Motor Trend’s last shred of dignity…

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 Motor Trend Car of the Year: The Toyota frickin' Camry.

I think MT and Car and Driver could get into a decent argument over who first coined the phrase "transportation appliance" to describe Toyota's stalwart mid-sizer. Both, however, would agree that it was a backhanded compliment at best. The Camry has always been a good value, reliable as the sunrise, family-friendly, and as exciting as dry, white toast. Power was merely sufficient, the suspension wallowed in turns was tuned for a smooth ride, and the styling was so relentlessly inoffensive that car buffs were offended by it.

I'll give Toyota credit for recognizing the car's boredom factor. The V6 models feel like they have genuine power now, instead of pretending to be slightly faster 4-cylinder cars. And the style has certainly improved. The previous generation at least tried to look a bit sporty. However, it was obvious that they started with a bland design, then tried to "jazz" it up as an afterthought. The result was a sheet metal manifestation of the phrase "lipstick on a pig". The '07 model looks like it was more thoroughly designed. It's still on the conservative side, but it no longer looks like it's trying too hard to look cool.

In other words, it's become the Honda Accord.

This makes it worthy of Car of the Year status? Evolving out the glaring deficiencies, leaving nothing but overwhelming competence?

Maybe it's because Motor Trend and Automobile are now under the same publisher. Automobile embraces its inner hooligan, gladly handing out hardware to cars like the BMW M3 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. They're still getting angry letters about their one major slip-up, the Toyota RAV-4, more than ten years after it won Automobile of the Year. Ever since then, they've been reluctant to reward any car that isn't a willing accomplice to license-threatening behavior. They'd be TopGear, if they could afford the insurance.

So Motor Trend got practical. Wouldn't be the first time. How else could you explain the COTY awards given to the Chevy Malibu and Chrysler Cirrus? But maybe, in those years, the exciting new cars had some unforgivable flaws? As I look at this year's list of qualifiers, I see some damn good cars: Jaguar XK, Infiniti G35, Nissan Altima, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, VW Rabbit. (Of course, there are also some dogs that were probably dismissed from the start: Chevy Aveo, Jeep Compass, Kia Rondo.)

I have a feeling that the Altima lost out because the hybrid model won't be available until next year. Otherwise, it would be a Honda Accord, just like the Camry, and thus equally worthy. The Rabbit is a down-market GTI, which is more award-worthy than the Hatchback Formerly Known As Golf. Mercedes is gaining a reputation for charging headlong into new technology before working out all the kinks, giving their quality reputation a few black marks, which probably hurt the S-class' chances. And Jaguar's Jaguar. An entire generation of writers who hated the Leyland-era cars will have to retire before Coventry's finest get a fair shake.

So how about the G35? Until Nissan started slapping alphabet-soup-compliant badges on Skylines, BMW hadn't had a consistently credible threat to the dominance of the 3-series. Now, you don't know whether the G35 or the 3-series will win a given comparison test, but you know damn sure that everybody else is fighting for 3rd place.

Value? Test-drive a Camry SE V-6 and a base G35, compare stickers, then get back to me. (Hint: Toyota loves option packages.)

I'll take the G35x, in Lakeshore Slate, thank you very much. And if you know somebody who can import a complete set of Nissan Skyline 350 GT-Four badges, I'd appreciate it.

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