2020 Toyota Camry TRD Review: Can the Stereotypical Beige Sedan Play Sports Car?

Toyota made the staid Camry look and sound sportier. But can it escape being a Camry?

The Toyota Camry sedan may be America’s most prosaic, personality-devoid vehicle. Toyota sought to change that perception for the youths last year by turning the Camry over to in-house tuner Toyota Racing Development. The result: the Camry TRD.

It’s tarted up with modest performance tweaks and boy racing appearance upgrades. It comes in four colors, none of which are the classic Camry beige. It looks sporty, and sounds more raucous than before, thanks to an upgraded exhaust system. But is that enough to make it an exhilarating performance beast?

Not exactly. The Camry TRD has the superficial looks and sounds that come with being a sports car, which may be enough for some. But a bunch of sporty cues does not a sports car make. There’s a key element or two — a power upgrade, perhaps a suspension tweak — missing.

To make an odd-but-apt analogy: The most boring guy you know could show up on Halloween dressed like Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but that doesn’t make it that much more entertaining when he dragoons you into another 15-minute breakdown of his fantasy football team’s performance.

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The Camry TRD does not look like any old Camry.

TRD made the Camry look way sportier. A contrasting black spoiler and roof, a black mesh grille, a front splitter, a big dual exhaust and glaring red seat belts and trim take things up a notch — or five. The effect works: the Camry TRD reads more like a customized WRX than a Camry. No one recognized what it was; almost everyone I interacted with presumed it was something much sportier.

Unfortunately, the effect works a little too well. The aggressive styling treads a bit too far toward no-goodnik 16-year-old territory. My wife found driving around in it “embarrassing.” I embraced all the boy-racer glory, but also knew that I would not have to live with it for more than a week.

The red seat belts, in particular, felt a bit excessive. Manufacturers like Mercedes-AMG and BMW can go just as garish with their cars, but when they do so, there’s often a staid black interior for sensible people. The Camry TRD only comes with red trim.

The Camry TRD still drives like a Camry.

In the age of crossovers and ubiquitous four-cylinder engines, it did feel comforting to drive a classic, low-to-the-ground sedan with a big V6 and ample power in reserve — particularly a modern one employing a smooth and intuitive eight-speed transmission. Still, while the Camry TRD nets bigger, more responsive brakes than its cousins, it offers the same 301 horsepower as the other V6 versions. And the soft steering was more fit for cruising than sporty driving.

TRD’s biggest enhancement is giving the car a lowered “track-tuned suspension” for better handling and body control. That’s great on a test track, but it felt brutal on pockmarked Michigan pavement. Every bump made its presence felt, particularly at low speeds.

The Camry TRD’s seats exacerbated the impacts by offering almost no lateral support. Getting sloshed around from side to side while driving around the neighborhood got old quickly — and even revived some of my latent lower back issues.

You should level up to an XLE or XSE V6.

You could make a value argument for the Camry TRD. With a starting price of $31,170, it’s the cheapest entry point to the V6 version, by more than $3,000. But Toyota sacrificed creature comforts to get to that presumably-young-person-friendly price point — and, unlike some of the cheaper Camry trims, you can’t upgrade the features you want piecemeal or in packages. The Camry TRD largely comes as-is.

You get single-zone climate control. That single zone is “the front,” by the way; rear passengers don’t even get vents. The seats are neither leather nor heated. You’re stuck with the base audio system. You don’t get the full suite of active safety features. There’s no moonroof, no wireless charging. The list goes on.

When you consider everything you get for spending an extra $4,000 or so, upgrading to the XLE V6 or XSE V6 makes more sense — especially since this is a Camry, and you’re probably going to keep it for a while. Spend a few hundred extra for a TRD shift knob and blackout detailing package if you must, but leave the boy-racer spoiler behind.

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