Having endured 12 hard Canadian winters on an island covered in red dirt, this 2004 Toyota Camry is about to enter its thirteenth; its tenth since my father-in-law took ownership.
That red dirt is truly key to the story, because its color comes from Prince Edward Island’s high iron oxide content. Yes, that iron oxide. Rust.
But the Camry, undercoated three times since 2007, is an almost rust-free wonder with nearly 340,000 miles under its belt.
The steering sucks. The grey paint is greying.
Everything else is more representative of a Camry freshly driven off the lot in 2004 than a car that spent tens of thousands of miles on salty, snow-covered roads being driven back and forth between Summerside and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
On PEI, the snow blows off potato fields and drifts beside barns and on top of roads, leaving exposed red dirt that then blows across the road, as well. It is, to put it lightly, a brutal climate for cars, and it’s not dramatically improved in gorgeous summers when this Camry — washed only by the rain — traverses unpaved red dirt roads to beaches littered about the island. Forget the manicured tracks leading to beaches in PEI National Park at Cavendish and Brackley and Rustico. This Camry aims for Thunder Cove, Bothwell, and Blooming Point.
So where are the rattles? Where are the suspension noises, the unhappy underhood belts, the rear bulkhead squeaks?
Evidently assembled to a high standard by a team of professionals in Kentucky, this 2004 Toyota Camry is a relatively quiet car even by modern standards. Tire hum from the 205/65R15 GT Radial Champiro IcePros is excessive, but wind noise is kept to a minimum and the 210-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine purrs quietly. Don’t expect jaw-dropping acceleration off the line — the five-speed automatic is geared for smoothness, not to snap off shifts. (Expect a 0-60 time above seven seconds for the old car rather than below six for the new car.) But with 220 lb-ft of torque, power is always on tap. Overtaking on a rural two-lane is a breeze.
The fact that this aged car never discourages its driver from pinning the throttle to the floor is the real story of the powertrain’s prowess. Quick? Sure, quick enough, but it’s more encouraging to discover the absence of unrefined clatter and bangs.
Fuel economy is not terribly out of line with the current V6-engined Camry. Rated at an adjusted 18/27 miles per gallon, city and highway, in 2004, a new Camry V6 is estimated to achieve 21 city; 30 highway. Admittedly, the new, slightly heavier Camry is a substantially more powerful car further emboldened by a more alert six-speed automatic. Also, this nearly 13-year-old Camry V6 has been known to see its mileage fall to 15-17 mpg in urban environs, where it fortunately spends little of its time.
Brake work is both the most recent and the most frequent work completed on this Camry over its life with my in-laws. At present, brake feel and response is surprisingly decent, as is the car’s ride quality on typically unpolished PEI roads.
With a massive straight-ahead dead zone that’s bordered by notchy impediments on either side of center, this Camry’s steering “feel” is not something you’ll want to feel. It diminishes confidence in cornering, lacking any precision for a car that wasn’t exactly strong on interaction when it was driven off the lot.
Link this steering column with the slowly fading paint, sublimely simple interior controls, a dearth of interior lighting, and terrific visibility, and there’s no difficulty establishing the age of this car.
Yet it’s not an undersized midsize sedan in 2016. A brand new Camry is less than two inches longer, one inch wider, and stands equally tall. Rear legroom is up by an inch in the new car; rear hiproom has hardly changed. Cargo volume is down by nearly 8 percent. This is a roadtripper’s car, as evidenced by the countless journeys it’s made between Prince Edward Island and Toronto over the last decade.
But is it a roadtripper’s car now? The father-in-law’s daily driver and cross-country commuter is now a 2013 Hyundai Elantra with enough features to embarrass just about anything from 2004, let alone a Camry with unheated cloth seats.
Less than 48 hours ago, we had a fairly thorough conversation about the Camry’s potential replacement. He’d like another V6 engine, a properly roomy car with real cargo volume, and a substantial weightiness when crossing the Confederation Bridge in high winds. We ran through a long list of possibilities.
And then I drove the Camry. I’ve driven this car many times before, but it had been years. And rarely was I in the driver’s seat outside the city of Halifax. Indeed, I may never have had an opportunity to let the Camry stretch its legs on Prince Edward Island.
What a car. A Toyota Camry, even with a powerful V6, isn’t what I would have purchased in 2004. A 2016 Toyota Camry XSE V6 isn’t what I would purchase now. But with limited brake and suspension work, never a fault thrown up by the engine or transmission, and never a trace of body work required, the Camry’s legendary durability has lived up to its billing with this particular example.
Say what you will about its dull styling, its comfort-oriented chassis, and the interior that designers forgot to design. For the non-car lover, this Camry V6 was the car to have in 2004.
Perhaps nostalgia’s getting the better of me, but I’m hoping the in-laws don’t trade it in when they find a replacement. In another decade, their grandchildren need a first car. And at the rate it goings, this 2004 Toyota Camry LE V6 will be rolling along just fine.
[Images: (C) 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]