When I was growing up, I spent way too much time reading Batman comic books. But I found the villain Two-Face to be among the most fascinating. After all, Two Face's actions in life would be decided by a flip of the coin. This great bit of comic book trivia came to mind as I was driving the all-new 2004 Toyota Camry Solara. After all, the Camry Solara's sexy new body has a side view that looks like a more mature version of the Toyota Celica, a back that recalls the elegant Lexus SC 430 and a front that looks like a sportier Camry. But when you plop yourself behind the wheel of the Camry Solara, a different personality comes to light. While this car may be the sportiest Camry ever, it is still a Camry at heart. That's good or bad, depending on which side of the coin your personality lands. The Camry Solara's wheelbase has been lengthened two inches, with overall length coming in one inch longer than the previous model. The car is also slightly taller and wider than the outgoing model, though you'd hardly notice. In addition, the base car, the SE, gets larger 16-inch tires, replacing the old 15-inchers. Also included is a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, power windows with driver's side express up and down, power door locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD audio system with steering wheel-mounted audio controls and two 12-volt power outlets. Choose a step up to the mid-level SE Sport and a body kit with a sportier interior is yours. The top of the line SLE 4-cylinder uses luxury as its theme, adding automatic climate control, power driver's seat, power moonroof, heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, JBL sound system with 6-CD changer, garage door opener, security system. Opt for the SLE V6 and Toyota adds a leather interior, heated seats and 17-inch alloy wheels. With all this accent on sportiness, you'd think the Camry Solara would be a hoot to drive. But the only excitement you'll find is the car's ability to totally insulate you from the world and its worries. This sucker is QUIET. No wind noise. No road noise. No tire noise. Even the fan is quiet. The engine is a distant growl. This is serene luxury. Than try tossing it into a corner. The front-wheel-drive Camry Solara understeers predictably. You can get the car to really hustle through corners, but it's reluctant to do so. On the other hand, there's little reluctance in the power department The standard engine is a 2.4-liter double-overhead-cam four-cylinder that produces 157 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque. It can be had with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. For 2004, the Camry Solara's V-6 is larger, now displacing 3.3 liters and rated at 225 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque. The V-6 is mated exclusively to Toyota's new 5-speed sequential automatic transmission. The transmission can be left in full automatic mode, or can be shifted sequentially, similar to a manual transmission. Toyota provided an SE with a V-6, which proved to be a lively combination. Shifts were smooth and barely felt. Braking was good, despite a soft pedal. There are disc brakes at all four corners and anti-lock is standard on all models. Steering was numb. The front cloth seats were comfortable. The rear seats were comfortable and roomier than you might expect. They fold down to allow long items to be carried. The trunk seemed larger than its rating suggests and was nicely trimmed. Toyota boxes in the trunk lid's hinges so that they don't crush cargo, a nice touch. The interior was exceptionally well-assembled and the interior had an upscale look that belied its price. Part of this could be due to the brushed metallic accents. While it seems that Toyota has thought of everything, the part they missed was a coin holder, there wasn't one. This is an odd oversight. While the driving experience wasn't as memorable as the car's comfort, the price seemed very reasonable. Base price for a four-cylinder Solara is $19,190, $245 less than a 2003. Base price on an SE six-cylinder is just $21,450, $1,035 less than the outgoing model. Even the top model, the SLE V-6, starts at $25,995. Not bad. While sportiness may be more a promise than a reality, the Camry Solara still delivers good assembly, a comfortable interior and solid value. Two-Face would approve.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||June 26, 2003|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||July 24, 2004|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||June 6, 2004|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||May 5, 2004|
|Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||January 21, 2004|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||January 11, 2004|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||September 28, 2003|
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