It's summer. What better way to make the most of it than to drive a convertible, especially one whose name, Solara, evokes sunshine.
Toyota certainly expects the 2000 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible, on the market in time for summer, to be a bright spot in dealerships.
It's the company's largest convertible for the United States, capable of carrying four people comfortably plus two golf bags.
From its fully lined, push-button drop top to its smooth-shifting automatic transmission and 200-horsepower V6, the test Solara Convertible SLE V6 was a study in summertime driving ease.
It should be, of course. This two-door convertible is based on the Camry Solara coupe which is derived from America's favorite car -- the Toyota Camry sedan.
So don't expect this open-air car to be an exotic, fussy or startling driver. Think of it more as a topless Camry and you'll begin to get the sense of its dimensions and cushioned ride, its smooth V6 drivetrain and the predictable, rather mainstream steering feel.
Personally, I think the Solara's two-door body style looks better as a convertible than a hard top. It's sleek and attractive, if not real showy.
But it costs $4,800 to $5,300 more than the hardtop. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price including destination charge for a Solara Convertible is $25,523 and that's for the base SE model with a 135-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.
That's about equal to the current Chrysler Sebring convertible that comes standard with a 168-horsepower V6. Chrysler has a newly redesigned 2001 Sebring planned for later this year and hasn't yet announced prices.
Meanwhile, a 2000 Ford Mustang convertible with 190-horsepower V6 and automatic transmission starts at $22,950.
The usual Toyota quality is built into the Solara Convertible. Body panels were evenly aligned all around on the test car and interior buttons and knobs had the familiar Toyota look and feel.
The JBL sound system in the test car produced rich sounds with a depth and quality that I appreciated, and automatically adjusted bass and some sound frequencies when the top went down to preserve the stereo sounds.
The system automatically returns to its original settings when the top goes up.
Front and rear seats are comfortable, though not sporty or sculpted. Rear side windows are understandably smaller than on the coupe, and curtail rear-seat riders' side view when the top is up. And these rear windows can only be operated together -- not separately -- by a single switch up front on the center console.
The convertible's acrylic fabric roof doesn't exactly copy the coupe roof line. There's a decent amount of front and rear headroom -- about on par with the current Sebring, long the best-selling convertible in the United States.
Note that the Solara Convertible comes standard with a decently sized glass rear window.
Rear-seat legroom of 35 inches in the Solara Convertible is also competitive. Rear-seat shoulder room at 45 inches is less than the 49 inches available in the current Sebring but more than the Mustang's 41.4 inches.
Because the top needs stowage space, trunk room is 8.8 cubic feet, less than the 13.8 cubic feet of the Solara Coupe. It's also less than the 11.3 cubic feet of trunk space in the current Sebring convertible but more than the Mustang's 7.7 cubic feet.
The front-wheel drive Solara Convertible drives just like the coupe, which is to say it's a mostly mainstream feel but a bit sportier than a regular Camry sedan.
But the convertible is some 200 pounds heavier than the coupe because of all the structural reinforcements needed to help alleviate body shake.
Even so, I detected some shake up front at the cowl in the test car. It didn't occur at every bump, but it was noticeable on some uneven road surfaces.
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