Nobody expected a 2020 Toyota Camry TRD model before Toyota announced both this sporty sedan and the Avalon TRD at the same time. And even after that, we had a hard time believing that the Camry and Avalon TRD versions would be legitimately compelling drivers. However, the Avalon TRD managed to win some of us over with its surprisingly agile driving dynamics and aggressive design. We were hoping for the same to happen in our week with the smaller and inherently sportier Camry TRD.
The formula for the Camry is similar to the Avalon. Add suspension, sound and styling; keep the powertrain. Toyota calls the Camry TRD's chassis "track tuned." New, stiffer coil springs lower the ride height by 0.6 inch. Combined with more aggressive sway bars and TRD-specific shocks, Toyota says the roll stiffness is increased by 44 percent in front and 67 percent in the rear. Our tester didn't have the Bridgestone Potenza summer tires that come as standard equipment, due to it being cold and snowy in Michigan right now, but the all-season Michelins it did have were mounted to the special 19-inch matte black TRD wheels. Toyota also mounts larger front brakes on the TRD, moving from 12-inch front rotors to 12.9-inch discs, and two-piston calipers as opposed to single-piston clampers. As we foreshadowed before, the Camry keeps its 3.5-liter V6 that makes 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. Even the eight-speed automatic's transmission tuning carries over to the TRD.
There’s no mistaking the TRD for other versions of the Camry, either. Toyota mounts a large trunk lid wing, along with a front splitter, rear diffuser and aggressive side skirts. A stainless steel dual exhaust pokes out the back — it’s a TRD unit, and it makes a whole lot more noise than your average Camry does. On the inside, you get black seats with grippy fabric inserts and red stitching throughout. Other red accents on the steering wheel, floor mats, gauges, shift knob and full-red seatbelts remind you that you’re in the TRD. All this extra equipment amounts to a base price of $31,995 for the TRD. With a couple of paint and trim options, our specific tester rang up at $32,920. That makes it the cheapest way to get into a V6 Camry.
Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Avalon TRD drove when we had that large performance sedan in our office not too long ago. Same goes for the Camry TRD. It’s no track car, but the stiffer suspension and extra bracing makes the Camry into an eager corner carver. There’s still a touch of noticeable body roll, but any undue swaying or sloppiness has been tuned out of the suspension. It takes a set, holds the line and doesn’t ever get out of sorts transitioning from corner to corner.
It’s easy to tell the TRD apart from other Camrys in daily driving along Michigan’s miserable highways, too. The suspension is firmer than even the sport-tuned XSE, but there’s still enough cushion to make it livable. I wouldn’t worry about making this sedan my daily if I lived somewhere with slightly better roads. As it is, frost heaves cause a bit of a jolt to go through my body, and the ride is just a bit too crisp for your average Camry buyer.
Its biggest flaw is being front-wheel drive only. If you live in a state that constantly throws snow or rain on you, this car will likely become frustrating. Traction control is constantly intervening to keep the front wheels from being overwhelmed by the V6, even when trying to apply power in sweepers. A limited-slip differential would help translate the 301 horsepower into more effective forward motion, but what it really needs is a good all-wheel drive system. It’s going to be offered with the four-cylinder, and it would make the TRD even more compelling than it already is.
Associate Editor Byron Hurd: I can't get my head around this one. I wanted to like it, especially given the praise the Avalon TRD received, but the Camry TRD just isn't clicking for me. There's a touch of afterthought to its execution, as if Toyota suddenly decided that sedans need more flash if they're going to sell, and set out to add that flash without first deciding how to define it. It's as if Toyota's product planners got the engineers and designers together and said, "Just make it ... more." Insert jazz hands here.
I can't point to any one thing that really bothers me — OK, except for the spoiler; I can definitely point to that. The TRD formula looks decent on paper. It solves the Camry's soft-edged issues and emboldens the styling, but sportier for the sake of being sportier doesn't seem to be enough to elevate the TRD for me. Plus, a stiff suspension and heavier steering won't solve some of the Camry's inherent issues, like its GeoCities-era infotainment system.
I think my issue with the Camry TRD is that it is trying to be something it's not. At least Mazda's old front-wheel drive, V6-powered family cars felt coherent. They didn't need a sporty trim to be sporty; they just were. There's nothing wrong with the TRD's fundamental formula. I can forgive a little (OK, a lot of) axle hop in slick conditions and the transmission's get-to-top-gear-now shift logic trying its best to preserve fuel economy, but the payoff in this instance just doesn't seem worthwhile. To each their own, though.
Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: I was excited to get into this car, but I was yawning after a few miles in it. To me, it didn't feel nearly as sporty as that boy racer wing on the back suggests. It felt like just a slightly less comfortable Camry.
In terms of styling, I'm most of the way there with this. I'm not a fan of the wing, but the rest of the car is palatable. I enjoy the rest of the aero work. It's like it took some cues from the Civic Type R and simplified. The blacked out badges are slick. Inside, it's sort of dark and brooding. I like the Knight Rider look of the red gauges, even if they're a little tougher to see than if they were illuminated in white.
I just don't feel like the rest of the TRD experience lives up to the styling here. This needs more power or, at the very least, some special throttle and transmission mapping to give it the illusion of performance. I also like Zac's suggestions of a limited-slip diff or all-wheel drive.
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: So I came away really enjoying the Camry TRD, but I do concede it has some issues. First off, I love the styling, even the silly wing on the back. It's not subtle or elegant, but there's plenty of that elsewhere in the midsize sedan class, so it's nice to have an outrageous option. The styling inside is great, too, especially the red and black striped seats.
The @Toyota Camry TRD is a lot of fun, and I love the looks. Yes, even the sorta silly wing. @therealautoblog pic.twitter.com/S3Ws48ZdIO
The engine is excellent with its deep intake growl and healthy horsepower. The steering is quick, the car has loads of grip, and the chassis is impressively stable and solid. I even found the suspension tuning to be quite comfortable considering the sporty pretensions. It was far better than the harsh Avalon TRD.
As for the issues, I agree with my colleagues that Toyota needs to go a bit farther with the package. Those lovely looking seats have a terrible shape, lacking critical bolstering for a corner carver. The transmission doesn't have a true manual mode. You can only select what the highest gear it can shift to is, and whether it holds gears longer. And even then, the transmission doesn't shift as quickly or as smoothly as it should. A limited-slip differential would be enormously helpful for getting the power down, too.
On the whole, I still had fun with it, and would seriously consider it as an alternative to a Mazda6 turbo or Honda Accord 2.0-liter if I wanted something that stands out more. It's also the cheapest way to get a V6 Toyota Camry, and a couple hundred less than the Accord Sport 2.0-liter, with a base price of $32,125, making it a decent value.