My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 1 of 2)
The car in the image above is MY car, and as the title suggests, this will be a review on my opinion of it. This is my 2006 Toyota Solara SE. I have owned it for about a year now and after a year of ownership it is time share my experience. This will be a two part post with part two being released tomorrow. Part one will focus on the history and background of the Solara while part two will be on my opinions of the car as well as what it is like to own on a day to day basis. The Toyota Solara is basically a two door Camry that Toyota sold to the American market and advertised it as a more stylish and sportier coupe.
The Toyota Solara technically started its life in 1994 as the Camry Coupe. While Toyota may have been producing the Supra with their exquisite 2JZ motor at the time, it was Honda that had the NSX and was using its popularity to boost sales with their regular cars. They did this by building crazy performance versions to act as loss leaders in order to sell more base models. As a result, two door Civics and Accords were selling well in America at this time which caused Toyota to think they could get a piece of the action. Toyota unveiled the Camry Coupe with no clear sales or marketing strategy. They were pretty much banking on the people wanting to buy a two door Camry, which they quickly realized no one wanted to do. The Camry stood for practicality and comfort, two things you typically don’t associate with coupes. Really all you got when you bought a Camry Coupe, was a Camry that was more challenging to access the rear seats. The Camry Coupe was quickly discontinued in 1996 but, Toyota went back to the drawing board determined to make a two door Camry that people wanted to buy.
Toyota was able to figure out that the reason the Camry Coupe failed was because there was nothing to differentiate the two door from the standard Camry. Honda may have had performance models for their Accords, but Toyota decided that they wanted to go a different route. Instead of making their two door faster, they decided to make it more lavish and fun. While the new two door Camry still shared the same platform as its four door brother, the body was completely redesigned. It became sleeker and more stylish. The name was gone too. While at first it was marketed as the Camry Solara, Toyota decided later on to distance the Camry portion of the name in order to remove the Solara from the stigma of the Camry. The inside was redesigned too. The new interior was meant to look more modern without having to increase the cost of the materials which would have increased the price point. Toyota also decided that the new model could also use a boost in performance. The Solaras motors were tuned to squeeze a few more horses from them and the suspension was modified in order to be more fun in the twisties.
The Solara Coupe hit the market in 1998 for the 1999 model year to a lukewarm reception. However, this was not the Solaras ultimate form. The largest change from the Camry Coupe was about to manifest as the convertible model. This was the biggest selling point of the new Solara. While there were plenty of other convertibles on the market at this time, none of the ones with Japanese reliability were affordable. The only option consumers had was the Honda Del Sol which had no rear seats. The Del Sol was meant to be the fun car for the weekend while the Solara was meant to be something you could also use as your daily.
Toyota updated the Solara for the 2004 model year and it was given the new Camry platform that began for the 2002 model year. Like its Camry brother, the new Solara was much larger than the previous model. The things that made the Solara great in the previous models were carried over to the new model. The interior looked much more modern and flashy than its four door counterpart and the styling was changed drastically. It kept the sleek lines of the previous generation and adopted it for the larger bodystyle. The convertible model returned and was again the go to for affordable convertible ownership. The sporty suspension was gone for base models but new sport models did offer re-tuned suspension.
For the first generation Solara, Toyota marketed it as an extension of the Camry lineup. The commercial above features not only the Solara coupe and convertible, but also the standard Camry. This goes away with time as Toyota attempts to move the Solara more upmarket.
While the Solara was still priced the same as the Camry, Toyota attempted to distance the Solara Camry from the suburban stigma that followed it. Commercials feature good looking individuals driving the Solara with style in different environments. Late in its life, Toyota began to market the Solara towards women in an attempt to boost sales. This was necessary given that after 2006, sales started to slump.
The reason that sales began to slump in 2007 was very simple. A new Camry had debuted on a new platform and the base models for a new Camry and a Solara were the same price. Why would anyone want to pay the same for a car that was less practical and was running on an older platform. Additionally, the new Camry’s interior had improved and was now on par with the Solara in the styling department. This wasn’t the only problem the Solara had throughout its time on the market. The convertible models were consistently criticized for rattling and not feeling structurally sound. Toyota admitted that on the first generation, there was no additional structural supports on the convertible when compared to the coupe. While Toyota did change this for the 2nd generation, many still criticized the convertibles for rattling. However, this was not the largest flaw of the Solara. The biggest flaw was that they just didn’t feel that sporty. The top of the line models were about 50% more expensive than the base models and for that price all you got was a V6 with just over 200 horsepower. While both generations featured tweaks to make the Solaras more performance oriented than the normal Camry, critics determined that it just wasn’t enough to make the car feel more sporty. To top things off, the new Mustang debuted in 2005 and GT convertible models were priced competitively with the convertible V6 Solaras.
All of these faults eventually led to the end of the Solara. With sales beginning to slow, Toyota announced that after the 2008 model year, the Solara coupe would be discontinued while the convertible models would soldier on. With the American economy beginning its downward spiral in fall of 2008, production for the convertible was suspended at the end of that year in an attempt to cut costs. It was rumored that production would resume if demand was high enough. Of course, very few people were looking for new cars in 2009 and in June, Toyota announced that production would not resume effectively axing the Solara completely. The Solara was still available in dealerships until 2010 due to an excess of inventory on hand. The Solara was also the last convertible to be sold under the Toyota brand.
The Solara was Toyota’s attempt to build a practical yet fun sports car. Unfortunately, the Solara was none of these things. It was lacking two extra doors and did not have a spec of performance to backup all that stylish driving in the ads. The Solara may have not been a big money maker for Toyota, but it definitely was a cool way to spice up the traditional Camry. For all the faults of the Solara convertible, many critics still selected it as their go to for affordable convertibles at the time, and why wouldn’t they. The Solara still had Camry reliability and performance in a more stylish package. The Toyota Solara is a car that may eventually fade into history, but many owners will long remember the fun in the sun they had in this affordable, and reliable coupe.
As always thank you very much for reading all the way through. Keep an eye out for part 2 coming out tomorrow and please let me know your opinions on today’s post and tomorrows as well. I would really like to write another one of these down the road about my girlfriends car. Hers is a lot cooler than my Solara too. Either way, hope to see you tomorrow for part 2.