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Choose a model: Toyota Camry TRD | Toyota Camry AWD


The Camry TRD's blackened grill and low ground-effects trim add to its sporty appearance.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

2020 Toyota Camry TRD

Sometimes, being seen as sensible can be a curse. British author Samuel Butler said it best, when he wrote: “Sensible people get the greater part of their own dying done during their lifetime.”

The same can be said about cars like the Camry. Beige and unbreakable, they have been so good over the years, you’d almost wish they weren’t.

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Until now, with the arrival of the TRD.

If looks could kill, then the sexy Camry TRD would lay waste to the competition in convincing style. With its ground-effects trim, shapely spoiler and jet-black low-profile wheel rims, this car turned heads whenever I pulled up to a stop light.

Dual stainless-steel exhaust pipes give the TRD a no-nonsense performance-car look.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Drawing such admiration creates a pleasant buzz, a bit like the way you feel stepping out of a hair salon with a new do.

The TRD’s look is also fitting for the first mid-sized sedan to bear the august Toyota Racing Division badge, a symbol that is meant to signal this car means business. And it sounds great, especially inside, where the eight-speaker audio system enhances the growl of the V6 engine whenever you hit the throttle.

The promise of the looks are borne out in impressive handling characteristics, too. Toyota has reinforced the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, stiffened the suspension, dropped the ride height by 13 mm and added front and rear stabilizer bars. To keep all this zippiness under control, the brakes have been beefed up, too, with two-piston calipers replacing the standard singles found on other Camrys.

These 19-inch black alloy wheels are exclusive to the TRD model.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Alas, as good as these pieces are, there is one gap in this performance puzzle, and that is in the powertrain. The V6 engine is identical to the XSE model this car is based on. It puts out an adequate but uninspiring 301 horsepower, barely enough to quicken the pulse. The eight-speed transmission also disappoints, torn as it is between delivering performance on the one hand and optimizing fuel economy in eco mode on the other. It’s one compromise that just doesn’t work.

Owners are advised to take a pass on any stoplight challenges to avoid potential embarrassment. After all, when you look this good, you don’t need to prove anything.

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On the whole, however, driving the Camry TRD is a pleasant experience, that is if you don’t mind even the smallest road bumps being transmitted up via that tight suspension and through seats just slightly less hard than a buckboard on a farm wagon. This TRD offers three driving modes: eco, normal and sport. At highway speeds, the eco mode drops engine revs down to a sedate 1,500 rpm, which helps you save fuel and reduces the slightly excessive road noise in the cabin.

The interior is handsome and user-friendly, with tech that is easy to figure out. The red-accented leather trim on the seats, steering wheel and shift knob convey a sense of quality, while the TRD embossing adds a little flare.

In the city, a switch to sport mode allows the engine to rev higher and longer between gear changes and downshifts as you prepare to enter a corner. You can easily push the engine up to 6,000 rpm or more with moderate pedal pressure. Still, if you’re looking to optimize acceleration, you’ll do better controlling gear changes with the wheel-mounted paddle-shifters.

As great as the ground-effects trim looks, the low, low front spoiler is a bit like those cow-catchers you see on trains in old westerns – ill suited to the rough-and-tumble urban environment. It’s easy to snag them on a typical curb, an expensive error. Another unfortunate loss to practicality is the deletion of foldable rear seats – which severely limits cargo flexibility.

The extremely low front spoiler doesn't fare well around curbs.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

So is this really a performance sedan? In terms of handling, it’s as good as any mid-sizer on the road. But with its compromises on power and gearing, it stops short of providing the excitement of competitors such as the Accord 2.0T, which it will inevitably be held up against. Rather than a road warrior set for battle, this Camry seems more like a practical car in drag, and yet just a few horsepower from being a performance star. One wonders, for example, how much transformation a turbo-charger would bring.

As a maker of solid and reliable vehicles, Toyotas have long battled the rep of being appliances on wheels. The Camry TRD unquestionably puts that image to bed, with looks that announce there’s a new brat on the block.

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It’s a pleasant car with a playful side, and good value at its price. Now, if only it were a little less sensible.

Tech specs

  • Price as tested: $38,685 (incl. $1,770 Freight & PDI)
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V6 gasoline
  • Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/FWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/7.4 highway
  • Alternatives: Honda Accord 2.0T, Kia Stinger GT, Mazda6 GT, Hyundai Sonata Sport

Looks

A black spoiler gives the sedate rear deck a needed visual lift.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

This Camry shouts out that its ready to party. Exterior features exclusive to the TRD include a ground-effects trim treatment, jet-black 19-inch alloy rims and a black spoiler that looks like it’s off a 1950s fighter jet. The dual stainless-steel exhaust pipes look all business, as does the blacked-out front grill.

Interior

The TRD's simple and clean gauges are traditional in style and easy to read.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

The controls are intuitive and sensibly laid-out, with a large touch screen that won’t distract you from the road. Dash trims are pretty much standard Camry, although the TRD adds touches of red everywhere, including red seatbelts, red embossing on the headrests and the leather gear selector and in the pleasant leather and fabric seat covers. A six-speaker audio system artificially enhances the engine’s growl.

Performance

Stiffened suspension and a reinforced underbody keep this Camry sure-footed through hard cornering. The big disappointment is in the engine and transmission. The 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 is identical to the non-sport models, putting out an adequate but uninspiring 301 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque. Paired with an eight-speed transmission with all-purpose gearing, its performance is a notch below competitors, even in sport mode.

Technology

The touch-screen infotainment system is intuitive to operate.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

It has all the electronic goodies we’ve come to expect in upgraded vehicles, including lane-keep assist, backup camera and optional head-up display. The 20-centimetre infotainment touch screen is simple to operate, and the system is compatible with Android Auto, Apple Carplay and Amazon Alexa. Hardware includes a USB media port, Bluetooth and a WiFi hotspot. A one-year trial of SiriusXM satellite radio is standard.

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Cargo

Cargo space is average for a mid-size car, but the absence of fold-down seats limits flexibility.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

This roomy sedan can seat three adults comfortably in the rear. The trunk has 428 litres of space with the seats up, which makes it about average for cars of this size, but plenty of room for a full-scale trip to Costco. Sadly, the rear seats are not foldable, sharply limiting the cargo flexibility.

The verdict

The practical and playful Camry TRD allows you to be both sensible and pretend you are a closet Michael Schumacher. While its performance doesn’t live up to the promise of its great looks, you can still have lots of fun on your daily commute. With a sticker price below $40,000, it also offers good value for a sporty sedan, and comes with Toyota’s reputation for reliability.


All-wheel-drive (AWD) was last offered in a Camry in 1991.

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

2020 Toyota Camry AWD

Camrys wrestle with the perception of being a lot like Accords, except more boring. Yet one category in which Toyota has an edge over its nemesis is in the all-wheel-drive (AWD) version – last offered in a Camry in 1991. Honda doesn’t yet offer an AWD option in its mid-sized sedan.

There is only a small exterior badge to signal this Camry is AWD; otherwise, it looks almost identical to its front-wheel-drive equivalent. I drove the well-optioned XSE model, which includes such goodies as two-tone colour scheme, a striking red-leather interior, window curtains and radar (AKA, responsive) cruise control.

The panoramic sun roof glass is tinted just enough to protect you from excessive glare, and manages to keep wind noise moderate even when fully open. The combination of the “wind chill” white exterior colour, accented by a black roof, and red interior makes this a smart-looking car indeed.

It also offers solid value. Here is a sub $40,000 AWD that is made for Canadian winters – and commuters who don’t want an SUV will appreciate having this option. Make no mistake, however, its low stance and limited ground clearance ensures it is a highway only vehicle.

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With the exception of a small badge, the AWD version looks identical to it's front-wheel-drive counterpart

Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Like the sporty TRD, it has steering wheel mounted paddle-shift levers controlling an eight-speed automatic. But – very much unlike the TRD – the AWD comes in the 2.5-litre four-cylinder version only.

The time-tested engine is a venerable workhorse, but it produces just 205 horsepower, or roughly one-third less than the TRD. There will be no burning off the traffic lights. When you think about it, that makes sense; in snow and ice conditions, a driver needs traction a lot more than horsepower.

The Dynamic Torque Control AWD system, the same used in the RAV4, constantly monitors front-wheel slippage and actively sends up to 50 per cent of engine torque to the back wheels in response. When it’s not needed, AWD disengages, allowing front drive to save on fuel.

With spring bringing dry pavement, it was impossible to tell just how well the AWD performs on the slippery stuff. But it’s a great option for Canadian drivers to have, with such a limited range of mid-sized AWD sedans on the market – just the Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima AWD, and the unlikely Dodge Charger AWD.

The Camry comes in a variety of options, features and trims to appeal to an equal broad range of budgets. I wanted to dislike the car because it’s just so cautious in its approach to both styling and performance. Instead, I quickly developed a grudging admiration for a vehicle that is polished, comfortable, reasonably good looking, and purpose-built.

The Camry sets the standard in modern mid-priced sedans.

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Tech specs

  • Price as tested: TRD $38,685 (incl. $1,770 Freight & PDI); AWD ($39,345) (incl. $1,770 Freight & PDI)
  • Engine: TRD 3.5-litre V6 gasoline; AWD 2.5-litre I-4 gasoline
  • Transmission/drive: TRD Eight-speed automatic/FWD; AWD Eight-speed automatic/AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100km): TRD 10.7 city/7.4 highway; AWD 9.3 city /6.8 highway
  • Alternatives to the TRD: Honda Accord 2.0T, Kia Stinger GT, Mazda6 GT, Hyundai Sonata Sport
  • Alternatives to the AWD: Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima AWD, Dodge Charger AWD

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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