Photos: Toyota. Click image to enlarge
by Paul Williams
There are lots of practical reasons not to buy a convertible. Come to think of it, you can easily get by without a smooth, powerful engine, 17″ alloy wheels, leather interior, a premium sound system or electronic climate control, for that matter.
The 2004 Toyota Solara SLE V6 Convertible has all these things wrapped in a swoopy extrovert package that you can buy in Absolutely Red, among other dazzling colours. Do so and it shouts, “Look at me, I’m living my life!”
True, it’s not the most practical of choices, but maybe you get to the point that you just don’t care about that anymore. You want it, and you’re gonna get it. At $39,000 you could spend a lot more on a fancy convertible, so at least you’re being somewhat economical.
This year’s Solara has a completely new shape, and it’s guaranteed to turn heads. Designed and built in North America, the Solara is now obviously borrowing styling cues from its rich Lexus relatives. And why not? They seem to have done quite well for themselves.
The headlights, especially, and the round trunk lid, seem very Lexus-like. And the tail-lights alone are a work of art – huge, great plastic sculptures that streak down the side of the car and wrap around the rear fenders. They’re big – self-assured – like the rest of the car.
Under the hood is a new 3.3-litre, 225-horsepower DOHC V6 that wins praise for smoothness and fuel economy. The transmission is a five-speed automatic with manual override (officially referred to as a Sequential Multi-mode Super Intelligent Electronically Controlled Transmission – I know, too much information).
But it’s a clever device that shifts gears based on engine speed and load, and stays in the appropriate gear when descending or climbing hills, which helps with vehicle control.
The cabin contains plenty of room for four adults. There’s no shortage of space in the back seat, and no shortage of legroom. The premium sound system is JB Lansing with an in-dash six-disc changer and six speakers; the seat surfaces and trim are leather; front seats are heated; you have an auto-dimming driver’s mirror with heated side mirrors. Just about every convenience that Toyota can think of is present in the Solara Convertible.
And, of course, the roof goes down.
You accomplish this simply undoing two latches (hidden behind the sun visors) and pressing a button. The roof retracts quickly into a recess behind the rear seat, where you can cover it with the supplied boot cover if you’re going to keep the top down for any length of time.
Raising the roof is just as easy, and once up, the glass rear window and canvas top provide good sound insulation, although not particularly good rearward vision.
The instruments and centre stack are trimmed in a faux aluminum that looks to be inspired by mini-audio systems you’d find in your den or bedroom. Controls are easy to operate and the instruments are big and clear. It’s a very comfortable place behind the wheel.
The trunk, unlike some convertibles, has usable space. Yes, you’ll fit a couple of sets of golf clubs in there with no trouble. And some luggage, too.
Safety equipment is also generously supplied. Anti-lock brakes, as you’d expect, but also vehicle stability control, traction control, and seat-mounted side airbags are all standard.
Driving the Solara on a sunny day along a country road is a delight. The car is smooth and quiet, with little wind turbulence in the cabin. I even got a few waves on my drive to Shawville, Quebec from Ottawa. People looked like they wished they were in this nice, red convertible, happily cruising along.
Things got a bit upset when the road became rough. Broken pavement, railway tracks, these caused the normally unflappable car to twist and flex – what auto writers call cowl shake – and most unexpected from a Toyota.
And although the engine is powerful, it does seem reluctant to get underway with authority unless you really press that accelerator. I found acceleration from a standstill to be either slow and sedate, or blisteringly fast, with not much room for modulation.
Finally, the look of the car is a matter of taste. Like it’s expensive cousin, the Lexus SC 430, the design is distinctive – maybe too distinctive for some.
In everyday use, however, the Solara Convertible does pretty much everything most other cars do, and more. It has a quiet, fuel-efficient, engine, lots of room for passengers and cargo, state-of-the-art safety features, luxury appointments and on the right day, full sun, whenever you want it.
Maybe convertibles are not that practical. But you know, they’re not necessarily that impractical either.
|Price as tested||$40,385|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger convertible|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.3-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves|
|Horsepower||225 @ 5,600 rpm|
|Torque||240 lb.-ft. at 3,600 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic with manual shift feature|
|Curb weight||1,625 kg (3,582 lb)|
|Wheelbase||2,720 mm (107.1 in.)|
|Length||4890 mm (192.5 in.)|
|Width||1815 mm ( 71.5 in.)|
|Height||1425 mm (56.1 in.)|
|Fuel type||Premium recommended|
|Fuel consumption||City 11.5 l/100 km (25 mpg)|
|Hwy 7.5 l/100 km (38 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|