DALLAS, Tex. — Autocrossing a Toyota Camry shouldn't be fun … should it? Everyone knows a Camry is best enjoyed from the rear seat, while your Uber driver chauffeurs you home after a night at the bar. Or at least, that has historically been the case. But Toyota's mainstay sedan has evolved into a car that also can be appreciated from behind the wheel, and buyers appear to be taking notice. Since the latest-generation Camry debuted for 2018, the SE and XSE models combined have accounted for some 60% of the model mix, according to Toyota. But the 2020 Toyota Camry TRD moves beyond those models, taking the Camry to a place it has never credibly gone before: a coned autocross course. The brand's in-house tuner arm, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), has to date mostly expended its energies making trucks and SUVs more off-road ready. TRD-branded models include the 4Runner, Tacoma, Tundra, and Sequoia. In creating the 2020 Camry TRD, the first TRD-branded sedan, the primary objective was to improve handling. Of course, the car also has to look the part. There's the rear wing — a Camry first — but also side aero skirts in black with red striping, extended front splitters, and a diffuser under the rear bumper. A gloss-black grille, special matte-black wheels, and a black roof complete the look. Exterior colors are limited to black, red, pearl white, and silver. Sorry, no beige. Inside, drivers are treated to red accents before they get the red mist. The TRD Camry's black interior sees red stripes on the seats and a red "TRD" stitched into the headrests. There also are red seatbelts; red edging on the floor mats; and red contrast stitching on the dash, steering wheel, gear lever, and shift boot. The gauge numbers also are red. The Camry is one of the final holdouts still offering a V6 engine in a class that has increasingly downsized and added turbocharging, and that engine is unchanged for TRD duty, making the same 301 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque as it does in the XSE and XLE models. It does, however, get a revised cat-back exhaust system to trumpet more engine sound. A stiffer structure always benefits handling, and the TRD folks have added a V-brace behind the Camry's rear seatback (sacrificing its fold-down function). Additionally, three under-car braces have been beefed up. The revised suspension features firmer coil springs and dampers and beefier anti-roll bars, all employed in a quest for increased roll stiffness. The dampers also gain internal rebound springs, and there are new jounce bumpers to preserve some semblance of ride quality. The new setup lowers the ride height by 0.6 inch, which pays ancillary benefits in the visual department. Toyota's Active Cornering Assist, which can brake an inside wheel in turns, is employed here and is exclusive to the TRD. The Camry TRD dons a set of athletic footwear in the form of model-specific 19 x 8.5" alloy wheels that are half-an-inch wider and 3.1 pounds lighter than the 19" units on the XSE. For maximum stick, they're wrapped with Bridgestone Potenza summer tires, size 235/40. Peeking through the matte-black wheels are snappy, red-painted brake calipers. The fronts have been upgraded to two-piston units (the rears are unchanged), and they squeeze 0.9-inch-larger rotors. We drove the TRD back-to-back with the next-sportiest Camry variant, the V6 XSE. In a tight coned course, the TRD exhibited far more grip, body control, and eagerness to turn in. Where the XSE just wanted to push, the TRD was less prone to understeer and ultimately felt more balanced. It also stayed more planted in quick transitions and was much more resistant to body roll. The car actually was fun to toss around. We also made time to drive the Camry TRD on the street, where the difference versus the XSE model was less transformative but still evident. The TRD car has retuned electric power steering, and that combined with the different (although same-size) tires makes for improved steering feel, with the helm noticeably more precise on center. It's best appreciated in Sport mode, which reduces steering assist compared to Normal mode. Cruising through a couple of fast sweepers, this Camry feels athletic, and isn't terribly upset by bumps. The roads north of Dallas were generally pretty smooth, but crossing a set a railroad tracks we did feel some impact harshness, and we suspect that over broken pavement the TRD's firmer suspension will exact a toll in ride quality. As noted, TRD left the Camry's powertrain alone except for the exhaust system, but this V6 makes about as much as you'd want to send through the front wheels anyway. The Camry steps lively off the line, but with peak torque arriving at 4,700 rpm, the engine unsurprisingly provides its most muscular response as the tach needle swings toward 5k. With the revised exhaust, this vociferous V6 sounds better than any 2.0-liter turbo four at higher revs. But there is also a bit of not-so-welcome resonance when cruising at a steady 50 to 60 mph, although it's pretty faint, taking a back seat to the noise from the Bridgestones. In all other ways, this is a Camry, which means it has a roomy interior, comfortable front seats, and good outward visibility. It has the same funhouse dashboard with its slashing curves, agreeable mechanical shifter, and fairly simple infotainment system as its siblings. The TRD-specific Softex fabric does a reasonable approximation of leather, and the red elements are sporty without being cheesy – but the red instrument markings are hard to see when wearing sunglasses. With a starting price of $31,995 (with destination), the TRD is the lowest-priced Camry with a V6 engine. It comes in $3,410 below the V6 XLE and $3,960 less than the V6 XSE. That may seem surprising, but the TRD's equipment level is more akin to the four-cylinder SE model. Thus, the TRD skips the sunroof, leather, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and larger touchscreen with navigation that are all standard on the XSE and XLE V6 models. Among the included features are adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Toyota says that production of the 2020 Camry TRD is limited but seems not to have settled on an exact number. We're told that fewer than 6,000 will be built. It would be a shame if at least a few of them don't find their way to an autocross.
For years, no decades, the Toyota Camry was one of the most boring, conservative and blandest vehicles on the market. It has long been extremely dependable and well-suited to a huge array of new car buyers but certainly wasn't the car one would buy if they wanted to make a statement and be seen. The eighth-generation is a little different.
The 2020 Toyota Camry TRD takes a different approach to its place in lineup than the 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD. Cars Direct, having seen order guides for the Camry TRD, says the sedan will start at $31,955 after a $955 charge for destination. That makes it about $2,000 more than the most expensive four-cylinder Camry trim, and $3,410 less than the least expensive six-cylinder Camry, the $35,405 XLE V6. The Camry TRD has just become the most cost-effective way to get the 93 additional horsepower that comes with the 3.5-liter V6. Compare that to the Avalon strategy. The Avalon TRD came in at $43,255, which is $4,000 more than the sport-inclined Avalon XSE with the same 3.5-liter V6 engine, and not even $1,000 from the most expensive Limited Hybrid trim. When Cars Direct asked Toyota about the positioning, the carmaker responded that the Carmry TRD should be judged against the mid-grade, four-cylinder SE trim that sits two levels below the four-cylinder XSE trim, and costs $5,000 less than the V6 Camry TRD. Since the TRD version gets performance and appearance mods like a tuned, lowered suspension, larger brakes, a TRD exhaust, black wheels, aero tweaks, and interior eye candy, the standard equipment list stays modest. The TRD sticks with SofTex synthetic leather seating and can't be optioned with the Navigation or the Driver Assist Packages. If the TRD trim mirrors the SE package options across the board, a moonroof, a blind spot monitor and keyless entry, and an Entune 3.0 audio system that bundles dual-zone climate control will be the only possible upgrades. Cars Direct didn't break out pricing for all Camry trims, but price increases are coming based on order guide figures for the SE, XLE V6 and XSE V6. The SE goes up by $200 to $26,995, the XLE V6 will cost $150 more, and the top-tier XSE increases by $110.
A car infotainment system's ability to utilize Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa has become a major commodity in recent years, as customers continue to blend and connect various aspects of their 'smart' lives. Until now, none of Toyota's 2018-and-earlier products were compatible with smartphone integrations, but that's changing. Toyota announced a surprise upgrade for the 2018 Camry and Sienna, a retrofitting to include CarPlay and Alexa capabilities.
Toyota was pretty late to the game in introducing Apple CarPlay to its vehicles. Toyota launched the integration with the 2019 Avalon, and now offers the feature standard on most of its 2020 vehicles. That it took so long for the Japanese company to include the technology irked some customers, and now Toyota is trying to make good.