Toyota Camry V6 GXi

On Budget day, as Chancellor Lawson announced the reduction in duty on unleaded fuel, a Toyota Camry with the latest quad-cam 24-valve V6 engine arrived for sampling with the message "Toyota Runs On Unleaded Petrol". So I was able to don a conservationist's tie and drive smugly away in the knowledge that I was not contaminating the atmosphere.

Good on the progressive Japanese company, which not only finds its latest multi-valve engines well-suited to lead-free fuel but at the other end of the scale markets the world's best-selling car, the Corolla, whose prices start at £7750.

The V6 Camry is something else again: a Sierra-sized four-door booted saloon, notable for its very smooth four-overhead-cam power-unit which fills the bonnet space with accessible components and is coupled to an equally smooth automatic transmission. Spacious, comfortable and fast, it is more refined than a Sierra, but rubbery steering (31/2 turns lock-to-lock) gives it the feel of a hovercraft compared with Ford's secure cornering. Quietness is impressive however, most of the noise emanating from the Dunlop SP Sport tyres.

Generous equipment includes two-position electric sun-roof, central locking, cruise control, electric window-lifts (with a quick-drop option) and mirror adjustment, delayed-action ignition keyhole illumination and two map-reading lights. A tiny button on the gear-selector lever operates an overdrive, and another on the console provides for ECT "power" or "normal" running, so there are good economy/ performance options. Another button covers use of normal or super leaded fuel.

In fact, there are 32 press-buttons under the driver's control, and with the various knurled knobs and levers for the four heating/air vents the Camry should appeal to those who play computer games or pinball. Especially as the many heat permutations are indicated by tiny lights and the P, R, N, D, 2 and L gearbox positions are shown in a fascia window, along with the NORM(D)selection when this is in use and a light telling the driver when overdrive is not. A German-style fascia makes the big speedometer and tachometer easy to read; uncalibrated fuel-gauge and heat-gauge flank them. Stalk controls (indicators from the right, wipers from the left) are substantial. Three sensible knobs and a lever set the comfortable driver's seat, and the rather bland interior includes a large lockable droplid cabby-hole and front door bins.

To remove the ignition key you need to depress one of the many aforementioned buttons, a stupid gimmick once found on Vauxhalls. Toyota claims that the Camry's excellent performance is unaffected by the use of unleaded fuel, which is consumed at 23.9 mpg from a tank holding 13.2 gallons. The 21/2-litre V6 runs at just over 2500 rpm at 60 mph, with the tach red-lined at an inspiring 6750 rpm. Far from rorty, it is a family car personified, but this biggest-engined Camry is quick about the place and endowed with powerful ABS brakes.

Another impressive, if characterless, Japanese offering in the front-wheel-drive transverse-engine idiom, the GXi is priced at £16,991. And Toyota can meet comparisons with the XR Sierra, since it also lists a 4WD Camry. WB