Toyota’s Camry has won three NASCAR championships and a fair number of “stock car” races to get there, but be honest, do you think of a Camry as racy?
Camry mostly conjures the image of a practical family sedan. But that could change, and all because of Toyota’s 2020 Camry TRD. For those not versed in car jargon, TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development. That’s the Toyota division that concentrates on making racing equipment for its vehicles, and race cars for various series.
It’s also affectionately pronounced Turd! Not quite the same ring as Chrysler’s Mopar.
But TRD transforms the already stylish Camry into a racer wannabe both by sight and by performance. A neighbor who owns a near new Camry immediately walked to my drive to ask about the red and black TRD in my driveway. He was hooked!
First the visuals. TRD comes with a blacked out grille and nose spoiler, black 19-inch alloy wheels with TRD logos at their center, red brake calipers and a black diffuser under its tail along with black ground-effects moldings along the car’s rocker panels. Inside there are TRD logos on the seat headrests and fancy black and red TRD carpeted floor mats and cargo mat.
The gorgeous metallic red test car also added, quite effective visually, a two-tone Midnight black roof, rear spoiler and window trim, plus black capped side mirrors. That’s a $500 option well worth it for visual appeal. The red paint also was special, costing $425.
On the performance side TRD adds 12.9-inch front brake rotors with dual piston calipers for extra strong braking.
Meanwhile, the front and rear suspension both offer thicker underbody bracing and anti-roll bars to stiffen both and to aid the driving feel, although it also stiffens ride considerably. Tucked in back you’ll find TRD branded chrome-tipped exhaust pipes too.
In essence this is a Camry SE with a stiffer suspension and all that eye candy to tip off its racy performance. But the engine is the same 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that is available in upscale Camrys. It’s a beast, without sounding like a NASCAR racer, despite the addition of special cat-back exhausts. You can decide if that’s good or not. It certainly sounds better than a standard Camry V6, but I prefer a little more rumble in a performance car. Wish this sounded more like the Supra I’d driven a month earlier. But then again, it costs a lot more.
Naturally there’s a Drive Mode selector on Camry TRD, so you can ride along in Normal mode with good acceleration, or bump it to Sport and get more instantaneous power and quicker acceleration. Both are good, Sport is more fun and with less hesitation than Normal mode and the 8-speed automatic is well suited to the power for smooth delivery. And if you thrive on numbers, the TRD is said to do 0-60 mph in a respectable 5.8 seconds.
So you can blast up to freeway speeds or pound the gas pedal to escape your cohorts at stoplights. It’s invigorating to be sure, plus the stiffness of the overall car gives it a much racier feel than a standard Camry. Handling is crisper, more precise and responsive. Ride is also much stiffer, which can be less than pleasant on really rough roads. On the highway and smooth roads the TRD is the bomb.
Braking, as alluded to earlier, is exceptional. And then there are the Toyota Safety Sense features, including pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and smart cruise control. However, there is no blind-spot warning system or rear cross-traffic alert on the TRD, which seems odd, but no doubt helps keep costs down.
Inside, the red stitching and red horizontal stripes on the black cloth inserts on the leather-trimmed seats looks great. That stitching also edges the black dash, steering wheel and shift lever, plus there are red seatbelts. Everyone noticed those and they scream racer.
The roof liner is gray and there’s textured chrome trim on the passenger’s side of the dash. Further promoting the racy theme are red instrument gauge needles.
As with other Camry models, the dash is well laid out and easy to figure out and use. The touchscreen is moderate sized, but simple to adjust while driving.
Seating is comfortable with good hip and back support, and the seat is powered with a power lumbar support. The hip supports are particularly good because they are softer than one might expect in a performance model, but still offer firm comfort.
Being a Camry there is plenty of room for five adults and the trunk is monstrous at 15.1 cubic feet. Most car companies are sucking up more trunk space with extra rear seat legroom, not a bad thing if your family is tall. But it’s nice to have plenty of cargo room too. Also note that in the TRD the rear seat does not split and fold down due to the stiffening components of the underbody.
Gas mileage can be fine if you aren’t tromping that gas pedal as much as I did. Still I managed 22.3 mpg while the EPA rates this model at 22 mpg city and 31 highway.
Adding to the economy of the TRD is its surprising pricing. The base with delivery is $31,995 and with only the two options this listed at $32,920. Wow!
After a little thought I realized that not adding heated seats, a sunroof, dual climate controls, blind-spot warning and a wireless phone charger helps keep costs down on TRD. Yet if you want all that (and many of us do), another less racy Camry is likely what you should consider.
For the record, a base Camry L comes with a reasonably powerful 203-horsepower 2.5-liter I4 and lists at $25,380. Five other trim levels also offer the same engine, but more standard features, while TRD is the only trim with the V6 standard. A V6 is available in a few other trim levels though.
You also can add all-wheel-drive to any Camry equipped with the I4 for $1,400. AWD is not available on V6-equipped Camry models, although rumor has it that may change in the next model year or so.
A hybrid Camry capable of about 53 mpg also is available, starting a bit more than $28,000. So there is a Camry trim level or model with the major features most folks desire at a lot of attractive price points. That’s why you see so many Camrys on the roads.
But if you want yours to stand out, and behave more like a sports sedan, the TRD is visually stunning and a smart performer.
Hits: Sporty looks, great handling, power and braking in a family sedan. Black roof, spoiler, cladding, diffuser, grille and wheels. Plus big trunk, well laid out dash, and most of the safety systems you’d expect.
Misses: No heated seats, sunroof, dual climate controls or wireless phone charger, and no blind-spot warning system or rear cross-traffic alert.
Made In: Georgetown, Ky.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 301 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/paddles
Weight: 3,572 lbs.
Length: 194.6 in.
Wheelbase: 111.2 in.
Cargo: 15.1 cu.ft.
MPG: 22/31, 22.3 (tested)
Base Price: $31,995 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Special color, $425
Two-tone Midnight Black metal roof, rear spoiler, window trim and side mirror caps, $500
Test Vehicle: $32,920
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.