Reviews

2004 Toyota Solara Road Test

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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 doesn’t 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. It’s designed for the individual who likes the reliability of the Camry, but who longs for more of a performance car. At the same time, they’re not willing (or able) to give up room and comfort in exchange for a true sports car. That’s 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 fade 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, you’ll 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, there’s 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 you’ll 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 you’re 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 it’s 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, you’ll 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.

2004 Toyota Solara Coupe

4 CylinderV6
Engine Type2.4L double overhead cam (DOHC) 16 valve inline 4 cylinder3.3L double overhead cam (DOHC) 24 valve V6
Horsepower157 @ 5,600225 @ 5,600
Torque162 @ 4,000240 @ 3,600
Fuel RecommendedRegular  Unleaded.
Transmission Std.
Transmission Opt.
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
5-speed shiftable Automatic
Drive TypeFront Wheel Drive
TiresP215/60R16 all-season tires
Overall Length192.6″
Wheelbase107.2″
Width71.5″
Turning Diameter35.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight3,175 lbs.3,417 lbs.
Fuel Tank18.5 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon23 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway20 mpg City, 32 mpg Highway
Base Sticker Price$19,220.00   Plus $515 Destination Charge.

Standard Equipment

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SLE also includes…

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Major Available Options

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Author

Michele Brooke

Automotive Expert

Michele began writing auto reviews in 2001 for a daily newspaper in Louisiana. She graduated with a MBA in finance but left the financial world for an exciting career in auto journalism. She can now be found tooling around town test-driving new cars.

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