Full 2008 Toyota Camry Solara Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Toyota Camry Solara coupe and convertible are unchanged.
Usually, the two-door variants within a model line are flashier and sportier than their four-door counterparts. This was true of the Toyota Camry Solara coupe and convertible right after they were redesigned back in 2004. Since then, though, they've been upstaged by the Camry sedan, which grew more powerful in last year's overhaul. The injustice continues into 2008, as the Solara siblings stand pat while winds of change swirl around them. Rival import-brand manufacturers have launched better-performing, edgier-looking coupes, and relatively affordable hardtop convertibles are crowding into soft-top Solara price territory.
The Solara's diminishing appeal is due at least in part to its exterior styling, which although curvy and sophisticated, has never come across as trendy or youthful. This is particularly true when you look at the car from the back, as the rear deck appears to droop on both the coupe and the convertible. Another issue is the car's lack of verve once you're behind the wheel. The Solara coupe is fairly quick when equipped with the V6, but in the heavier convertible the engine's modest low-end torque and the transmission's slow responses noticeably detract from performance. And although handling is stable and predictable, the Camry Solara is not the sort of car you'll revel in driving briskly, given its soft suspension and minimal steering feedback.
That said, consumers less concerned about style or performance will undoubtedly see other merits to the Solara, particularly the convertible. Interior fit and finish is best-in-class, and the mix of metallic and satin finishes interspersed with high-quality plastics provides a distinctive, upscale appearance. Plus, the rear seat is quite spacious, making this one of the few four-seat convertibles (and coupes) that can comfortably accommodate a pair of adults in back. Compared to recently introduced hardtop entries like the Chrysler Sebring and Pontiac G6, the Solara convertible is better built and more refined overall. Convertibles like the Ford Mustang, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder and Volkswagen Eos offer more in the way of personality, but none are as family-friendly as Toyota's drop top, and the VW gets fairly expensive when fully equipped.
Due to its high level of refinement and strong reputation for quality and reliability, the convertible remains a good choice. The case for the coupe version of the 2008 Toyota Camry Solara is less clear-cut, however. In addition to the usual alternatives like the Mustang and Eclipse, the new Nissan Altima coupe and redesigned Honda Accord coupe have raised the game among front-wheel-drive, midsize coupes. Not only are they as roomy and practical as the Solara, they're entertaining to drive and stylish to boot.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Toyota Camry Solara is available as a midsize coupe or convertible. The Solara coupe seats five, while the convertible seats four and has a power-operated cloth top. Both coupe and convertible are offered in SE, Sport and SLE trim levels. Buyers have a choice of four-cylinder or V6 power on each trim of the coupe, but the V6 is standard on all convertibles.
The base SE comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control and a six-speaker stereo with an in-dash CD changer and auxiliary audio jack. The Sport version adds firmer suspension tuning, 17-inch wheels, an exterior body kit, xenon HID headlights, a charcoal interior color scheme with additional metallic trim, unique gauges and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The high-line SLE drops the Sport's extra body cladding and reverts to the SE's softer suspension settings, while adding a moonroof (coupe only), automatic climate control, wood-grain interior trim, a power driver seat, an upgraded JBL audio system and Bluetooth connectivity. SLE V6 models come with leather upholstery and heated front seats.
Xenon headlights are optional on the SLE, and many of this model's desirable features can be purchased as options on lower-line Solaras. The SLE alone is eligible for a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard engine for the Toyota Camry Solara coupe is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 157 horsepower and 158 pound-feet of torque. It can be paired with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, either of which drives the front wheels. Optional on Solara coupes and standard on convertibles is a 3.3-liter V6 rated for 210 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard with the V6. The EPA rates four-cylinder coupes at 21-22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Upgrade to the V6 and you're looking at an 18/27 rating in the coupe and 18/26 in the convertible.
All 2008 Toyota Camry Solaras come standard with front-seat side airbags, a tire-pressure monitor and antilock disc brakes. Full-length side curtain airbags are standard on coupes. Stability and traction control are optional on all V6 models.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Solara earned a perfect five stars for its protection in frontal and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it the top rating of "Good" for its performance in the frontal-offset crash test. In IIHS side-impact testing, the Solara rated "Acceptable" (second from the top). Notably, the IIHS used a Solara convertible rather than a coupe in both crash tests, so the car did not have the benefit of side curtain airbags in the side-impact test.
Interior Design and Special Features
All versions of the 2008 Toyota Camry Solara feature an upscale interior design with bright metallic accents and exceptional build and materials quality. Sport models get sharp-looking graphite accents, while top-of-the-line SLE versions add rich-looking wood-grain trim. The front seats offer plenty of room for even the tallest drivers, and while you wouldn't necessarily want to put four adults in the car for a road trip, the rear seats are plenty roomy for an afternoon drive. Once you undo the latches, the Solara convertible's power cloth top raises and lowers in just 10 seconds. This is quick but doesn't include the amount of time you'll spend getting out of the car and attaching the fussy vinyl tonneau cover. When not in use, the cover takes up space in the convertible's 11.7-cubic-foot trunk. The Camry Solara coupe has a 13.8-cubic-foot hold as well as a split-folding rear seat.
Both engines are smooth and refined, but acceleration is nothing special, even with the V6. The coupe, at least, feels reasonably spirited in six-cylinder form, but the engine's lack of low-end torque is readily apparent in the heavier convertible. The five-speed automatic doesn't help in this regard, as it tends to be indecisive and downshifts can be delayed and harsh. On the positive side, the Camry Solara delivers a composed ride that's still quite comfortable. The convertible is tuned more softly, but its relatively stiff structure is mostly free of cowl shake (a problem endemic to cars without a fixed roof). The added stiffness of the Sport model provides a higher level of control around turns, but overall the 2008 Toyota Solara prioritizes ride comfort well above sporting pursuits.