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My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2)

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

Thank you very much for reading part 1 yesterday and for tuning into part 2. Today I will be talking about my experiences with owning my 2006 Toyota Solara SE for the past year. I will be discussing many different aspects of my car from interior and exterior styling to the performance of the vehicle. I will also be talking about my overall likes and dislikes about the vehicle. It may have taken me a while to warm up to the Solara, but to be fair I did have pretty fun car before the Solara.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

My previous car was a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am GT Coupe that I named Jenny. Being the GT model it was loaded with options. Power everything, sunroof, ABS, alloy wheels. The only thing it didn’t have was leather seats. The Grand Am was powered by a 3.4L V6 that made 175 horsepower and 205 lb/ft of torque. In my opinion it was a very stylish car as well, despite my brother always telling me only douches drove Grand Ams. I bought the car in May of 2014 and ended up selling it to my girlfriend after her car was totaled not long after I bought the Solara. We just sold it recently. It was a great car for my final weeks of high school and served me well for a majority of my college career. I made many memories and had a lot of fun redlining that iron block, 12 valve V6. It had enough power for me to have some fun with, but not too much that 17 year old me would have wrapped it around a tree.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

In September of 2017, my father called me about a family member that had just bought a new Honda Accord Coupe, and was looking to sell his old car. My Grand Am at this point was slowly deteriorating. It had 17 years of wear and tear on it, not to mention those crappy GM bearings. I had to replace the same bearing twice within two years so I was kind of sick of doing that. I knew that I could be having to drive long distance depending on what kind of internship I was able to find for next summer. All in all, I decided I better take a look at the car. I got the info on the make and model and began doing my research. I quickly found out that the Solara is basically just a two door Camry as well as other basic info. I even asked the CarThrottle community to see if anyone had any positive or negative experiences with one.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

I went out for a test drive and wasn’t too impressed by it at first. There was no doubting that it was better than my Grand Am in every practical way but it was slower than the Pontiac. I wasn’t too impressed with the styling either. I thought that it looked too round, like a giant bubble driving down the road. Another possible issue I thought I could have was the possibility of my head hitting the ceiling. I am over 6 feet tall and on the test drive, it felt like I could feel my hair hitting the ceiling. Despite my lukewarm reception to the car, there was no doubting that it was not only far superior to my car, but it was also more than fairly priced.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

It was hard to say goodbye to the Pontiac especially when it was being replaced with a car that had less power. It was the right thing to do though, and after a year of ownership, my attitude has turned around quite a bit. My Solara is a 2006 Coupe model in the SE trim. The SE was the base model trim and this is pretty much a base model Solara. The only additional options were a moonroof, carpet and cargo mats, and a spoiler. The previous owner also purchased some minor aftermarket modifications for it. The first was an aftermarket remote start system for those cold Wisconsin winters, and the second was a second set of rims for snow tires, also for the Wisconsin winters. When I bought the car, the summer tires were ready to be replaced but the winter tires were brand new. The aftermarket rims are also smaller than the stock rims (for a bigger tire profile for better performance in snow) so the winter tires have to stay on the tasteful aftermarket rims unfortunately.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog
The only picture I could find of my Solara on the winter rims and tires
The only picture I could find of my Solara on the winter rims and tires

While I was not impressed with the styling of the Solara initially, it has grown on me over time. A design that I originally found fat and bubbly, I now find very sleek and beautiful. Unfortunately it doesn’t help that silver is one of blandest colors you could get it in. I have seen models in red and black and both of those look absolutely gorgeous. Everything about the car was made to take the standard Camry, and give it just a little bit of extra spice. Everything looks more stylish from the cursive Solara on the trunk to the almost Impreza looking front bumper. There is no doubt that Toyota was able to successfully make the Solara look much prettier than the average Camry.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

Just like with the exterior, the interior of the Solara was meant to look much more stylish than the Camry of the time. The first thing you notice is just how modern everything still looks for its age. My Solara is a twelve year old car but if there was a infotainment screen in the middle of my dash, you would probably think it was a brand new car. While the materials don’t feel overly expensive, they still look great. You also get a digital display in the middle of the dashboard with info such as MPG, time, and outside temperature. “Solara” is also carved into the center of the dash just in case you forgot what kind of car you were driving. The only thing that the dash seems to missing is an AUX jack. The 2006 models were the last year to not come with an AUX jack.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

For a seamless look all the way down the dash to the center console, cup holders and storage compartments can be concealed away. The floor mats also have “Solara” stitched into them showing further attention to detail. While the heater takes a little longer to warm up when compared to the Grand Am, the air conditioning is far superior. The seats are also much more comfortable than the Grand Am although to be fair, it does have six less years of wear and tear on them. The seats have plenty of bolster and are highly adjustable. The front passenger seat also has one of the slickest methods for folding it down to access the rear seats. If you are already in the back, all you have to do is kick this little lever on the bottom of the front seat and it will recline and go forward. The trunk also has plenty of space inside. I have not had much of a problem with hitting my head like I was initially worried about. Overall, the interior of the Solara is a big upgrade when compared to the Grand Am.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

This Solara is powered by Toyota’s 2.4L 2AZ-FE I4 motor. This motor has been used in a variety of applications such as the Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Scion TC, and oddly enough, the Pontiac Vibe. In this application the I4 makes 157 horsepower and 162 lb/ft of torque. For you stats addicts that is 18 less horsepower and 38 less torques than the Grand Am and it is very noticeable. While the power is fine for what it is, it just isn’t enough to have some real fun with it. The engine is coupled to a five speed automatic transmission that is a lot smoother than that old GM four speed with overdrive. The tires are also smaller than the Grand Am’s. The Grand Am sat on tires that were 225 wide while the Solara rides on 215s. The result of this is noticeably more under-steer than the Grand Am. While the tires are smaller, the Toyota still feels a lot better to drive on the road. The Grand Am had its power steering turned all the way up so I got very little feedback from the wheel. The Toyota’s power steering feels a lot more balanced giving me more feedback both on the highway and on roads around town.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

On the road the Solara is great to daily, but not satisfying to take to the limits. The lack of horse power provides for a comfortable but underwhelming ride. While four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing does make the 2.4L I4 fun in the higher revs, it just doesn’t have the torque pull that the Pontiac had. The suspension is still in good shape given its age which makes for an overall comfortable ride. The highway is where the Solara really shines though. This summer I had to spend about 20 minutes on hwy 41 everyday between home and my internship. The Solara got up to speed fine and once it got into fifth gear, it would sit a great cruising speed. When I had to overtake a car, the Solara was able to pull quick enough to make the maneuvers I wanted it to. Additionally the suspension seems to soften at the higher speeds. The Solara felt right at home eating mile after highway mile right at 77 MPH.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

Overall there are many other things that I love about my Solara, especially when compared to the Grand Am. Fuel economy is one of the big pluses. The I4 from the Toyota is a lot less thirsty than that cam in block V6. This summer when I was cruising on the highway I think I was averaging between 31 and 33 miles per gallon which is about what Toyota said I should expect. The Solara also has good blind spot visibility for a coupe. Anyone who has ever owned a coupe knows the struggle of trying to see their blind spots out of their tiny back windows. Because the back windows of the Solara are in a long swooping shape, I can see a fair amount out of them. The final thing I really like is the door size. My old Grand Am had doors the size of aircraft carriers so everytime I parked somewhat close to someone, I had to be really careful not to door ding them. I don’t have that issue so much now. While the doors are still bigger than a standard sedan, they don’t swing out as far when I get out.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

For all the pros of the Solara, it does have its faults. The biggest one is the lack of performance. I am aware that this wasn’t meant to be a serious sports car, but I would expect a bit more for a car that is as stylish as this one. The biggest complaint I have about the performance is the stupid electronic throttle. This car has made me absolutely hate electronic throttles and makes me yearn for the days of the old throttle by wire like the Pontiac had. When I put my foot to floor in Jenny she knew right away to downshift and put me into the powerband. With the Solara and it’s electronic throttle, I’ll put my foot to the floor and it’s 1… 2… 3… now we are moving forward.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

The other thing I don’t like are the massive A-pillars. I know that modern cars need giant A-pillars in order to meet safety standards but honestly sometimes I feel like I have a blind spot between my windshield and my driver side window. I also said earlier how I am not a big fan of the silver paint. It would definitely look a lot nicer in red or white. My final grievance is the name itself. While I have no problems with the Solara name, it just seems like no one knows the heck to pronounce it, even Toyota. In my time doing my research for this, I have heard two different annunciations of the name from Toyota commercials and three different ways total (Soe-Lay-Ra, Soe-La-Ra, Soe-Low-Ra). I used to use the first one but after writing this, I seem to use the first two interchangeably.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

Overall, I am very happy with my decision to upgrade cars even though it may not be as flashy as the Pontiac. The Solara is a great car to have especially if you want a Toyota Camry without the stigma of having to tell people you drive a Camry. I may have not been a big fan during my initial test drive, but I have grown to really like the car. While it is definitely not the car I aspire to drive for the rest of my life, the money I will save driving this car will just be put into whatever fun car I get down the road.

Toyota - My Toyota Solara: Stylish on the Outside, Comfortable on the Inside, Yet Very Underwhelming to Drive. (Part 2 of 2) - Blog

Thank you very much for reading all the way to the end and if you haven’t checked out yesterdays post about the history of the Solara, I encourage you to do that. The car you see in this final image is my girlfriends car that I have been teasing here and there. Yes it is a Chrysler PT Cruiser but you see it is more than what it appears. This is the PT Cruiser GT Turbo, yes turbo. This has the same basic motor out of a Dodge Neon SRT-4 so it’s kind of a cool car. I am hoping to do a review of this similar to what I did with the Solara sometime down the road. As always let me know your opinions on anything I could do to improve my posts and thanks again for reading.