- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

MODEL: Toyota Solara SLE
VEHICLE TYPE: Two-door convertible
PRICE-AS-TESTED: $31,940
MILEAGE: 19 city, 27 highway

No matter how successful a vehicle manufacturer becomes, it still needs to burnish its image with special products that titillate the buying public regardless of whether they contribute much to the bottom line.
That's because there's a lot of truth in the old axiom that a customer might come into the store to ogle the sports car or the convertible, yet sign up for the four-door sedan.
Toyota is among the more successful manufacturers on the planet. But until now, it had not done much in the way of image building, relying mainly on such scattered shots as the Supra and the Celica convertible.
That's changed. Beginning in the 2000 model year, and continuing into 2001 with minimal changes, it has two perception enhancements: The exciting and affordable MR2 Spyder, a midengine sports car, and the Solara convertible.
They have different targets. The Spyder is a youthful two-seater, while the Solara appeals more to older customers who enjoy leisurely boulevard cruising and seating for four.
With projected 2001 sales of about 6,000 for each car, neither is much more than a blip on the Toyota screen. So in addition to their panache and expected Toyota reliability, buyers can count on a degree of exclusivity.
But in the case of the Solara convertible, it costs. Although a base SE model with a four-cylinder engine is priced under $26,000, the tested SLE model with V-6 power had a suggested sticker, with options, of $31,940.
That's marginally more than a loaded Chrysler Sebring convertible, which is about the same size but with less power. However, Toyota decided to slot the Solara ragtop's price between the Sebring and the BMW 323i convertible.
There's really no commonality between the Solara and the BMW. The latter has an in-line six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive, while the Solara has a V-6 and front-wheel drive.
So its main competitor is the Sebring, which is redesigned for 2001.
The big difference between the two is that the Sebring is designed and built from the tires up as a convertible. The Solara, one the other hand, is a chop-top conversion.
The convertible converter ASC takes a Solara hardtop, cuts off the steel top, installs body reinforcements to make up for the missing roof, and installs the convertible top.
It's a quality conversion. If you were not tipped off that all of that commotion went into building your Solara convertible, you likely would never suspect that it was anything but a factory-built job.
But sensitive aficionados can detect some slight differences. The Solara has a slight bit of "cowl shake," which is felt as a quivering of the steering wheel over rough surfaces.
Aside from that, this Toyota convertible is a smoothie. Because it's based on the Toyota Camry and its two-door sibling, the Solara, it exhibits most of their better attributes: Quality materials and construction, along with fuss-free performance.
The V-6 engine is a study in vibration-free power. It delivers its 200 horsepower through a four-speed automatic transmission that shifts unobtrusively. However, because of the convertible's additional weight compared to the Solara coupe, its acceleration is marginally slower.
The motorized convertible top operates easily. Undo two latches at the top of the windshield and touch a button on the console. All the windows immediately drop down and the top folds itself into the boot.
A minor drawback occurs when you raise the top. Once it's locked in place, you must operate the power-window buttons to raise the windows. But the buttons are in two different places: On the left door for the front windows and awkwardly located down on the console for the two back windows. That's because this is a conversion, and the coupe from which it comes has fixed rear windows.
There's plenty of room and comfort for four with the top up or down, and the trunk, though small, is well shaped for carrying luggage. But you'd likely want to stash the bulky boot cover in the garage because it takes up about half of the trunk space.

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