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A Road Test
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of the Solara

2004 Toyota Solara Road Test

By Michele Brooke
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $19,000 - $26,000 Mid Size 5 Passenger Coupe
Who should buy this car: A person looking for a flashy looking coupe that is reliable and comfortable
Comparable models in this class: Chrysler Sebring Coupe, Dodge Stratus Coupe, Honda Accord Coupe, Pontiac Grand Am Coupe

Redesigned and sunny as ever

Named after the suns radiance, the Solara is part of one of the best-selling sedan families in America: the Toyota Camry.   Staying true to an old adage, this apple doesnt fall far from the tree.  Consumers can expect the same quality and performance as they do from the typical Camry, however the Solara is presented in a more youthful, gregarious package.  Its designed for the individual who likes the reliability of the Camry, but who longs for more of a performance car. At the same time, theyre not willing (or able) to give up room and comfort in exchange for a true sports car.  Thats where the Camry Solara comes in.

Think of the Solara as that kid in school that always made the honor roll yet he could party with the best of them on the weekends.  The Solara has the appearance of being laid back, but when you get past its easy-going faade its all business.

New and improved
Virtually unchanged since its introduction in 1999, the 2004 Camry Solara was due for a major redesign. You see, every five years or so, automotive engineers go back to the blueprints. They take a long look at a vehicle to see where it could use some enhancement, often overhauling every component, including the engine, body and cabin. For the second-generation Camry Solara the designers went all out creating new models, sportier performance, a roomier interior and enhanced safety features.

Seeing triplets
The Solara is now available in three trim levels: the base SE, the athletic SE Sport and the more refined SLE. Decked out with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, power windows with driver-side up/down, power door locks, 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry and steering wheel audio controls, the SE starts the bidding at $19,220.

The SE Sport model ($21,130) is fairly similar on the inside; however, it offers enhanced performance with a sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Kick things up a notch with the leader of this trio, the SLE. Here, youll find automatic climate control, power seats with lumbar, sunroof, heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming interior lighting, 6-disc in-dash CD changer, HomeLink garage door opener and security system with engine immobilizer. Interested consumers should expect to start the negotiating around $23,510, but expect the price to rise by as much as five grand once you start adding on some of the more luxurious features, such as leather and heated seats.

The lead foot factor
Our favorite aspect of these latest Solara models is the boost in performance. Although available in a 157-horsepower four-cylinder engine, the V6 engine is what caught our attention. The previous V6 eked out a respectable, but not impressive 198 horsepower rating and 212 lb.-ft. of torque. For 2004, the Solaras V6 grew from 3-liters to 3.3 liters and can crank out 225 horses at 5,600 rpm and 240 lb.-ft. of torque at a low 3,600 rpm.

This V6 is also teamed exclusively to a new five-speed sequential automatic transmission. Previous models were paired to a four-speed automatic transmission. This new pairing translates into a wider gear ratio spread for faster acceleration. For drivers wanting more control, theres a manual shifting option, which allows you to shift gears by pressing the gear knob up or down. It has a built-in system to prevent you from redlining, should you forget to shift or test a gear to its limits. We found this feature handy when we wanted to pass someone on the freeway; other than that, it was easier to simply leave it in automatic mode.

Other 2004 improvements, though not quite as noticeable as the increased acceleration, include a two-inch increase in height and wheelbase and one inch in overall length.

Impressing passengers
The Solaras interior has an intimate, yet roomy feel to it perhaps due to its sweeping dash. Its instrument panel features the typical gauge line up (speedometer, tachometer and so forth) outlined in what Toyota dubs 3-D chrome trim. Scan to the right and youll find a center mounted multi-function display, which gives drivers a heads up on fuel consumption, average speed, miles-to-go and elapsed time; a great feature for long road trips or when youre calculating how much farther you can drive before you have to stop at the gas station.

The available touch-screen navigation system (at 6.5 inches its among the largest screens on the market) also houses the climate and audio systems. Although easy to use, we like to simply turn a knob to change the temperature or radio station.

Storage space also improved in 2004. Doubling in size, with the use of a new front console box, cupholders that double as additional storage and a center console that offers dual storage compartments, youll have plenty of room for cell phones, palm pilots and drinks.

Safety first
Standard on all Solara models are four-wheel disc brakes, an antilock brake system (ABS), driver and front passenger airbags and front seat mounted side impact airbags. Optional front and rear side curtain airbags are available as is vehicle stability and traction control.

The Solara Convertible is here
Toyota has recently unveiled its newly redesigned Solara convertible. Like its predecessor, the convertible will feature a power folding cloth top with rear glass window.   Watch for an upcoming review.

Copyright 2017, Michele Brooke

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Your Comments
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2004 Toyota Solara Coupe
  4 Cylinder V6
Engine Type  2.4L double overhead cam (DOHC) 16 valve inline 4 cylinder 3.3L double overhead cam (DOHC) 24 valve V6
Horsepower 157 @ 5,600 225 @ 5,600
Torque 162 @ 4,000 240 @ 3,600
Fuel Recommended Regular  Unleaded.
Transmission Std.
Transmission Opt.
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
5-speed shiftable Automatic
Drive Type Front Wheel Drive
Tires P215/60R16 all-season tires
Overall Length 192.6"
Wheelbase 107.2"
Width 71.5"
Turning Diameter 35.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 3,175 lbs. 3,417 lbs.
Fuel Tank 18.5 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon 23 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway 20 mpg City, 32 mpg Highway
Base Sticker Price  $19,220.00   Plus $515 Destination Charge.

Standard Equipment
(partial list)

  • Alloy wheels
  • Ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes
  • 4-wheel ABS
  • Tire pressure monitoring
  • 5 person total seating capacity
  • Air conditioning with interior air filtration
  • Power windows and door locks
  • Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
  • Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel
  • AM/FM in-dash single CD player stereo with 6 speakers

SLE also includes...
(partial list)

  • Automatic transmission
  • Front Fog/Driving Lights
  • Power glass sunroof
  • 8-way power driver seat
  • Leather upholstery
  • Automatic climate control AC
  • Simulated wood trim
  • JBL premium stereo system with 8 speakers

Major Available Options
(partial list - depends on model)

  • Navigation System
  • Vehicle Stability Control
  • Traction Control
  • Power Sunroof
  • Side Curtain Airbags
  • Heated Front Seats
  • 6-Disc In-Dash CD Changer
  • 8-Way Power Driver's Seat
  • Leather Package
  • Gold Emblem Package

For more information on the Toyota Solara, visit

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