2020 Toyota Camry TRD Test Dri...

Ron Sessions | March 31, 2020

Introduction

2020 Toyota Camry TRD front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Even though race cars that look like the Toyota Camry have been the face of the brand’s successful NASCAR Cup Series effort in recent years, it’s not likely many Camry buyers selected the practical midsize family sedan for its performance chops. The lack of a performance “halo” model for the street among its broad spectrum of trims apparently hasn’t hurt Camry sales as the midsize Toyota has been the best-selling sedan in the U.S. for the last 17 years.

That situation changes for 2020. With the return of the Supra 2-seat sports car to the Toyota showroom and the motorsports-loving CEO, Akio Toyoda, guiding the company, there is newfound interest in performance. This year, the lineup of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) models has been expanded beyond pickup trucks and SUVs to include a pair of unlikely sedans, the Camry and Avalon.

The 2020 Toyota Camry TRD model is the first-ever in the midsize sedan’s lineup. More than just an appearance upgrade, the 2020 Camry TRD gets suspension and chassis mods that transform it into a sports sedan. Including the $955 destination charge, the new Camry TRD is priced at $32,125. It’s the least-expensive Camry equipped with the 3.5-liter V6.

Styling and Design

2020 Toyota Camry TRD rear wing

Photo: Ron Sessions

Subtlety, usually a Camry design given, is not in evidence here. The 2020 Camry TRD rolls with a provocative pedestal-mounted rear wing that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Honda Civic Type R or Subaru WRX STi. The transformation from sober sedan to road rocket continues with a full aerodynamic body kit with ground-effect rockers, little airfoils in front and behind each wheel opening, aggressive-looking front and rear fascias, a large-bore cat-back dual exhaust with polished stainless-steel outlets and TRD-exclusive flat-black 19-inch alloy wheels. There’s more street savvy in evidence with a black-out grille, black badging and red-painted brake calipers. A striking $500 two-tone paint option as seen here on the Barcelona Red Metallic test car adds a gloss-black roof, mirror caps and black-out window trim.

The tuner-car sedan look is enhanced by the TRD Camry’s lower, road-hugging stance, reduced 0.6 inch by the use of shorter coil springs.

Inside, TRD touches include aluminum foot pedals, sport fabric Softex-covered seats with red and gray striped inserts, red stitching, red seatbelts and TRD logos on the seatbacks, floor mats and shifter.

For sure, the TRD is not your parent’s (or grandparent’s) Camry, even if they might have been huge NASCAR fans. The car is not a sleeper.

Comfort and Cargo

2020 Toyota Camry TRD front seats dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

Meanwhile, all the thoughtfulness, accommodations and accouterments buyers have come to expect in mainstream Camry models carry over to the TRD version. Despite the sporty cues, there are no rock-hard thigh bolsters or front seatback wings to contend with on the firm but comfortable medium-density foam-padded seats. No sacrifices to make on the altar of performance.

The Camry TRD combines a driver-focused cockpit with upscale, soft-touch materials that deliver premium sedan plushness at a mainstream sedan price. As with other Camry models, a dramatic horizontal dash design sweeps into the doors and features a diagonally cut center stack and asymmetrical floor console design. Standard fare includes a power driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar, a leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel with paddle shifters and both conventional cruise control and adaptive cruise control buttons, remote keyless entry, pushbutton start, power windows with auto up and down, plus dual sun visors with sliding extensions.

Interior storage is generous with a covered center console bin under the center armrest, a generous-sized glovebox, an open bin for small items ahead of the shifter, an overhead sunglass holder, a pair of front cup holders, a dash-mounted coin bin to the left of the steering wheel and ample space in the doors for bottles, maps, umbrellas and such.

The Camry TRD has a midsize sedan-appropriate trunk measuring 15.1 cubic feet. Need more cargo space? The back seat is a 60/40 split fold-down design for carrying longer items in the trunk. A flip-down center armrest and another pair of cup holders add comfort and convenience to an already roomy back seat.

Safety and Technology

2020 Toyota Camry TRD infotainment

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with all 2020 Camry models, the new TRD version finally brings Android Auto cellphone mirroring to the car’s long and impressive list of standard equipment, joining Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility added previously. As the TRD Camry is based on SE trim, it has to make do with the smaller 7-inch touchscreen, plus a 6-speaker AM/FM stereo with SiriusXM. Hands-free phone connectivity and Bluetooth music streaming as well as in-car Wi-Fi are also included.

Not available in the TRD Camry is the larger 8-inch touchscreen with HD Radio and a CD player or the 9-speaker JBL premium audio system, which are exclusive to XLE and XSE trims. Navigation isn’t a TRD option either.

That said, the base Camry system with the 7-inch screen is a breeze to use. There are no remote control touchpads or control wheels to distract you from what the TRD Camry is good at—sporty driving. The touchscreen is within easy reach of both driver and front passenger with large analog knobs for volume and tuning and easy-to-access hard shortcut buttons flanking the screen, plus steering-wheel and voice command controls.

To keep the price of the Camry TRD model down, Toyota based it on the SE model. This means the TRD version gets a fairly generous suite of standard safety technology, including lane departure alert with mild steering assist, a backup camera with trajectory lines, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam control, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking plus a 3-year subscription to Toyota Safety Connect which gives owners emergency roadside assistance, automatic collision notification and a stolen vehicle locator.

Unfortunately, because the TRD model is based on the SE, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring are not available, even at extra cost. Also unavailable is the optional driver’s assistance package which includes a head-up display, intelligent clearance sonar parking assistance with rear cross-traffic braking and a backup camera with a 360-degree overhead view of the car and its immediate surroundings.

Driving Impressions

2020 Toyota Camry TRD 3.5 liter V6 engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

Toyota says the TRD Camry’s chassis dynamics were honed with track input. While the traditional family sedan goodness is still in evidence, the TRD model’s precise steering, excellent body control and road-hugging stance gives the car a European sport sedan ambiance.

It starts with additional underbody bracing to boost the Camry’s already ample torsional rigidity of the TNGA-K platform the Camry is based on. From there, the TRD folks fitted shorter, stiffer coil springs, thicker anti-roll bars, larger front brakes and TRD-tuned gas shocks. Ride height is reduced 0.6 inch for a lower center of gravity and available 19-inch summer performance tires deliver increased stick and satisfyingly quick turn-in. The ride is firm but not jouncy and never harsh, even over rutted pavement.

Adding some scoot is the TRD Camry’s standard 3.5-liter V6. The direct-injected, 301-hp 3.5-liter V6, also shared with the Lexus ES 350 and RX 350, sports Toyota’s D-4S dual fuel-injection that utilizes both multiport and direct injectors. It is paired with a wide-ratio Direct Shift 8-speed step-shift automatic with paddle shifters.

The TRD Camry can scamper to 60 mph from rest in just under 6 seconds flat, with good throttle response for overtaking on 2-lane highways and merging onto high-speed freeways and has a velvety exhaust note to boot.

EPA estimates for the TRD Camry are 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. The V6 runs on regular unleaded.

As with more pedestrian Camry models, the TRD offers three driver-selectable drive modes via a row of buttons on the center console. Selecting Eco gives more gradual throttle response under most driving situations and upshifts to higher gears earlier to keep engine revs lower, saving fuel in the process, but takes the fun out of staying ahead of traffic. Sport delivers crisper throttle response, later transmission upshifts with easier downshifts and higher steering effort at highway speeds, but makes the steering too stiff and takes a big bite out of fuel economy. The default Normal mode is the best, resulting in lively steering, crisp acceleration and a not-too-shabby observed average fuel economy in the high 20 mpg range.

Conclusion

2020 Toyota Camry TRD rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

While there may not have been a tremendous grass-roots demand for a Camry performance halo model, now that it’s here, the TRD version is worth a look. The boy-racer wing may not be for everyone, but Toyota is expanding its roster of offerings under the Camry tent to include everything from thrifty base models and hybrids to Lexus-like leather-lined premium trims, all-wheel-drive models and now a credible sports sedan. The beauty of the TRD Camry is its ability to engage the driver in a sporty, fun-to-drive way while giving up none of the traditional Toyota qualities of practicality, roominess and value.

What’s Next

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