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By Jim Flammang
May 20, 2003
Vehicle Overview After earning a modest face-lift for the 2002 model year, Toyotas Camry-derived midsize coupe and convertible are strictly carryovers for the 2003 season. Last years appearance revisions in the Camry Solara included the addition of daytime running lights with an off switch, the availability of a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and a fresh front fascia with restyled features in the grille, bumper and headlights.
Designed in California and sportier in style than the previous-generation Camry sedan on which they are based, the Camry Solara coupe and convertible use the same front-wheel-drive chassis and engines; the automaker gears the twin Solaras toward middle-age baby boomers. Both body styles come in SE and SLE trim levels, but only the SE coupe may be fitted with the four-cylinder engine.
Softer lines give the Camry Solara more flamboyant styling and a more intense personality. Relatively small headlights surround a more prominent grille, and a toothy air intake stands out below the front bumper. Toyota refers to the grille as aggressive and notes that it is complemented by fog lamps and four-bulb headlights. Convertible models have a power top with a glass rear window. The SE edition features 15-inch wheel covers, and the SLE gets 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and mudguards.
The rear seats in the Camry Solara are tighter than those in the regular Camry sedan, so getting in and out is difficult. The front passenger seat lacks a slide-forward feature, but a split, folding backseat is standard.
Each SE model has cloth upholstery, air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, CD and cassette players, and power windows, door locks and mirrors. The SLE edition adds perforated-leather upholstery, an eight-way power drivers seat, automatic climate control, remote keyless entry and heated mirrors. Trunk capacity is 13.8 cubic feet in the coupe but only 8.8 cubic feet in the convertible.
Under the Hood
A 157-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in the SE, and a 3.0-liter V-6 rated at 198 hp comes standard in the SLE and as an option in the SE. Both engines can mate with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission in the Camry Solara coupe. The convertible models are equipped with the automatic gearbox only.
Antilock brakes are standard on V-6-equipped models and offered as an optional feature on the four-cylinder SE. Side-impact airbags are also optional.
Toyotas two-door models are underrated by some, but they have a lot to offer even if their prices arent the lowest. The Camry Solara is smoothly shaped and rich in appearance. Its performance is similar to that of the regular Camry, and acceleration with the V-6 engine is about as smooth as it gets.
The Camry Solaras suspension is taut, but it deals competently with pavement imperfections to yield a beautiful ride. The coupe and convertible handle with proficiency, perform ably on the highway and remain pleasantly close to flat through curves. Headroom in the front seats is less than abundant, and backseat passengers are likely to bump their heads on the rear window, but the seats are comfortable and supportive.
Both Camry Solara models are suave and refined, and they are augmented by Toyotas reputation for high resale value and reliability. Either model could be a satisfying car to own.