2020 Toyota Camry TRD First Drive Review: Your Sporty Camry Has Arrived

First Drive / Comments

Toyota's daily runabout just dyed its hair red.

Have you ever been driving along in your Toyota Camry and thought to yourself "I wish my commute was more like a Fast & Furious movie?" Probably not, but this hasn't stopped Toyota from building a new TRD version of its popular mid-size sedan. TRD, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, is Toyota's racing division responsible for building the company's sporty vehicles and off-road trucks.

While the increase in performance isn't massive, the 2020 Camry TRD can be differentiated from a standard car via an aggressive body kit, black TRD wheels, various interior changes, and spoiler that wouldn't look out of place at SEMA. Has Toyota's TRD division done enough to make the Camry sporty, or should you just stick with the stock model? Toyota flew us out to Dallas, Texas to drive the 2020 Camry TRD at the Texas Motor Speedway so we could find out.

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Exterior Design: Camry Meets Fast & Furious

The latest Camry already features the most aggressive styling we have seen on the mid-size sedan but Toyota wanted to make sure you wouldn't mistake the TRD for any of the other trim levels. You can spot a Camry TRD via its 19-inch matte black TRD wheels with optional Bridgestone Potenza summer tires, gloss black front splitter, side aero skirts, and rear diffuser with red pinstriping, cat-back dual exhaust with stainless steel tips, black lettering, red TRD badge, red brake calipers, and finally, the Dominic Toretto-approved rear wing.

As with the Camry XSE, the TRD model's four available exterior colors are paired with a Midnight Black roof and black mirror caps. Toyota will offer the 2020 Camry TRD in Wind Chill Pearl (white), Midnight Black Metallic, Celestial Silver Metallic, and a TRD-exclusive color called Supersonic Red with other exclusive colors set to be available in subsequent model years.

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Engine, Performance, & MPG: Handling, Not Power

Don't expect to see any changes under the hood because Toyota's 3.5-liter V6 engine has been left completely stock. Don't worry, it still produces plenty of power - 301 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque going out to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Remember, those were V8 figures just a few years ago. Fuel economy is estimated at 22/31/25 mpg city/highway/combined, which is just one mpg on the highway and one mpg overall less than the Camry XSE V6 (likely due to the additional drag from the spoiler).

The wider P235 Michelin all-season tires and optional Bridgestone Potenza summer tires may add a bit more grip off the line but we expect the Camry's 0-60 time of around 5.8 seconds to remain the same. Toyota's TRD division has spent most of its attention improving the Camry's handling with thicker underbody braces, unique coil springs (which are lower by 0.6 inches), specially tuned shock absorbers, and larger 12.9-inch front brakes with dual-piston calipers replacing single-piston units. There's also a TRD cat-back exhaust which provides throaty sound during acceleration. Trust us, when you hear it, you'll say "that's coming from a Camry!?"

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Interior Design: Do You Like Red?

The interior of the Camry TRD hasn't changed quite as much as the exterior but there are a few styling cues to remind the driver they didn't buy a standard Camry. Only one interior color is offered, Black Sport Soft-Tex seats with fabric inserts and red accents. The whole cabin is filled with red accents including the stitching, seatbelts, embroidered headrests, gauges, and even the floor mats. You'd better like the color red because there's plenty of it all throughout the cabin and there aren't any other accent colors available. The rest of the interior remains unchanged from a standard Camry but Android Auto is a welcomed addition for the 2020 model year.

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Trunk & Cargo Space: Still A Camry

Toyota wanted the Camry TRD to perform better but it hasn't compromised much on practicality. The rear seats still offer a generous 38 inches of legroom while the shoulder and hip room sit at 55.7 and 54.7 inches respectively. In the trunk, the TRD still offers 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space, though you do lose the 60-40 split-folding rear seats found on other Camry models due to the additional chassis strengthening underneath. As with the interior floor mats, the trunk mat says 'TRD' on it and includes a red border.

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Driving Impressions: Just Getting Warmed Up

Toyota had us drive the new Camry TRD back-to-back with a V6 XSE model on an autocross circuit to see how the changes feel in a sporty driving application. The differences in the suspension are instantly noticeable as soon as you chuck the TRD into a corner and are greeted by less noticeable body roll. The steering hasn't changed massively but the wider tires do provide additional grip and the TRD model feels slighter more responsive on-center. When it comes time to stop, the larger front brakes help slow the car with more immediacy and Toyota has tuned the brake pedal to feel more natural.

Getting on the power, the cat-back exhaust provides a fantastic howl, tough the Camry's sound insulation muffles most of it unless you roll down a window. Putting 301 hp to the front wheels is no easy task but the TRD model is able to achieve it with only minor opposition from the front tires. Active cornering is new for the Camry TRD and can brake an inside wheel through turns, helping the car navigate through tighter bends in the road.

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Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the driving experience is the lack of a true manual mode to take full advantage of the V6's power, which has long been an issue with many Toyota transmissions. As in all Camry trims, pulling the paddles only engages a pseudo-manual mode that doesn't give the driver full control over the gear selection. So if you select fourth gear using the paddles, the car typically won't go beyond that gear but it will upshift for you if you forget.

Sport Mode does help keep the car in lower gears but we wish Toyota would have added a Sport+ mode as you get in the Avalon Touring. We wanted the car to stay in second gear throughout the autocross circuit but the transmission would occasionally disobey and shift into third. If you are the type to never touch the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, this will be a non-issue.

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Reliability & Problems: It's A Toyota

Toyota has a shining record for reliability and the current generation Camry is no exception. Some owners have complained about rough shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission but we did not have any issues with our 2020 TRD tester nor did we experience the problem with our 2018 XSE tester from a year ago. If you do experience any issues, Toyota offers a six-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty and three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty.

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Price & Trims: Sport On A Budget

You might expect the sporty TRD model to be the most expensive trim level but surprisingly, Toyota has priced it to be the least expensive V6 Camry at $31,040. Compare this to the $34,410 starting price of the V6 XLE trim and the $34,960 starting price of the V6 XSE trim, and the TRD stands out as a relative bargain.

The TRD does sit lower on the Camry trim totem pole but it still includes standard equipment such as LED headlights and taillights with auto-on/off, single-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power driver's seat, radar cruise control, lane departure alert, smart key with push-button start, and a six-speaker audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

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Verdict: Exciting Enough (For Most)

The 2020 Camry TRD won't win any head-to-head comparisons against true performance sedans like the Subaru WRX or Kia Stinger GT, but if you are simply in the market for a cool-looking commuter at a reasonable price, it should be on your shopping list. With the addition of Android Auto for 2020, Toyota has quelled our biggest complaint with the Camry's interior technology and the 3.5-liter V6 was already one of our favorite engines in the mid-size segment. The Camry is no longer the boring car that simply gets you from point A to point B and the TRD model simply emphasizes that point.

We'd like so see Toyota's TRD division take a greater risk in the future with powertrain changes instead of just focusing on suspension and handling but for just over $30,000, we couldn't ask much more from the Camry TRD. If you want a V6-powered Camry and can live without some of the high-end features found on upper trims, the TRD model is the one we'd recommend.

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