Classic CARmentary: 1999 Toyota Camry Solara SE V6

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

As Toyota was giving the Solara a unique body with nice long hood/short deck proportions, I feel comparing it with the original Mustang is still valid.  The only problem was while the Mustang effectively invented the budget sporty coupe market, it was on life support by the time the Solara and the contemporary Accord Coupe were introduced.  The Mustang was now more sports car than sporty coupe.  The Thunderbird was gone.  The Cutlass Supreme, which was the best-selling PLC of the 1980s, was replaced by the sedan-only Intrigue.  There were still some nice coupes out there, but they were mere blips on the sales charts.  I admire Toyota for giving it the old college try.

And now I must admit that I only had a few days with the Solara.  While driving through Arlington on our way to I don’t remember where, I needed to make a left turn on a green light.  There were no cars coming the other way, and one car on the side of the road at a mailbox.  I accelerated a bit so I could complete the turn before the light changed.  However, at about the same time, the driver of the car at the mailbox finished his business and sped away to make the green light and slammed into my passenger-side front fender while I was mid-turn.

The police took their report, which found either both of us or neither of us at fault.  The company that handled press cars picked up the car, which was still drivable, the next day.  I received a call from their insurance adjuster shortly thereafter and told him my side of the story.  He told me not to worry about it, and I never heard anything again.  Even though the accident wasn’t necessarily my fault, I could have been more careful.  Between this and the incident with the Suburban, I was probably skating on thin ice, especially since I was working for a small magazine no one had ever heard of.  Fortunately, no one said anything and they kept giving me cars.

The below review was originally posted on January 11, 1999.

A good coupe needs uniqueness and pizzaz, as those that have nearly identical four-door counterparts rarely sell as well as dedicated coupes. For proof, just look at the sales figures for the bland 1965 Ford Falcon Futura Coupe (about 30,000) and flashy Mustang (about 500,000), which were identical underneath and worlds apart on top. Toyota learned this the hard way with the last Camry coupe, so with the Solara it’s trying the Mustang route.

If the name did not appear on the widow sticker, you’d be hard pressed to tell that this car has anything to do with the Dramamine-inspired Camry sedan. Offered in base, sporty SE, and luxury SLE trim, the wedge shaped, long hood, short deck Solara with its frameless door glass bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lexus SC. Inside is the same story, with a wholly unique interior that features smooth curves and a dramatic center console that seems to run to the top of the dash, with thin horizontal wood accents to add a touch of elegance.

Front occupants have it the best. Our SE had optional power leather seats that did a fine job of holding aggressive drivers in place. Toyota says there’s room for three in the rear, which is a stretch. Two people will be quite comfortable, though. There’s a large 14 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk as well as split/fold rear seats. Standard front airbags, Antilock brakes, and optional side airbags make this one of the safer coupes on the market, but traction control is not available.

A good coupe also needs a good engine, and the silky-smooth 200-horsepower, 3.0 liter V6 is the perfect match for the Solara’s sporty character. Acceleration is strong, even with the optional four-speed automatic. For those on a budget, a 135-horsepower, 2.2 liter four cylinder is standard. Toyota also beefed up the steering and suspension, giving the Solara superior handling while still retaining a smooth ride.

Toyota should have far more success with this Solara, but, surprise!, surprise!, its arch-rival, the Honda Accord, now also offers a unique coupe. Let the games begin!

For more information contact 1-800-GO-TOYOTA


Type: Two-door Coupe
Engine: 200-horsepower, 3.0 liter V6
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 20 city/28 highway
Tested Price: $25,168