Hands-on: the 2008 Toyota Solara Car Review

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The 2008 Solara is powered by one of two engines, both shared with the Camry — a four-cylinder and a 3.3 liter V6; both are quiet and smooth, the V6 providing greater performance with little sacrifice in fuel economy.

The Solara is available with either a 5-speed manual transmission on four cylinder models, or a 5-speed automatic as an option on the four cylinder models and standard on V6 models. The transmission on the Solara is its downfall in terms of performance. Although it uses the same 5-speed automatic U520E as the Camry sedan, its tuning is different and in many ways flawed compared to its sedan counterpart.

Routinely, the transmission downshifts so slowly that you can actually count to three before it hits second gear. It also routinely fails to shift down into first gear when performing a rolling stop. These two issues are quite annoying in every day driving as they rob the engine of the power it needs to propel this heavy 2 door when equipped with the four cylinder.

The suspension of the Solara is comparable to that of the 2008 Camry sedan in terms of tautness. It rolls more than one would expect from a two door car during cornering and it also pitches more than one would expect during braking and accelerating. But it is based on the suspension from the 2003 Camry Sedan; and it’s a vast improvement over that car’s suspension.

Tires for this car are just ok, the do well on dry pavement, are secure on wet pavement and so-so on snow. They are lower profile, especially if the car is equipped with the 17” wheels and frequently look flat even when inflated correctly. The Tire Pressure Monitoring System has a flaw where it can not be reset according to the procedure in the owner’s manual, and it must be reset every time the tires are rotated, which proved to be problematic until the issue was corrected.

The steering on this car is on par with the 2008 Camry sedan. It is quick, not over boosted, it is precise and has little play. The problem with this car and every other Solara I’ve driven, four in total, is that it is helplessly out of alignment. It pulls to the left so badly that on a flat road, you can cross two lanes in 1000 feet. This requires a constant effort on the drivers part to keep the car traveling straight, which is annoying to say the least.

Safety features on this car include standard front, side and curtain airbags, 4 wheel disc ABS, DRL with automatic on/off headlights and optional stability control bundled with traction control on V6 models.

The interior on this car is a strange place to be. Because of the limited glass area and Toyota’s strange choice of colors for the interior plastics, the interior of this car feels small and cramped even though it is the same size up front as a 2005 Camry sedan. The plastics are nice and the interior is well put together though.

Part of what makes the interior on this car strange is that it is a conglomeration of parts from the 2005 Camry SE sedan (The front seats, the console, parts of the rear seat) and some other parts that appear to be unique and then some other parts from other past models that have been slightly changed. The climate controls are from the 2005 Camry, but they don’t sit in the same place on the dash. The trim that was black on the Camry sedan is silver on the Solara. It’s just weird.

Luckily, because Toyota chose to take the seats from the Camry SE for the Solara, they have some bolstering and support so they are comfortable and you don’t get thrown around too much during cornering. The backseat is large and inviting, although getting back there, while easier than in other coupes isn’t as easy as getting into the back of the Sedan.

Controls, like that of the 2005 Sedan, are easy to read and logical, with the exception of the dimmer knob/trip odometer reset switch. The steering wheel controls are especially easy to use with both audio and trip computer controls. Strangely though, the steering wheel controls are illuminated in green while everything else is eliminated in blue.

The truck is large for a coupe and the folding rear seat makes it even bigger. However, the releases for the seat are inside the car, which requires you to climb into the back seat to access them, inconvenient at best. Even with the back seat up, two adults could easily store enough luggage for a 10 day trip.

The Verdict: Toyota had plans to discontinue this car at the end of its second model cycle dating all the way back to 2004. They gave up on this car, used too many parts from the sedan to save money, and it shows. This car’s main attraction is the styling, pure and simple. It’s good looking at the expense of visibility (it’s hard to back up or switch lanes because of the blind spots), it isn’t a performance coupe, and the interior isn’t anything special. For the money, the Nissan Altima coupe is a better performer and has a more attractive interior.

The review is based upon experience in driving 19,000 miles in a 2008 Solara Coupe.

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