I was wrong. The Mercedes-Benz W123 isn't the best car on the PetrolBlog fleet. It's the Toyota Camry V6. Japanese engineering over German quality. Anonymity over opulence.
The Camry was a late substitute for the Renault Safrane for the trip to the Festival of the Unexceptional in Lincolnshire. A cracked windscreen on the way back from the MOT station put paid to any hopes of the Safrane making its Festival debut. A pity, because it would have looked at home parked on the unexceptional lawns of Grimsthorpe Castle.
No matter, because I can think of few better cars than the Camry for a long drive north. It's why the Americans love the four-door sedan. Smooth petrol engine, suspension set to ‘just so’, cruise control, four cupholders and decent air-con. The Camry ticks all of the boxes, as long as the boxes don't feature any curved edges.
In American terms, a 550-mile round trip is the equivalent of a trip to the mall for some bottles of Bud and a family pack of potato chips, but things are different on this side of the pond. Anything beyond 200 miles is considered a lengthy journey, requiring a few prayers to Sally, the god of traffic.
Driving in Britain, particularly during the summer holidays, is a game of chance. Bottlenecks, contraflows, broken-down horse lorries, overturned caravans, slow moving campers, and stricken Picassos, Zafiras and Scenics are to be expected. Britain's roads put the ‘estimated’ into ETAs.
You need a car that eases away the pain of driving. A car like the Toyota Camry V6.
Slower than a Lotus
Waze predicted a journey time of just over four hours, meaning we'd reach Grimsthorpe Castle around 9:30. I say ‘we’, because my eldest son, the one with the unexceptional Range Rover, came along for the ride. A teenager getting out of bed at 4:30 on a Saturday morning. Whatever next?
Motorways and A-roads are the Camry's natural habitat. The 3.0-litre V6 is barely audible at motorway speeds, but it produces a satisfying soundtrack when called upon to deal with slip roads and roundabout exits. Quick enough to keep up with modern traffic and an ability to surprise a few drivers in their rebadged BMW and VW turbodiesels.
It's just a shame that the automatic ‘box plays the role of chastity belt, denting any hopes of unbridled fun. I should also point out that the Camry was embarrassed by a Lotus Elan S1 when exiting a roundabout on the A46. The Toyota Camry V6 is quick, but not that quick.
Then there's the cornering. Numb steering, a huge amount of body-roll and shiny leather seats combine to deliver a sense that you're at the helm of a boat on choppy waters, not a car on a British B-road. The heavy nose dives under braking, so you soon learn to approach bends with caution. Truth be told, the Camry V6 is a terrible driver's car.
This is one of the many reasons why the Camry XV20 failed to leave its mark on the UK sales chart. The ‘wrong’ badge, no diesel option and perceived high prices meant that company car drivers stuck to the usual suspects. A few private customers took the plunge, including the original owner of my car, who used it to commute between Dorset and Scotland. He must have had shares in the oil company he worked for...
I achieved just shy of 25mpg on Saturday, which isn't bad for an old V6 saloon with a slush ‘box. I'm happy to live with the fuel economy, because the Camry gives me a sense of unyielding reliability. I might live to regret that statement, but hey ho.
Put it this way. If you asked me to pick one car on the fleet to live with for the rest of my life, it'd be the Camry. Aside from its inability to deal with corners, it could handle everything I throw at it. Not bad for a car that cost the equivalent of a single monthly payment on a PCP deal.
It's just so effortless to drive. A central cubby box for your left elbow. A padded door pull for your right arm. Good visibility. An excellent driving position. Even good headlights, now that the original candles have been ditched in favour of a pair of Osram Night Breaker 200 bulbs.
The Camry didn't stand out at the Festival of the Unexceptional. Just I was leaving, I chatted with an industry colleague who said he hadn't spotted the Camry. I had to point out that he was standing right next to it. The Camry is the automotive equivalent of magnolia paint.
For somebody who likes to blend into the background, it's the perfect car. Maybe I'm the human equivalent of the Camry.
I'll pen some words on the event in due course. For now, please accept this as an ode to my exceptionally unexceptional Toyota Camry V6. Better than a Mercedes-Benz, slower than a Lotus and more anonymous than magnolia paint. Perfect.