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2020 Toyota Camry TRD Changes the Camry s Game

2020 Toyota Camry TRD Changes the Camry’s Game

We won’t even make a beige joke—this is one seriously sporty Toyota Camry.

It used to be that if you wanted a «sporty» Toyota Camry, you bought the six-cylinder version. You also (hopefully) understood that you weren’t really buying a performance-oriented Camry, per se, but simply the most powerful Camry. There is a difference. The 2020 Camry TRD, however, is the first of Toyota’s long-standing bread-and-butter mid-size sedans that one could actually construe as «sporty.»

HIGHS: Much improved body control, improved brake feel, boy-racer looks.

Since its introduction in 1983, the closest the Camry has ever come to letting its hair down was a dealer-installed bolt-on supercharger kit for the V-6 model, sold by Toyota’s in-house performance arm, Toyota Racing Development, better known as TRD. The Camry’s existence was otherwise vanilla, delivering customers reliable, inoffensive transportation and nothing more while riding a wave of ubiquity to a reputation for being automotive wallpaper. There is plenty of «more» in the Camry TRD, however, as it represents a near-total performance makeover of the current model, itself the most driver-focused version ever. We even sampled it at the unlikeliest venue for a Camry: Texas Motor Speedway.

Styling and Design

Photo: Ron Sessions

Subtlety, usually a Camry design given, is not in evidence here. The 2020 Camry TRD rolls with a provocative pedestal-mounted rear wing that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Honda Civic Type R or Subaru WRX STi. The transformation from sober sedan to road rocket continues with a full aerodynamic body kit with ground-effect rockers, little airfoils in front and behind each wheel opening, aggressive-looking front and rear fascias, a large-bore cat-back dual exhaust with polished stainless-steel outlets and TRD-exclusive flat-black 19-inch alloy wheels. There’s more street savvy in evidence with a black-out grille, black badging and red-painted brake calipers. A striking $500 two-tone paint option as seen here on the Barcelona Red Metallic test car adds a gloss-black roof, mirror caps and black-out window trim.

The tuner-car sedan look is enhanced by the TRD Camry’s lower, road-hugging stance, reduced 0.6 inch by the use of shorter coil springs.

Inside, TRD touches include aluminum foot pedals, sport fabric Softex-covered seats with red and gray striped inserts, red stitching, red seatbelts and TRD logos on the seatbacks, floor mats and shifter.

For sure, the TRD is not your parent’s (or grandparent’s) Camry, even if they might have been huge NASCAR fans. The car is not a sleeper.

Under the Skin

TRD isn’t some appearance package ending with -Line or -Sport; it’s an actual collection of upgrades that slash seconds from lap times. Thickened underbody bracing transfers flex from the chassis to the suspension and increases body roll resistance by 44 percent in the front and 67 percent in the rear. The whole car sits 0.6 inches lower on retuned springs, stiffer sway bars and lightened 19-inch alloy wheels, which shed 18 pounds of rotating mass and come wrapped in high-performance Bridgestone Potenza summer tires (swapped out for Michelins here).

Slightly larger rotors (+0.9 inches) up front are paired with two-piston calipers instead of the usual one, and steering weight has been noticeably boosted. Then there’s the body kit and its associated aerodynamic improvements, along with a cat back TRD exhaust that does its part in making the naturally-aspirated V6 under the hood sound more intense than it really is.

These are the kinds of mods that, if half-assed, could make a car utterly unlivable. Thankfully, the two-hour drive to Pike National Forest proved they don’t. The lowered suspension is on the firmer end of tolerable but still absorbed the worst Interstate 25 threw at it. Still a Camry, this is.

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Though wind noise on the highway is more noticeable, it’s easily drowned out by a perfectly fine six-speaker sound system that won’t have buyers browsing Pioneer’s website until several years into ownership. The Toyota Entune 3.0 infotainment OS has a straightforward interface, though one finds it unsatisfactory for some reason, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.

The touchscreen itself is sufficiently responsive, and its seven-inch span is just enough to make clear that this podunk little turn-off is the one that leads to Pikes Peak—in case our eventful visit in a Nissan Leaf Plus last summer hadn’t left an impression.

The automotive equivalent of the color beige gets a spicy and sporty injection of personality.

Verdict

We enthusiast types don’t typically love writing about the Toyota Camry. Even after migrating to the TNGA platform for the 2018 model year, it still remained a fairly uninteresting sedan to drive. Sure, that stiff modular chassis now gives the Camry some semblance of handling verve, but for pure midsize driving enjoyment, our basement-dwelling drivel usually sings the Mazda6’s praises, particularly in its newly turbocharged Grand Touring trim.

Toyota, evidently, is no longer content to get a patronizing, “most improved” pat on the head from die-hard driving devotees, and it’s thrown a whole lot of aggression at its popular midsize sedan. Enter the first-ever 2020 Camry TRD, which gets a standard V6, trim-specific suspension tuning, larger brakes, and a conspicuous aero kit. Unusually for a performance-oriented model, the TRD is also the cheapest way to get into a six-cylinder Camry, with a base price of $31,170. And you know what? The TRD is silly, overwrought, and unnecessarily aggressive, but we can’t help but like it.

For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.

Design

The base Toyota Camry gets a wing-shaped schnoz and narrow headlights with some upmarket style that wouldn’t look out of place on a Lexus. On the TRD, however, the designers threw any semblance of grace out the window in the name of harsh and unyielding sportiness, styling-wise at least.

Borrowed from the Camry SE and XSE, a blacked-out, X-shaped front end graphic separates the hood and headlights from the bumper, and the lower air intake looks more authentic than before (although the core bumper support still closes off some of the grille openings). The lower side “air intakes” are likewise blocked off, but they still look appropriately sporty. Unique to the TRD is a surprisingly aggressive front splitter.

Painted gloss black with red pinstriping, the front splitter, side skirts, and rear bumper diffuser collaborate to give the exuberant Camry some added visual flash. That new rear bumper also houses twin exhaust outlets that could double as rocket-propelled grenade launchers. And the biplane-style wing on the decklid isn’t just unusual for a Camry, it’s surprising to see on any vehicle short of a Chevy Camaro ZL1.

Two-tone paint is a mandatory $500 option with Supersonic Red or Celestial Silver and a $950 option on Wind Chill Pearl – our tester featured the mach-plus shade, and it looks great contrasted with the Midnight Black Metallic roof and spoiler.

Inside, the TRD gets extensive contrasting accents, including red stitching and embroidery on the black Softex seat faces, red and black cloth seating inserts, red carpet bands on the TRD-embroidered floor mats, and red stitching on the dashboard. And then there are those blazing red seat belts. Together with the aluminum pedals, the interior wastes no time informing drivers that this Camry is here to party.

Comfort

Like other Toyota sedans, this Camry is a mostly comfortable place to spend time. But in its transition from mild-mannered midsizer to superhero imitator, the TRD has picked up a few bad habits. The aero aids, for example, generate a rather uncomfortable whistling sound when driving down the highway with anything more than a mild crosswind. Adding more audial discomfort is the TRD-specific cat-back exhaust system – at full chat, the pipes sing a lovely song, but there’s a lot of uncomfortable boominess that penetrates the cabin when cruising under light engine load.

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However, we must give snaps to TRD engineers for tuning the sedan’s custom dampers for performance without ruining ride comfort. Even on 19-inch wheels with rubber-band tire sidewalls, the Camry offers a firm, planted ride that still absorbs bumps rather well. Partial credit goes to TRD-specific underbody bracing for the TNGA-platform sedan. Offering a palpable increase in body rigidity relative to the still-impressive Camry, the stiffer chassis means the suspension can work effectively across a broader set of uses.

Since Toyota merely reupholstered the standard Camry’s chairs, they still offer good support for daily use, and there’s reasonable room front and back. All TRD models are slicktops, so there’s no room lost to a sunroof – four adult passengers would have no trouble fitting, thanks to 38.3 inches of front and 38.0 inches of rear headroom, as well as 42.1 inches of front and 38.0 inches of rear legroom.

Honda’s rival Accord Sport offers less front and rear headroom (37.5 and 37.2 inches, respectively), though more legroom (42.3 and 40.4 inches). The same can be said of the Mazda6’s front and rear headroom (37.4 and 37.1 inches) and legroom (42.2 and 38.7 inches). The Kia K5 GT offers universally more space up front and less in back, making interior comparisons a bit of a wash in the midsize class. At 15.1 cubic feet, however, the Camry’s trunk capacity beats out only the 14.7-cube Mazda6 – the Accord offers 16.7, while the K5 boasts 16.0.

Technology & Connectivity

The Camry TRD can blame its impressive $31,170 starting price on a relative lack of interior features, unfortunately. The 7.0-inch infotainment display in the center stack is the same as one would find in a base Camry L and smaller than the 8.0-inch touchscreen found in the similarly priced Accord Sport or the 10.3-inch unit found in the Kia K5 GT. And while the TRD’s 4.2-inch info display in the gauge cluster – bookended by analog gauges – would have been adequate five years ago, it looks outdated today.

Ditto the Camry’s infotainment system graphics. The interface is reasonably easy to use, though saddled with visuals that haven’t been updated since Toyotas of the last decade. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on the TRD (as on all Camrys), which is a good thing since the performance-tuned sedan doesn’t offer embedded navigation. Also notably absent is an upgraded audio system. The base sound package isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t stand up against the JBL system on other Camry trims.

And while other cars in its class (and in the Camry family) get sophisticated 360-degree cameras and parking sensors with reverse auto-brake to prevent low-speed crashes, the Camry TRD receives a rear camera only. What’s more, the display’s grid lines are fixed, so drivers can’t even predict their trajectory when reversing with the wheel turned.

Performance & Handling

We can’t decide if the Camry TRD’s impressive performance is predictable or surprising – the former because of its shouty body modifications and bold 19-inch alloy wheels or the latter because, well, it’s a Camry. But whatever the case may be, the sport-tuned midsize sedan serves up a heaping helping of control and power belying its humble family-car bones.

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Those big wheels come wrapped in all-season tires that offer impressive grip for four-season rubber. But it’s easy to slap some huge meats on a car and call it traction. What’s far more difficult is giving that same car finesse. That’s where the specially tuned dampers and lowering springs come into play. Riding 0.6-inch lower than the Camry XSE, the TRD offers genuinely impressive balance through high-speed sweepers and freeway onramps, with the tires coming into play to provide grip in tighter turns.

Brakes are similarly faultless. Two-piston front calipers bite down on 12.9-inch front rotors (compared to one-piston calipers and 12.0-inch rotors on lesser Camry trims), with special brake booster tuning to improve feel under that left pedal. Although the brakes produce a fair amount of dust, they work very well, providing good fade resistance and gut-wrenching response in sporty driving.

Accompanied by a satisfying growl from the Camry’s 3.5-liter V6 – making 301 best-in-class horsepower and 267 pound-feet – the TRD attacks corners with more ferocity than could be reasonably expected of this or any other midsize, front-drive sedan. However, Toyota limits all-wheel drive to the Camry’s standard 2.5-liter inline-four (owing to the V6’s absurdly low 6-percent take rate), and that’s about the only reasonable way we could think to improve the TRD – short of offering a SEMA-chic turbocharger kit or manual transmission or something.

The standard eight-speed automatic transmission seems more responsive than in other trim levels, though that could be due to our perpetual use of its sport mode and paddle shifters. The rare moments we used the car’s Eco throttle and transmission tuning elicited neutered responses and frustratingly early upshifts; the payoff is noticeably better fuel economy in normal commuting.

Interior Highlights: Some Drawbacks

The seven-inch touchscreen is easy to read and use, but feels small compared to vehicles we’ve recently tested with large infotainment screens that dominate the dash. An eight-inch touchscreen is available for the Camry, so we would probably opt for that next time.

The downside to the Camry TRD’s sporty ride is the addition of a V-brace that stiffens the chassis. It extends behind the rear seats eliminating the ability to fold them. While you get the added performance benefit, you cannot haul longer items.

Under the hood of the Camry TRD is a 24-valve DOHC 3.5-liter V6 with Toyota’s D-4S direct injection system.

So, can a Camry be sporty?

For what it is, this TRD-enhanced family sedan drives well, with a firm ride, improved brakes and a throaty-sounding exhaust. Throw in all the visual enhancements that come with this package and you have a car that’s more than just a thin veneer of sport applied to the same old Camry. Granted, it’s not much more than that, but this package is still unexpectedly satisfying.

An affordable price makes the Camry TRD even more attractive.

And it’s made all the more likable when pricing is factored in. For the amount of car you’re getting here, the Camry TRD is surprisingly affordable. The test unit I evaluated here stickered for a downright reasonable $32,920, including $995 in destination fees. Two-tone paint added a mere $500 to the base price.

If Camry is the car that jingles your bells and you’d like one with a V6 engine instead of the base four-banger or available hybrid powertrain, check out the TRD model. It’s a machine that should appeal to actual car people, not just folks that wear elastic-waistband jeans or do their holiday shopping at a drugstore.

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