The Toyota Camry has never been a sporty choice for sedan buyers. Even when Toyota added a V6 engine several decades ago, the focus was on comfort and reliability over anything else. New for 2020, Toyota has released a legitimately hotted-up Camry, the Camry TRD. Toyota claims the Camry TRD has “greater handling, performance and styling” to “crank up your commute.”
In other words, the Camry TRD is the hottest version of a commuter car. It’s not meant to be a racetrack weapon. I spent a week using the Camry TRD as a DC-area commuter, then took the car to Summit Point Motorsports Park for a day. Did the TRD modifications made the car legitimately sporty, or is the body kit writing a check that the car can’t cash?
What Is It?
The Toyota Camry TRD is the sportiest version of the 2020 Camry. Toyota more or less took a Camry SE, dropped their 3.5 liter V6 in the engine bay, and added a bunch of performance bits throughout the vehicle. It’s the most inexpensive way to buy a Camry V6, though there are no options to be found beyond what’s standard. If you want a Camry V6 “with goodies” that aren’t sport-oriented, take a look at the XSE V6 and XLE V6 trims instead.
TRD engineers focused on performance over anything else with the Camry TRD. The car gets a different suspension (struts, springs, sway bars) and rides 0.6″ lower than a standard Camry. TRD-specific 19″ wheels are lighter than other options and come wrapped in summer or all-season rubber based on customer choice. Those wheels cover larger, 12.9″ front brake rotors and two-piston front brake calipers. TRD also bolted on a unique catback exhaust and a somewhat-dramatic body kit, complete with the cutest rear wing stuck to the trunk lid. Finally, Toyota added unique underbody and trunk bracing to increase chassis stiffness.
The Camry TRD’s powertrain remains unchanged from any other Camry V6, and uses the familiar 3.5 liter Toyota V6. The direct-injected engine produces 301 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. The V6 can only be paired to an eight-speed “DirectShift” automatic transmission. Despite the name, the transmission is a traditional torque-converter automatic – no DCTs here. The Camry TRD sends power to the front wheels through an open differential.
Commuting in the 2020 Toyota Camry TRD
The Camry TRD is a perfectly pleasant place to spend time. Everything about the car is “fine” for commuter duties. The seats are comfortable, the drivetrain is unobtrusive, the standard Entune radio features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and the base-level audio system sounds good enough.
What the Camry TRD lacks, though, are creature comforts. You won’t find a sunroof, upgraded audio, or much driver assistance technology (beyond adaptive cruise control). No heated or ventilated seats, no optional leather, not even a rear-seat armrest.
That said, if you want creature comforts, Toyota will happily sell you a Camry XLE. I appreciate the focus that TRD identified and realized with the Camry TRD. A sunroof would add weight up high, raising the car’s center of gravity. Many optional extras would only add weight – not something you want in a car that puts performance first.
The louder TRD catback exhaust toes the line between “too loud” and “just enough noise,” and thankfully doesn’t drone much at highway speeds. The car definitely sounds better from the outside, though, with the V6 emitting a surprising snarl as it hustles to redline. In daily driving, the engine and transmission are a great pair. The TRD’s body kit requires some careful driving over steep driveway aprons.
Toyota took a page from the BMW and Pontiac playbook, changing the TRD’s gauge cluster to be lit in red at night. Unfortunately, the rest of the dashboard and steering wheel lights are still backlit in their standard “ice blue” color. The disparity is distracting at night, especially considering red has traditionally been used as the easiest way for the eye to transition from dark nighttime roads to reading gauges. I’d prefer to see everything lit in one color.
The Camry TRD Conquers a Racetrack
I’d be remiss to have the Camry TRD for a week and only commute in it. Thankfully, my loan coincided with a “trackcross” held at Summit Point Motorsports Park, about an hour from home. Trackcross is an event format hosted by Get Fast Events, in which a portion of a road racing circuit is used for an autocross-style event. Cars run one at a time, with the goal of obtaining the best time from point A to point B.
I did nothing to prepare the Camry TRD for its maiden motorsports journey. Given the time of year, my loaner came to me on the optional all-season tires, and not grippier summer rubber. We were hit with a surprise of a nice day, weather-wise, and summer tires would have certainly lent more grip throughout the event.
We ran the Jefferson Circuit in both race direction and counter-race. Both course layouts provided run times just over a minute in length. Attendees showed up in all sorts of modified street cars, from Ford’s ST twins to classic BMWs.
The Camry TRD most certainly held its own. With every possible “Sport” setting applied and traction and stability control disabled, I made run after run.
Leaving the start line, the Camry TRD puts power down with a bit of wheel spin but no detectable torque steer. Corner entry is typical of any front-wheel-drive car, with understeer prevalent unless you carefully modulate throttle on entry. Matting the throttle on corner exit allows the Camry to pull out of the corner with reasonable grace. Suspension allows for good body control with minimal roll. Brakes are very strong and inspired confidence with ABS chattering away, even as I approached a braking zone just shy of 100 mph.
The Camry TRD’s transmission, however, tried as hard as possible to neuter any fun I was having. While the shift lever has a “sport” mode and there are paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, they only offer soft suggestions to the transmission computer. The car will upshift and downshift seemingly at random, even mid-corner with constant throttle applied. This happened on the street and at Summit Point, and it was infuriating. In no circumstance should a steady-throttle third-gear turn suddenly require a top-of-the-tach second-gear downshift. On the flip side, there are often occasions where the top of one gear is the best choice for a corner or short straight, yet the Camry TRD chose to upshift, requiring constant pulls of the (-) paddle to try and regain top-end power.
The transmission tuning is undoubtedly the way it is for the sake of reliability. A simple software change would allow the transmission to hold gears in a true “manual mode” that gave full control to the driver. But, Toyota won’t allow it.
The Camry TRD’s seats also fall flat on track. They are fine for daily-driving but could use more aggressive bolstering for corner carving. My knees hurt at the end of the trackcross, as I was using them to hold my body in place all day long.
I’m Glad the Camry TRD Exists
Despite my few frustrations, I’m glad the Camry TRD exists in Toyota’s lineup. Toyota’s president declared “no more boring cars” a few years ago, and the company is working hard to move away from the soft, beige stigma they established a while back. The Camry TRD is a truly honest effort by the TRD engineers to add some zazzle to the company’s popular white-bread sedan. Reactions to the sassy Camry were positive at the trackcross, with one attendee eager to know how it handled the day, compared to his Focus ST, as a larger family-friendly vehicle.
And though I was attending the trackcross for the sake of evaluation, not competition, the times I ran all day on the Jefferson Circuit resulted in a solid mid-pack finish, among roughly 80 cars and drivers in attendance.
Not bad, Toyota. Not bad at all.