When Toyota's Camry Solara was introduced back in 1998, it was cast as a luxury coupe: long, heavy and teeming with comfort amenities, but little in the way of raw performance or cutting-edge style. And for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., that's exactly where it wanted the Camry Solara positioned. After all, it was never designed to be anything more than a solid, two-door, mid-sized alternative for baby boomers who yearned to reclaim their youth. And in that sense, the Solara has fared well, especially when you factor in the performance of the 3.0-liter V6 engine (optional) that produces 200 hp (198 in Calif.) at 5200 rpm and delivers 214 lb-ft of torque (212 in Calif.) in stock configuration. But that's where the Solara story ended for many of us. Or, so we thought.
From the onset, TMS strongly hinted at the possibility of a production-based supercharged Solara, and those waiting in the wings were pumped and ready to buy. But as time passed, interest waned, until Toyota Racing Development, the quasi-official tuning arm of Toyota Motor Sales stepped in with a supercharger of its own.
After a long news blackout, the Camry Solara is now getting a second go-round at attracting an even more enthusiastic audience, thanks to TRD's Kazuma brand supercharger kit and its related performance package for the platform.
Sport Compact Car had the opportunity to evaluate the TRD-equipped supercharged Solara 3.0-liter and came away with some pretty surprising results from a battery of tests on both street and track conditions.
Our 1999 TRD-supercharged Solara passed through the first round of testing by recording 243 hp with 228 lb-ft of torque at the wheels using our in-house Dynojet dynamometer. The TRD Solara was then put through a gauntlet of track tests. From 0 to 60, it launched hard and straight, smoking the tires through first and most of second gears to stop the timing lights in 6.2 seconds. That was followed by a solid quarter-mile pass of 14.5 at 97.8 mph. So far so good: no overheating, no detonation and completely consistent. Lastly, it flew through our slalom course at 66.5 mph. While the numbers aren't astronomical, they were noteworthy when you consider this coupe weighs roughly 3,230 lbs. stock, without even factoring those giant TSW wheels and other aftermarket add-ons that, when combined, must add another few pounds to the platform.
Outfitted with TRD's Stage 3 upgrade kit, the TRD Camry Solara we tested sports a supercharger made by Eaton specifically for TRD. The supercharger mounts in a TRD-designed intake manifold to appear more like original equipment than bolt-on aftermarket components. Under full throttle, the supercharger produces a modest 4 psi of boost; however, the supercharger comes with a full 12-month warranty from TRD. Most importantly, it is 50-state legal (CARB certified). The supercharger can be dealer installed at any number of Toyota dealerships across the country, or installed by a backyard wrench in about four to six hours.
Our test car also included TRD's exclusive high-flow sport muffler, a Quickshift shortened shifter, stainless-steel brake lines, performance brake pads, rear anti-roll bar, custom lowering sport springs, Bilstein sport struts, a seven-piece polyurethane body kit, 17x7-inch TSW wheels on 225/45-ZR17 Toyo Proxes T1 Plus tires, front strut tie-bar and various TRD-inspired engine dress-up parts. It's enough to make your head spin; then again, so is the price tag: $10,000 and some change.
Luckily, for those of us with smaller budgets, TRD offers its Stage 1 and Stage 2 packages ranging from $3,125 to $3,344 without the supercharger. TRD suspension and body kit upgrades are applicable to '97 to '00 Camrys, '99 to '00 Solaras and '98 to '00 Siennas. The supercharger is designed solely for the standard 3.0-liter V6 (not the twin-throttle bodied VVT-i version) engine and sells for $3,499 separately.
As TRD's senior sales and marketing manager Gary Reed explains, the history of its supercharger dates back to March 1998 when it was engineered for the 3.4-liter Toyota Tacoma V6 truck.
"More than 5,000 of these Tacoma superchargers were sold and with that kind of success, we decided to engineer a supercharger system exclusively for the standard Toyota 3.0-liter car engine," Reed said. "The Tacoma was actually over-engineered from the factory and that allowed us to do things with the supercharger that didn't cross over to the standard 3.0-liter platform."
"When we got the 3.0-liter supercharger up and running, we had to be careful about detonation and boost control. We spent nearly two years doing research and development work--testing transmission and powertrain life--everything we could think of to ensure we weren't hurting the car," Reed said.
During that long incubation period, TRD decided to design the supercharger kit with an electronic boost controller--basically an electronic actuator for the standard Eaton bypass valve, which works like a wastegate, dumping boost at two critical points: one, between shifts and two, when the ECU goes into rev-limiter mode. On the dyno chart, you can see the power drop almost by half from the loss of boost just before the rev limiter stops the dyno pull. In the future, TRD plans to develop its superchargers with fuel pressure gains by using intercoolers, differently sized pulleys and electronic engine management systems to up the boost levels.
As noted, performance with only 4 psi of boost already proved to be beneficial and reliable, even after sustained sessions of hard launching on the tarmac. There's no getting around the fact though, that the Solara is a big coupe, with an overall length of 190 inches and a wheelbase of 105.1 inches. However, thanks to a firmer-than-stock TRD/Bilstein suspension, newly lowered center of gravity and excellent throttle response, our test car handled the track like a trimmed street machine. On the road, the TRD Solara performed equally as well, negotiating freeway on-ramps with uncompromising stability and confidence. TRD chose to forgo anything in the way of interior treatments, except for custom shift knob. But that was fine. Bring on the power, baby.
While the stock 10.7-inch front and 10.5-inch rear disc brakes are aided only by TRD pads and stainless-steel brake lines, they work remarkably well in stopping this locomotive at speed. Overall, you get a sense this TRD supercharged Solara has more going for it than other forced-induction platforms on the road today, but then again, the other tuners don't have the winning history in motorsports like TRD.