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
These weren’t really on my radar back in ’99 but they are fairly handsome, better than the ones that replaced it which appear more garish and mis-shapen. Still, proven mechanicals, a decent amount of space and obviously good fit and finish made them a non uncommon sight and the to-be-released convertible seemed to sell fairly well too. Bummer about the wreck!
In 1999, I was greatly enjoying a low mileage ’89 LeBaron Coupe when this Solara came out. Have to say even though I’m a Mopar guy, that Solara was tempting. Thought then that the styling would hold well over time and while I don’t see as many of these as I used to, still think they look good in 2020.
The Oldsmobile 88 was replaced by the Intrigue.
The Cutlass Supreme was replaced by the Cutlass, a badge-engineered Chevy Malibu with leather interior. This was actually more egregious than the Cadillac Cimarron because GM was supposed to have “learned their lesson” by then. But old habits die hard. The Cutlass and Achieva were both replaced by the Alero, then the plug was pulled on the Oldsmobile division.
Pictured 1997-1998 Cutlass
The Cutlass (Malibu) was more of a replacement for the Cutlass Ciera which eventually saw the Alero take over that role. The Intrigue was more Cutlass Supreme sized, the 88 was larger.
The snowball at Oldsmobile all started because Buick did not want another generation of Rivera. Because of that, GM said that Oldsmobile couldn’t have another generation of “up-scale” Aurora. Nobody in the car media asked or answered the obvious (to my teenage mind) why can’t Oldsmobile bring back the Toronado as a Rivera replacement or why can’t the Eldorado move to this platform? Anyway, because of that, the following happened…
The true successor to the Eighty-Eight was supposed to be the Oldsmobile Antares. The car is known to us as the second generation Oldsmobile Aurora, after Oldsmobile re-engineered it mid-development to accommodate the Aurora V-8.
Because the Aurora was “downsized” into the Eighty Eight’s replacement, the Intrigue (in my eyes) became the de-facto 88.
When that happened, Oldsmobile said “oh my god, no Cutlass!” Looked around and found the 1997 “Motor Trend Car of the Year” Chevy Malibu. Oldsmobile said, “gee if we design a custom front and rear clip, plus leather interior, we can have “Car of the Year” too! They kept Achieva around for two more years as the “Cutlass Ciera” replacement then consolidated both Cutlass and Achieva into Alero in 1999.
The debacle is included in Wikipedia’s description of the Oldsmobile Aurora.
“Oldsmobile’s original intention for the second generation was to move the Aurora further upmarket, retaining its V8-only drivetrain and sharing a platform with the new Buick Riviera, as the original Aurora had done. This would have created more room within the Oldsmobile lineup for a four-door Eighty-Eight successor known as the “Antares”. However, Buick dropped its Riviera development plans and fiscal trouble found Oldsmobile, so Oldsmobile was forced to re-engineer the Antares into an acceptable Aurora in short time. Still using the G-body design, the re-engineered Aurora was the result, but retaining its 4.0 V8 Northstar still mounted to a 4T80-E.”
As far as “direct replacements” go, the Intrigue was the official replacement for the Cutlass Supreme, as it was based on the same platform and about the same size as the Grand Prix and Regal. The Aurora 3.5 was introduced alongside the Aurora 4.0 to fill the gap left by the 88/LSS.
The Malibu-based Cutlass, as Jim explained above, was Oldsmobile trying to keep those customers who were buying the Ciera, Oldsmobile’s departing, yet best selling, car. They weren’t proud of it, and John Rock, the head of Oldsmobile, famously announced not long after its introduction, “The Cutlass is the last Buick we’ll ever sell.”
“Because Buick said they weren’t going to split development costs with us, we were forced to by our managers sell (…checks notes) a Buick.”
– (paraphrase of “John Rock”)
…And with that the circular firing squad that was 1990’s General Motors commenced. Ten years later, Oldsmobile was dead, General Motors was Bankrupt, and Buick was popular only in China.
Even though the last of these were built in 2008 I still fantasize about buying the convertible version someday.
When I met my girlfriend 15 years ago, I was too broke for a car, but she had one of these. It drove exactly like a Camry with less interior space and about 900lbs more bracing to counteract the missing roof. On the plus side, we managed a few very interesting IKEA runs by shoving things into the interior then closing the power convertible roof.
We’ve now been married for 10 years and I can confidently say you didn’t miss a damn thing not driving a solara convertible.
As a pilot of a ’97 “Dramamine-inspired Camry sedan,” I’ve admired the Solara’s visual appeal and often contemplated trading up but hesitated when learning of the V6’s oil sludge problems which I understand has been rectified.
The legitimate Toyota fan I am, these were nothing like I hoped. I had a ‘95 Celica GT at the time, and a V6/stick coupe that is decently roomy just arrived?! I’ve got to check this out!
They drive exactly like what they are, a Camry. Solid, stable, sedate. I distinctly remember how much longer a throw the shifter required compared to my car. It was significantly faster, I’ll give it that, but it was most certainly not my cup of tea. The later Scion Tc was flawed in the same way; stereotypical Toyota with two doors deleted. The catch is this though. I’m older. These appeal so much more to me now than then. The irony..
Have you test-driven or purchased the new Supra, Lexus LC, or Lexus RC?
I think the only truly “affordable” PLC left is the Infiniti Q60.
Reply intended for “cjiguy”
I have driven the RC with the turbo four; it’s really nice but it’s smaller inside than my old Celica. The rear seat is a leather parcel shelf in reality, and it’s a total deal breaker for me. Same reason I couldn’t justify a Hyundai Genesis coupe about 7 years ago.
I would say the closest you’ll find today to an old-school PLC is the V6 Dodge Challenger with an automatic. It’s got the right size, accouterments, performance and price point. It’s just missing the bench seat and vinyl roof, but at least the latter can be remedied!
Agree 100%. However, Challengers are large cars to boot. You actually can fit four inside in a pinch, but that’s also because it’s about as large as an Explorer externally…
I loved the PLC growing up, my first car was a coupe, and I had coupes after but I finally heard the song of the crossover. We very rarely have rear seat passengers so having a rear hatch and 2 folded down seats gives us, like, 20 times more cargo area than a Challenger but it fits in the garage a lot better because it’s 3 feet shorter.
The Dodge Challenger is based on the same platform as the Chrysler 300 sedan and the 2000’s Mercedes E class sedan. The location of the wheels is fixed and the body was drawn around it. That’s why it is so much bigger than a Mustang or Camaro.
These are great, and the styling has aged amazingly well IMO. Still see a TON of these around, almost more than I remember seeing when they were new. My perfect Solara would be a V6 coupe with the dark cloth interior. Maybe a manual, although the automatic works just fine here. I had the same drivetrain in a ’96 ES300 (silky smooth 1MZ V6 and well matched and equally smooth Aisin 4spd auto). 209k miles when I sold it and it ran like new. Actually better than many new cars with their harsher shifts and lumpier DI idling engines.
My brother just serviced an ’01 Avalon with this same drivetrain, 380k miles. The owner’s previous Avalon with this same drivetrain met its maker (a tree fell on it) with 443k miles on the clock and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
It is a sharp looking car to me.
That’s all I got…
Wife had a ’98, base. She chose it b/c of its looks. As noted, they were fetching.
A really good car. I provided all the hands-on care, basically.She held it 10 yrs. We sold it to my brother, and it soldiered on as a DD (converted to NG) for another 7 or 8 yrs. Didn’t fail, just traded.
Thanks for the post, Adam. That was fun to recall.
The Solara was a very good quality car, but they should have put a sportier engine in it as a top line option. Honda took a similar route with the Accord, by separating the styling from the sedan. Perhaps they should have changed the name of the Accord Coupe to Prelude at the time. The Accord Coupe should have come with a Si option. People come in for the sports car and buy the lower models. Sports engines would have boosted sales of Accord Coupe and Solara and maybe they would still be around.
Put me down as one who doesn’t particularly care for the Solara, convertible or coupe. The problem is the conservative styling. It just screams (or maybe murmurs) “safe”. Pontiac’s slogan for a long time was “We Build Excitement”. With Toyota (and the Solara) it was like their slogan was “We Build Inoffensive”.
But at least they’ll last a long time.
I knew it was a 2 door Camry when it came out, but it was years later my wife had to tell me it was supposed to be a sporty car. I guess 2 doors is supposed to equate with sporty. The styling is so bland it looks like a bar of soap that’s been in the shower too long, I thought it was ugly when it came out and I think it’s ugly now. Toyota is successful and reliability is their selling point and they’ve done well with that. Occasionally something with a bit of performance, but it’s rare, short lived and it’s like they don’t even want to talk about it much.
There is a market and a need for appliance cars and this is just a 2 door appliance car.