1I liked the sound system. It was a top-line JBL unit installed in the 2001 Camry Solara SLE V-6 convertible. The car was OK, too. But it was more impressive as a boombox than an automobile.
Simply put, JBL did a better job of distinguishing itself in the Solara ragtop than Toyota did in distinguishing the Solara from any other convertible, including drop-top versions of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.
This was disappointing. I expected more, certainly in terms of body rigidity. The Solara convertible, after all, stems from the Solara coupe, which is based on the Camry sedan platform. But when Toyota built the coupe -- a two-door hardtop -- it made certain structural improvements, such as using braces to join strut towers, thereby giving the coupe a tighter feel.
NUTS AND BOLTS 2001 Camry Solara SLE V-6 convertible:
Really, that body shake is uncharacteristic of anything I've driven with a Toyota badge. The company needs to check this.
Darned good sound system.
With the top up, the Solara convertible is the perfect ABM (Aging Babes Magnet). OK, if you're a woman, it's the perfect ADM (Aging Dudes Magnet), too. Suffice it to say that, on the road, the car seemed to have limited appeal to spectators and motorists under 50.
Base price is $30,515. Dealer invoice price on base model is $27,029. Price as tested is $30,970, including a $455 destination charge. Price does not include taxes and fees.
I wanted that same tightness in the convertible. It wasn't there. Instead, there was that old-fashioned, ponderous feel of an "authorized convertible," a coupe converted to a ragtop by someone other than vehicle's original manufacturer, as was the case here.
The problem is that outside contractors don't always get conversions right. Chopping off car tops requires rethinking and reworking other structural components to retain body integrity. The test car's trundling ride indicated that someone somewhere missed that point.
Even the latest versions of the heavier Camaros and Firebirds have stiffer rides. If you don't believe me, go out and do some comparison test drives of your own. You'll be surprised.
The Solara SLE V-6's power convertible top was equally lackluster. It was simple enough to operate -- flip two latches above the windshield, press a center console button, and it's down. But it was aesthetically distasteful when it settled behind the rear seat.
Forget that some convertibles in the same price range have easily placeable tonneau tops to cover the collapsed and folded roof. Even without that appliance, the collapsed roofs of other convertibles fit tightly and neatly into stowage bays. But the tested Solara SLE's stowed ragtop billowed in the wind.
Otherwise, the car was just fine. The interior was well crafted. The seats, which actually accommodate four adults, were very comfortable. Dials and gauges were logically ordered.
The Solara SLE convertible's 24-valve, V-6 engine is quite nice, too. It's designed to develop 194 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 209 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. It's mated to a standard, electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
The V-6 is served as optional fare in the base SE version. The base car gets a standard 16-valve, 2.2-liter, in-line, four-cylinder job designed to produce 136 hp at 5,200 rpm and 150 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.
That smaller engine is linked to a standard five-speed, manual gearbox that gives the base car a sportier feel than the more expensive SLE.
But it was that absolutely marvelous JBL Premium sound system that captured my soul in the test mobile. Seven speakers and a subwoofer made B.B. King and Los Lobos sound better than ever, yielding crystal clear treble and deep, mournful bass notes.
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