DALLAS, Tex. — How badly does Toyota want to remake its image as a purveyor of reliable but boring vehicles? Very badly indeed, it would appear. We've seen the fruits of the company's effort with the return of the Supra sports car, but we've also seen it in unexpected ways, perhaps none more so than the arrival of the 2020 Avalon TRD. With an average age in the mid-60s, the Avalon has the oldest owner body of any model in the Toyota lineup. Yet Toyota has sent its full-size sedan in for a TRD makeover, and the result is curious but also endearing. Grandpa's got a brand-new bag. TRD (Toyota Racing Development) is the brand's tuner arm, and its ministrations to the Avalon largely mirror those of the only-slightly less-surprising Camry TRD, which debuted alongside its bigger brother. As with the Camry TRD, the chassis has received the bulk of the attention, with the aim of improving the big sedan's handling. Perhaps owing to its senior status (or status with seniors), the work is not quite as extensive here as it was with the Camry. But you'll notice it on the outside, where the Avalon TRD builds off the XSE trim level, adding a larger front splitter below the gloss-black mesh grille, lower body skirts in black with red striping, black window trim and outside mirrors, a rear diffuser, and a larger rear spoiler (although not the Camry TRD's rear wing). There are TRD-specific 19-inch wheels, also in black, and the brake calipers are painted red. Exterior colors are limited to red, black, silver, and pearl white. You'll notice it, too, on the inside, where the TRD's seats are upholstered in perforated SofTex (Toyota's manmade-leather material), with microsuede inserts, and feature red accents and "TRD" stitched into the headrests. There's more red stitching on the dash pad, the door armrests, the steering wheel, and the shift boot. The floor mats are edged in red, and the pedals get metal trim. As in the XSE, textured metal trim is used on place of wood on the dash and door panels, but there's grained hard plastic on the console that is somewhat disappointing. Functionally, there's nothing to criticize here, and the 9-inch infotainment screen that sits atop the center stack includes hard buttons to quickly jump between major functions. Unlike the Camry TRD, the Avalon gets a sunroof. From behind the wheel, you'll notice the TRD changes most off all on a tight autocross course. We drove a TRD back-to-back with a regular Avalon, and the difference between the two was marked. Wheeling the regular Avalon through the cones felt like piloting a Ford LTD in a 1970s cop show. Crank the wheel in the standard Avalon, and you wait, wait, wait for the car to come screeching around the corner, heeled over on its outside front tire. The Avalon TRD, by contrast, still feels like a big car, but it's a big car that responds. Turn-in is much more energetic, understeer is under control, and transitions are far tidier. Note that this comparison was against an Avalon Touring, with its adaptive dampers in Sport+ mode. The Avalon TRD, however, does without that technology. Instead, the Avalon TRD uses non-adaptive dampers with firmer tuning and internal rebound springs. The TRD sits 0.6 inch lower on stiffer springs, and its anti-roll bars are stiffer than those of the standard model. The TRD also adds Toyota's Active Cornering Assist, which can brake an inside wheel under power in curves to reduce understeer and tighten the car's line. Additionally, the front brake hardware has been beefed up with larger rotors and two-piston calipers. The Avalon also has more robust underbody braces (three of them) as on the Camry TRD, but it does not get that car's V-brace behind the rear seatback. Nor does it get the Camry TRD's stickier summer tires, instead retaining the all-season Michelin Primacy MXV4s used by the Avalon Touring model. The Avalon's TRD-specific 19" wheels are 4.5 pounds lighter, however. The TRD is powered by the same naturally aspirated V6 found in other Avalon models, and it is unchanged for TRD duty. Displacing 3.5 liters, it spins out 301 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, distilled to the front wheels through a smooth-shifting and responsive 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. In a sedan weighing well under 4,000 pounds, that's enough for robust acceleration, but not so much as to induce annoying torque steer. Even with a mashed accelerator, this Avalon goes where it's pointed. What is different with the powertrain here is the TRD-specific cat-back exhaust system. Although it doesn't alter the output totals, it does contribute to a satisfying, tearing-paper engine sound as the tach needle climbs past 4,000 rpm or so. The downside of the more free-flowing exhaust system is some droning resonance around 60 mph, but it's really not enough to disrupt the Avalon's still-placid highway demeanor. Nor is that demeanor totally upended by the firmer suspension. The Avalon TRD feels pleasantly tied down but not terribly harsh — at least that was the impression on the fairly smooth roads where we drove the Avalon in north Texas. Beat-up boulevards in the Northeast or Midwest might reveal something more. Priced at $43,255 (with destination), the TRD sits near the top of the 2020 Avalon lineup, just $200 below the Touring and $5,000 above the XSE. Toyota says production is limited to fewer than 2,600. That's not a huge number, but it should be enough to raise a few eyebrows and help raise the profile of this once-sleepy sedan.
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.