Toyota Camry Solara Convertible(2000)

SolaraThe Camry Solara convertible is a lot like any other Camry -- with the exception of the unlimited headroom. And the Camry in our humble opinion, is the world's most magnificent average car. It would be hard to find anything on four wheels that's less likely to elevate your heart rate. The Camry's saving grace, however, is that it would also be hard to find a more reliable car, or one that goes about its business with less fuss and aggravation.

Driving Experience

The Solara convertible joined Toyota's lineup as a 2000 model and isessentially unchanged for 2001. The new Solara convertible drives much like the coupe and sedan versions of the Camry -- which is to say, pretty nicely. There is one notable difference, however: As a convertible, the Solara has a less rigid body. The result? A number of noisy rattles and squeaks, which are especially apparent when driving with the top down.

Mechanically, the Solara is pretty much identical to the coupe and sedan. And like those versions of the Camry, the convertible sacrifices some handling for comfort. Sporty it isn't.

The Solara we drove came with the 3-liter, 200-horsepower V6 engine, which was very powerful, smooth, and quiet. If you let your mind wander while you're driving, you may find yourself exceeding the speed limit in short order -- not that we'd know, mind you. And at 3,437 pounds, the Solara convertible squeaks in under the .06-horsepower-per-pound limit we've set for responsible vehicles.
Interior

If your only memory of a convertible is your Uncle Vinny's 59 Rambler American, you'll be shocked at the level of finish inside the Solara. Not a single bit of the metal frame is to be seen. It's very nicely done, and incorporates a real glass rear window with a defroster -- unlike that wavy sheet of now-opaque plastic on Tommy's 52 MG TD that does a fun-house-mirror number on the traffic to the rear.

The Solara's seats were disappointing. We found the cloth upholstery a little tacky -- even by our standards, which says a lot. And, try as we might, we could never seem to get them adjusted for comfort.

Bells and whistles abound in the Solara. There're dual cup holders, front and rear; a tilt wheel; power locks; power windows; cruise control; an AM-FM-cassette-CD player; and air conditioning. Side air bags and a traction-control system are options.

Headroom is fine up front but a little tight in the back -- at least onrainy days. On sunny days, headroom is unlimited...but you probably already figured that out.

The Solara does have one significant shortcoming: The visibility out the back window is lousy. Because it's a convertible, you get a rear window that's smaller than the windows they put in the coupes and sedans. To make matters worse, the trunk lid is rather high, making it hard to see what's behind you. It's the one flaw in what otherwise could be the world's most magnificent average convertible. In Tommy's humble opinion, the rear-window visibility issue would be reason enough for him not to buy this car. Tommy thinks it's just too dangerous.

One other annoyance: You can't drive the Solara around with your arm hanging out the window, because either a) the tops of the doors are too high, or 2) the seat is too low. What good's a convertible if you can't look cool while you're driving it?
Ergonomics

Ergonomics are just fine. All of the controls are where you would expect to find them and are easy to understand. The radio is a good example: There's one big button that controls all the functions. It's easy to understand and to operate. The heater is similarly blessed with simple dials to control the temperature, fan speed, and direction of the air. It's all anyone needs.

We didn't care for the gas pedal, though. Toyota ought to supply clown shoes with this car, because that's the only way you'll be able to keep your toe from slipping off the high-mounted gas pedal. And on a long trip, you have to keep your foot at a very uncomfortable angle -- unless, of course, you use the cruise control.
Styling

Styling is magnificently average. The Solara is plain looking -- it reminded us of Chrysler's Sebring convertible.

Reliability

The reliability of the Camry has been nothing short of incredible. You can be sure that if Camry owners don't sleep soundly at night, it isn't because they're worried about the next breakdown. We do favor the four-cylinder over the V6. The V6 naturally will have higher maintenance and repair costs because it's more complicated.But good luck finding a Solara convertible with a four -- we doubt that Toyota will be building many more of those.

Overall comments

Is your midlife crisis telling you to run out and buy a Mazda Miata, while your significant other wants something safe, practical, and reliable? You may be a candidate for the Solara convertible.

The closest competitor to the Solara is the Chrysler Sebring convertible, another four-seater available with a four- or six-cylinder engine. The V6 Solara has a cars.com target price of a shade over $28,000, or about $2,200 more than the Sebring. We suspect that the lower repair cost would swing in the Solara's favor in pretty short order. Ford's Mustang is also in the same class, though it's rear-wheel drive and not as good looking, in our humble opinion. Finally, there's always the Aston Martin DB7, which starts at about $150,000 -- and that's without the James Bond ejector seat.

If you're looking for a four-passenger convertible, can live with thevisibility problems (which we think would be a pretty big mistake), and don't expect a richly rewarding driving experience, the Solara is worth a look.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


[Test Drive Notes Index]