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.
Tested rides between 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.
Driving 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, the Camry feels athletic and 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.
2020 Toyota Camry TRD
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
DOHC 24-valve Atkinson-capable V-6, aluminum block and heads, port and direct fuel injection
211 cu in, 3456 cc
301 hp @ 6600 rpm
267 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Wheelbase: 111.2 in
Length: 192.7 in
Width: 72.4 in
Height: 56.3 in
Passenger volume: 101 cu ft
Trunk volume: 15 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3650 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 14.4 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.4 sec
Top speed: 135 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/city/highway: 25/22/31 mpg
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