2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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There’s no doubt in my mind that the Toyota Solara is one of the prettiest cars on the road. Based on the Camry, and gently enhanced style-wise for 2007, the two-door Solara – available in a convertible, or as my hardtop coupe tester – is long and low, with an uncluttered nose, upswept headlamps that draw the eye up to the smoothly sloped roofline, and wraparound taillamps that draw your gaze back down again, with just a small trunk lip spoiler to break it up perfectly.

But smooth can go a bit too far, as it does with the Solara. Its performance is as level as its styling, and that’s the problem: this lovely feline needs some claws. Swoopy coupes are supposed to be invigorating, not sedate.

The Solara starts with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that makes 155 hp, but my tester was the 3.3-litre V6, which produces 210 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. The electronic throttle control works very efficiently, and lacks the momentary lag and over-revving between shifts that these systems can occasionally exhibit; both engines also qualify as Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEV). The five-speed automatic transmission includes a sequential manual mode feature, but with this sporty styling, I’d prefer an actual manual transmission; unfortunately, that option was dropped in model year 2003. That said, the autobox does its job very well, and includes uphill and downhill shift logic programs that eliminate the transmission hunting for a gear on inclines.

2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6. Click image to enlarge

The suspension is MacPherson struts, coil spring and stabilizer bar in front, and independent rear with the same gas-filled struts and stabilizer out back; the rack-and-pinion steering is speed-sensitive. Still, the steering is light overall, and while that’s a plus in parking lot situations, I’d prefer much more communication with the wheel at higher speeds; it handles well enough and the front end doesn’t float on the highway, but there’s no emotional feel to this car. It does precisely what it’s supposed to do: point the nose, and the car obeys (albeit with a fair bit of body lean on hard curves). For many drivers, that’s exactly what they want, and if so, the Solara is the real deal.

2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6. Click image to enlarge

But if you’re the type who wants a sporty look mated to sporty performance, this car is just too polished. I felt like I was driving a staid, well-balanced family sedan; the problem was, I wanted to feel engaged by a performance coupe.

All Solara models have four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution, and despite its size, it comes to a halt quickly and confidently. The V6 model also adds brake assist, which assesses the driver’s response to an emergency braking situation, and applies maximum pressure if it determines the driver isn’t pressing the pedal hard enough. The V6 model also include vehicle stability control and traction control.

2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6. Click image to enlarge

The car transmits a fair bit of vibration, as if the engineers had simply taken a four-door sedan and cut out the B-pillars and much of the bracing. The folding rear seats only open to an 84-cm-wide pass-through, which usually helps to stiffen up the body somewhat, but the Solara’s still fairly shaky, especially on anything less than really smooth roads.

Inside, it’s as lovely as the outside; my tester was the top-of-the-line SLE, which includes heated leather seats, automatic climate control, premium six-CD stereo and nicely-done simulated woodgrain trim. Fit-and-finish is as fine as anything I’ve driven at twice the price, and despite the mixture of textured plastic, wood and metal, which can be far too busy with a heavy hand, the effect is luxurious and soothing. There’s quite a bit of small storage space, too, including a CD cubby, a two-tiered console box and covered cupholders.

The driver faces jewel-like Optitron gauges, which glow brilliant blue behind the white numbers, and they’re shaded by a heavy eyebrow that ensures they’re visible even in very bright sunlight. The centre stack houses the stereo and climate controls within a metallic insert; all buttons are nice and big, but because they’re done in the same metallic finish with black writing, they’re not immediately identifiable, and you can spend too much time with your eyes off the road to find the right one.

2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6. Click image to enlarge

The Solara also needs more backlighting; the stereo and HVAC glow at night, but the door-mounted lock buttons are dark, and the only window switch that’s lit up is for the driver’s glass.

The front seats are quite comfortable; the rear seat is tight but not unbearable, with room under the front chairs to slip one’s feet. There are cupholders moulded into the rear door panels, but adding a fold-down centre armrest would probably improve the comfort level even more for those in the back. Unlike most coupes, access to the rear seat is very good; the front passenger seat slides and folds forward, and the front seatbelt is on an extension that can be folded down for rear entry, or pushed up, to make it easier for those in the front seat to reach them.

The trunk contains Toyota’s trademark plastic tray, which neatly holds a bottle of washer fluid; the 110cm-long trunk expands to a sloping 180 cm when the rear seats are folded forward.

A colleague once told me about a muscular Japanese model, aimed at the North American market, that had to keep going back for exhaust tuning: it was simply too quiet.

2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6
2007 Toyota Solara SLE V6. Click image to enlarge

In a classic case of culture shock, the Japanese engineers couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want a vehicle that sounded like it needed a new muffler, since they were not familiar with the North American concept of sound equalling power. Apocryphal or not, the story could well apply to the Solara: it’s a nice car, but someone at the drawing board doesn’t know the visceral feeling that this car should invoke when you slip behind the wheel and go for the throttle. It’s as lithe and lovely as a tiger, but it’s as docile as a house pet, when it needs to be a kitten with a whip. Leave ultra-smooth to the four-doors; anything that looks this engaging needs to drive that way, too.


Pricing

Competitors

Crash test results
www.safercar.gov, www.hwysafety.org

Manufacturer’s web site
www.toyota.ca


Specifications

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Crash test results


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