reliability, either Solara body style could be a satisfying car to own and drive regularly.