2002 Toyota Camry Solara Reviews and Ratings

Coupe 2D SLE

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2002 Toyota Camry Solara
Albert Hall

Introduction
The Toyota Camry is one of the best-selling sedans in America. The coupe and convertible versions of this car carry the Solara badge and unique styling. But while the Camry moved onto a new-generation platform for the 2002 model year, the Solara carries over on the previous platform.

However, the Solara coupe and convertible do get a facelift for 2002, with a new grille, front bumper, headlamps and tail lamps. A new four-cylinder engine for 2002 delivers significantly more power over last year without sacrificing fuel economy or emissions.

Overall, the Solara is smooth and quiet. Its optional V6 delivers strong torque for good acceleration performance. It's comfortable, with terrific seats, and the top is easy to operate. Model Lineup
The Solara comes in hardtop coupe and convertible body styles. It's available with four-cylinder or V6 engines and manual or automatic transmissions.

The four-cylinder coupe is available only in the SE trim level, $19,365 with a five-speed manual transmission and $20,165 with a four-speed automatic. Standard equipment includes an all-new 157-horsepower 2.4-liter engine, air conditioning, front disc brakes, cruise control, fog lights, an AM/FM radio with a cassette player, 15-inch wheels and tires, cloth seating and front airbags.

The V6 coupe is available in SE and SLE trim levels. SE V6 with five-speed manual retails for $21,685; SE with automatic transmission retails for $22,485; SLE, which is only available with automatic, lists for $24,675. Both are powered by a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 and have four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The SLE adds leather seating surfaces, automatic climate controls, heated rearview mirrors, a JBL premium audio system with a CD player, front bucket seats with eight-way power on the driver's side, a rear spoiler, 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/60R16 tires.

The convertible is available as a four-cylinder SE ($24,495), or a V6 SE ($28,045) or V6 SLE ($30,525). All convertibles come with automatic transmissions. The convertible top raises and lowers under its own power and features a heated glass rear window. Walkaround
The Toyota Solara is updated for 2002 with new front and rear fascias that give it some fresh sparkle. The changes include a new grille with a redesigned front bumper and air dam, new four-bulb headlamps, fog lamps, parking lamps, and jeweled tail lamps. New wheel designs are also available.

The Solara's styling features strong character lines and a wide rear end with a small rear spoiler (optional). Interior
For 2002, the SE coupe gets a new appearance package ($110 with a manual transmission and $175 with an automatic) that includes a leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel, leather-wrapped shift knob, black trim and black pearl emblems and special alloy center cap for all four wheels.

Seat heaters are now available on Solara coupes ($315), as is a remote keyless entry with a trunk opener.

The Solara feels different from the Camry the moment you sit in the driver's seat. The dashboard hints at a cockpit-style instrument panel. It flows into the door panels, accented by a strip of tasteful faux wood trim. In some color combinations, the plastic, vinyl and leather interior share the rich look and feel of Toyota's upscale Lexus cars.

For 2002, additional wood trim around the gear shift in a lighter wood grain improves the interior appearance. There are still things to quibble about, however. Shoulder belts are not height-adjustable. The storage bins on the door panels are a little too narrow to be really useful.

The Solara driver looks at a crisp, legible, well-lit cluster of three gauges, with the speedometer in the center, tachometer left and the fuel gauge and water temperature on the right. The stereo buttons are big and easy to find with minimal distraction; the volume and tuning dials sit closest to the driver, exactly where they should be.

Simple radial climate-control switches allow easy adjustments. The fan is a bit loud at full speed, but almost inaudible on lower settings. Solara has both a cigarette lighter and an extra power outlet. From the stalk-mounted wiper controls to the sunroof button overhead, switch placement and operation are first rate.

The seats are excellent. The optional leather is supple and perfectly tailored, while the seats themselves are soft enough to be comfortable yet firm enough to keep the driver from feeling lazy. The seatbacks have a memory feature, so they return to the same incline position when they're leaned forward. The front passenger seat has a toe-operated lever that slides the whole seat forward for easy access to the rear.

Even though the Solara only comes with two doors, the rear seat accommodates two 6-foot adults in reasonable comfort. Grab handles, a padded armrest and an ashtray are available for back-seat passengers. In short, accommodations are better than adequate for taking friends out for a night on the town. When it's necessary to carry oversize packages, the rear seat folds flat to expand trunk space.

The Solara convertible's headliner is covered in rich-looking fabric; it's so nicely finished that you'd be hard-pressed to know you were in a convertible. Driving Impressions
The Toyota Solara is smooth and quiet and it rides nicely. It isn't a sports car, but feels competent on winding roads.

The optional V6 engine is so smooth at idle that the driver feels almost no vibration through the steering wheel, seats or floorboard. The only hint that the car is running comes as a faint resonance in the gas pedal. Pick up steam and that silky smooth quality remains. At freeway pace, there's little wind noise in the Solara's cabin even on the windiest days. As you'd expect, the convertible model is a bit noisier inside with the top up than the coupe.

Full steam in a Solara V6 comes in short order. With healthy torque, the V6 delivers a steady flow of acceleration. The four-speed automatic, which most Solara buyers will choose, takes full advantage of that power. Downshifts are as immediate as a jab at the gas pedal, and passing maneuvers are a breeze. Off the line, a Solara V6 automatic coupe manages 0-60 mph acceleration runs in the low 7-second range, making it one of the quickest cars in its class. The 3.0-liter V6 generates 200 horsepower at 5300 rpm and 214 pounds-feet of torque at 4400 rpm.

An all-new twin-cam 16-valve 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing comes on the base models. Power has been increased by 22 horsepower (to 157 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 162 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm). Yet it still boasts an EPA city/highway rating of 24/33 mpg (which drops slightly with an automatic and a convertible).

When the road changes direction sharply and frequently, the Solara bears up well. The steering is less numb than that in the Camry sedan. It's more progressive in the effort required by the driver, a little bit sharper, and quick enough to keep up with rapid direction changes.

But the Solara is not a sports car. It's basic handling characteristic is understeer, a pushing at the front of the car the helps keep drivers without racing experience from getting in over their heads as they make turns. It has more body roll, or lean through the corners, than a sports car. But it is well controlled as the car's weight shifts from side. Solara is competent on all kinds of roads, and its supple ride keeps driver and passengers comfortable in all circumstances.

For entertainment value, the manual transmission gives Solara an edge on competitors. The five-speed adds another level of driver involvement, and it quickens acceleration performance and improves fuel economy by 1 mpg.

We're not enamored of Solara's optional traction-control system, however. Traction control works by limiting engine power when the drive wheels slip, and the Solara's system might be useful in climates where slippery conditions are a constant problem. Yet managing power in a front-wheel-drive automobile is less demanding than in a rear-drive car to begin with. And the Solara's system is so aggressive that it turns the car into a turtle in conditions that aren't that difficult. It's safe, mind you, just not very sporting. Fortunately, a switch allows the driver to turn it off when it's not needed.

Does Solara have that intangible quality enthusiast drivers call personality? That's a hard thing to define. Certainly, it doesn't have the spirited performance of favorites like BMW's 3 Series cars. On the other hand, compared to some of the vanilla-flavored cars from staid Toyota, the Solara has personality. It doesn't beg to be driven like a racecar, but it doesn't wilt under pressure, either.

Solara can get the blood pumping fast enough to more than satisfy most drivers. The Honda Accord coupe, Solara's most obvious competitor, has slightly more responsive steering, yet it doesn't feel as substantial as the Solara. And compared to the Chrysler Sebring coupe or convertible, or just about any car in the class, the Solara is smoother and quieter.

The Solara convertible's top operation is very simple. To lower the top, lower the sun visors, release two latches near the top corners of the headliner, and press and hold the Open button on the center console. The windows windows lower automatically when the top is lowered (but do not automatically go back up when you raise the top). A semi-hard plastic boot allows you to cover the retracted convertible top and gives the Solara a clean, finished look. Successfully attaching it, however, requires a fair amount of tugging and tucking it in and around the rubber seals near the back of the rear section of the passenger compartment. Most times we didn't bother with it. Summary
The Toyota Solara is well executed. It's solid, roomy and reasonably fun to drive. It offers buyers the benefits of the Toyota Camry (smooth, powerful engines, quiet interiors, and rock-solid dependability) in a slick, two-door body style.

Opting for a Solara SE with the 200-horsepower V6 and available five-speed manual transmission gives the car a sporty edge. Or, the Solara can be ordered as a full-blown luxury coupe with leather upholstery, a concert hall sound system, and automatic climate control. Or, it can be a convertible, delivering top-down, fun in the sun.

Either way, the Solara delivers a blend of comfort, style and reliability that is tough to beat. With Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability, the Solara is a compelling alternative to expensive cars such as the Acura 3.2 CL, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, and Volvo C70. Anyone seeking the mix of looks, performance and practicality that defines a good coupe or convertible may want to have the Toyota Solara on their shopping list.

Model as tested
Solara V6 coupe SLE ($24,675)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Cambridge, Ontario
Destination charge
485
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
19365
Price as tested
26810
Options as tested
traction control ($300); in-dash CD changer ($200); front side-impact airbags ($250); power moonroof ($900)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
SE coupe ($19,365), automatic ($20,165); SE V6 coupe ($21,685), automatic ($22,485); SLE V6 automatic ($24,675); SE convertible ($25,495), SE V6 convertible ($28,045), SLE V6 convertible ($30,525)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners with force limiters, three-point seatbelts for all rear seats
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.0-liter dohc 24v V6
Transmissions
four-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, leather upholstery, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, remote keyless entry, ABS, integrated fog lamps, power windows and locks, power heated side-view mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, JBL Premium AM/FM/cassette/CD

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.0-liter dohc 24v V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
200 @ 5300
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
20/28
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P205/60R16
Suspension, rear
Independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
38.3/53.6/43.3
Head/hip/leg room, rear
36.3/49.3/35.2

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
13.8
Wheelbase
105.1
Length/width/height
191.5/71.1/54.3
Turning circle
38.1
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
2000
Track, front/rear
60.8/59.8
Ground clearance
5.3
Curb weight
3241


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