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Underrated Lookers:
The ’99-’04 Toyota Solara Coupe

May 11, 2013 by Matt


Much better looking than its Rubbermaid-like sedan version, the first-generation Toyota Camry Solara is blessed with a remarkably cohesive, pleasing shape, neither too restrained nor too overdone like its successor.


Toyota finally decided to spin off the coupe version of their best-selling Camry in 1999, giving it a distinctive name and distancing it styling-wise—without completely severing all visual connections—from the Camry sedan. While most consider the Solara’s design just as bland as that of its four-door sibling, I think the (slight) bit of added design dash serves the shape very well, elevating it from “completely anonymous” to the realm of “tasteful and tailored.” The strong character line emphasizing the car’s beltline and tying its two ends together relieves what would otherwise be a very slab-sided, bathtub-like shape and gives the Solara just the right amount of visual detail.


The first-gen Solara had the added bonus of being available with a 5-speed manual transmission, generating a bit more interest as far as enthusiasts are concerned, though it will be said that particular option seems to be as scarce as hen’s teeth, the vast majority of buyers having decided to forgo the pleasure of rowing their own gears.

It’s a delightful shape. Find me a stickshift and I’ll happily assign it to commuter duty.

Image credits:,,

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design we find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Aesthetics, Toyota, Underrated Lookers


  1. Peter says:

    I had a Camry V6 coupe in ’95 and a ES300 in ’98. What’s in common with all of these including the Solara? That silky smooth 1MZ-FE 3.0 V6; Loved that motor. I was even more excited with the TRD supercharger that was released for it. Decided I was going to do something crazy and bolted one of those onto my ES300 back in 2006 and had a blast.

    Looking back, those were great cars, not necessarily enthusiast level and memorable like others but worthy of their place at the time.

    • Matt says:

      I agree. It didn’t rock the automotive world with its styling or performance, but it still deserves just a bit more recognition than it got.

      1MZs are fairly popular swap candidates, aren’t they?

  2. John D says:

    I still remember when the Solara first came out. I remember thinking it looked so much sportier and tidier than other cars in that class. In other words, I didn’t hate it and that surprised me.

    • Matt says:

      Same. The first time I really noticed one wasn’t in any car magazine review, but during a walk with my son, parked in front of a neighborhood house. As slow as we were going I had a chance to really eyeball it and remember thinking, “That’s actually a pretty nice-looking car.”

  3. Paul says:

    bought the 99 manual in 2015, probably paid too much at just over 2k. but is still the most fun i had with 2k. I never need to corner fast but it still handles highway and ramp curves better than most. I just added a injen intake just for kicks.I don’t know how much hp it added but it keeps up with d-head bimmers for the most part, and leaves the average commuter far behind. its no race car but it’s faster than 95% of a cars on the road. and supposedly more reliable than 95% also. an old maxima is faster but less reliable (the solara is less expensive) drive safe!

  4. khristian says:

    I just bought a Solara for my first car and when I first saw how nice the interior was I wanted it right away and it gets up and goes only bought it for 600 with 151 miles and it just needs brake lines done now it runs like a champ

  5. matt says:

    just bought a red 2000 hardtop for $300 from a guy who was gonna junk it, and all it needs is an abs sensor,control arm and a knock sensor. rust free, and drives great! what a smooth engine and ride, and pleasing tasteful design that is becoming scarce on the road.

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