After testing last year’s Toyota camry Solara coupe, we described it as “a welcome addition to the sadly depleted 2-door ranks,” and praised Toyota for turning an already good everyday sedan into a genuinely desirable coupe. But now Toyota has turned the Solara coupe into a Solara convertible. But as we all know, cutting the roof off a good hardtop sometimes results in a bad softtop. So, is the sunny Solara good, bad, or something in between?
Well, we won’t waffle on styling. This looks good! The 2000 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible wears almost the same sleek, yet conservative, lines as the hardtop Solara Coupe. But adds a certain rakish dash, with its clean, top-down, profile, and this rear deck lid spoiler. As well as our mid-level SE V6 test car’s standard 16-inch alloy wheels.
When folded, the fully-lined power top hides under an easy-to-fit tonneau cover, and when needed, rises smoothly and quickly to present an equally handsome face, even in less inviting weather.
The SE interior follows the same lines as the exterior, very clean and very functional. Yet also attractive, with standard wood-grain trim, and optional leather upholstery. The front bucket seats offer good back, but only moderate lateral support. But they can be equipped with available side-impact airbags. The gauges that those seats face are large and clear, if somewhat sparse, with big vents and efficient climate controls. And standard stereo, with both cassette and CD, are straightforward and easy to use.
Rear seat room is adequate for two adults, despite the top mechanism, though the bench seat is on the hard side. The trunk loses the most space. At 8.8 cubic feet, it’s over a third smaller than the coupe. Yet, it’s still quite functional.
Speaking of function, Solara offers a choice of twin-cam engines. A 135-horsepower 4- cylinder, or our SE’s 3.0-liter 24-valve V-6. Output is 200 horsepower, and 214 pound-feet of torque. And it sends it to the front wheels through a Toyota-smooth 4-speed automatic transmission. At the track, this combo delivers a respectable 0 to 60 time of 8.2 seconds. And runs the 1/4 mile in 16.0 seconds at 87 miles-per-hour.
But while the drivetrain is quite refined, substantial body flex manifests itself as soon as you hit the gas pedal, and got worse as we turned through our low speed slalom. Like the coupe, there is lots of front drive cornering push, only letting up as the tail loosens. Add in a serious lack of feel from the power rack-and-pinion steering, and you have one of Toyota’s less successful efforts at a sporty 2-door.
On the plus side, the anti-lock equipped 4-wheel disc brakes deliver a decent average stopping distance of 124 feet from 60. Stops are straight and stable. And the pedal feels firm, with good feedback.
Out on the open road, as long as things are smooth, so is the Solara Convertible’s ride. But when the going gets rough, the Solara’s body flex again rears its ugly self, twisting over every lump. And we hear far more squeaks and rattles than we expect in a Toyota.
Fuel mileage was more satisfying. EPA estimates for our V6 Solara Convertible are 19 city/26 highway. We averaged a very healthy 25 miles-per-gallon in mixed driving.
As for the money matters, the 4-cylinder Solara Convertible carries a base price of $25,523. Go for the V6 engine SE, and the price jumps to $28,463. With options, our test car carries a final price of $30,388. Which, for a true 4-seat convertible, is very affordable.
So good, bad, or something in between? The latter we think. After our positive experience with the Camry Solara Coupe, we must admit to being a bit disappointed with the convertible. It is an affordable buy, and still better constructed than some competitors. But, it’s also hardly Toyota’s best work, and proof that not every good coupe makes a good convertible.
Engine: 3.0-Liter, 24-valve, V-6
Torque: 214 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.0 Seconds @ 87 MPH
60-0 MPH: 124 Feet
EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 26 MPG Highway