Class: Midsize Car
Miles driven: 488
Fuel used: 18.8 gallons
|CG Report Card|
|Room and Comfort||B+|
|Power and Performance||B+|
|Fit and Finish||B+|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Engine Specs||301-hp 3.5-liter|
Real-world fuel economy: 25.9
Driving mix: 55% city, 45% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 22/31/25 (city, highway, combined)
Fuel type: Regular gas
Base price: $31,040 (not including $955 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Two-tone roof paint and rear spoiler–includes black window trim and sideview mirror caps ($500), special color ($425)
Price as tested: $32,920
The great: Lively acceleration; upgraded handling and braking capabilities
The good: Good dollar value for a performance-oriented vehicle
The not so good: Sport-tuned suspension makes for a noticeably stiffer ride
A little more than 50 years ago, a strain of midsize cars mixed peak performance with custom interior and exterior touches. It was a package that held a lot of appeal to youthful drivers, save for the cost. Then one automaker had an idea for a model more of those aspirational buyers could afford. It would spare the eye candy and stick to the meat. The plan was a success, and it laid down a timeless example that prompts this question:
Is the new Camry TRD Toyota’s Road Runner?
The TRD (for Toyota Racing Development, the brand’s performance arm) is a 2020 addition to the Camry line—a Consumer Guide “Best Buy” pick for midsize cars. It is the least-expensive V6 Camry, yet it is rife with exclusive performance enhancements.
The secret is that the TRD is Camry’s austere sports model. It has no leather seats, sunroof, seat/steering-wheel heaters, head-up instrument display, dual-zone climate system, or wireless charging for smartphones. The rear seats don’t fold—they don’t even come with a center armrest. If you want all of that in a Camry with racy looks and a sport-tuned suspension, you have to get the XSE, which costs $3960 more than the $31,995 starting price (with delivery) of the TRD. For a historical parallel, in its day, the Plymouth Road Runner undercut the GTX that was adorned with standard bucket seats, racing stripes, and flashier body and cabin trim.
Camry TRD hangs its hat on several functional upgrades all its own. The “track-tuned” suspension has distinct front and rear coil springs (lowered 0.6 inches), shock absorbers, and stabilizer bars. Brakes come in for lots of attention. Rotors for the ventilated front discs increase to 12.9 inches from 12 even, and are gripped by dual-piston calipers. Calibrations for the brake booster and pedal stiffness are specific to the model, and calipers front and rear are painted red. The TRD comes with standard Active Cornering Assist, a brake-based torque-vectoring system that will slow rotation of an inside wheel to reduce understeer. For rigidity, it includes thicker underbody bracing and rear-seat “V” bracing—which explains the sacrifice of the folding seat backs.
The TRD has the same powerteam found in all other V6 Camrys. The engine displaces 3.5 liters and produces 301 horsepower at 6600 rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm. The trans is an 8-speed automatic; as in the XSE, it has paddle shifters on the steering wheel for driver-instigated gear changes. However, the newcomer gets a TRD-designed lower-restriction cat-back dual exhaust with polished stainless-steel tips. There clearly is more, uh, volume from this exhaust system than what you’ll hear from other V6 Camrys, and it should free up a little more power than Toyota lets on in the advertised rating.
The Camry V6 is no muscle car mill, but it’s delightfully lively, especially for a nameplate synonymous with—shall we say?—dutiful performance. Transmission shifts are sharper in “Sport” mode. The EPA estimates that this pairing in the TRD will average 22 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg in mixed driving. This reviewer logged 23.89 mpg from his stint of 172.8 miles composed of 56 percent city-style driving—almost the exact mileage he got from a 2018 XSE, which the feds say should get an extra mile a gallon in highway and combined operation.
Predictably, the chassis changes make for a ride that is stiffer than in other Camrys, even in “Normal” mode. Like the XSE, the TRD rolls on 19-inch alloy wheels, but they are wider at 8.5 inches and can be shod in grippier “summer” tires as an option. Steering turns pleasingly firmer in Sport mode. Braking is quick and sure.
One area in which the TRD/Road Runner analogy breaks down is in the Toyota’s specialized appointments that avoid a plain-vanilla look. Along with the matte-black wheels and red brake calipers, there are a pedestal rear spoiler and front splitter in gloss black, side aero skirts, and a rear diffuser with red pinstriping. Inside are sport front seats trimmed in SofTex leatherette with fabric inserts. Seatbelts and stitching on various surfaces—including TRD-logo headrests—are in red. Pedals are faced in aluminum, and the black floor mats have a red “Camry TRD” inscription. Standard front seats are an 8-way-power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support and a 6-way-adjustable passenger seat.
Any notion of a “sportier” Camry is owed to the car’s eighth-generation redesign for 2018, when it became slightly larger, adopted a new multilink rear suspension, wrung more power from its V-6 and 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engines, and eschewed bland styling. Left unchanged were traditional Camry benefits of good interior and cargo room, and helpful convenience features. Drivers are confronted by large, colorful driving controls, though the easily manipulated touchscreen and the vehicle-information display are smaller than in the XSE. Personal-item storage is handled by a wide glove box, moderately sized console box, pockets on the backs of the front seats, door pockets with bottle holders, and two exposed cup holders in the console. Also built in is the Safety Sense-P package of forward-collision warning and mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and mitigation, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. New in all Camrys for 2020 is Android Auto smartphone connectivity, which joins the previously available Apple CarPlay capability.
The Plymouth Road Runner of half a century ago and today’s Toyota Camry TRD are undeniably worlds apart in their execution. It’s clear, though, that they spring from the same impulse.