Ah, the venerable Toyota Camry, a car that's as innocuous as it is ubiquitous. This ever-practical four-door is about as enticing as a new pair of slacks or even a coupon for half-off cheesy breadsticks with the purchase of a medium, one-topping pizza. Yes, it's a wild and crazy ride! Long a symbol of automotive indifference, the Camry is easy prey. Even the current, eighth-generation model, which is indisputably the most exciting version Toyota has ever produced, is still more than lampoonable. But it in no way deserves to be the butt jokes hurled by automotive snobs like me.
In many ways this is an enviable family four-door, spacious and quiet, smooth, comfortable, safe and probably the most reliable vehicle in its segment. Change the oil once every decade or so and you should be good for hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles.
Not only that, this has also been the best-selling car in America for, like, the last 452 years. Didn't Thomas Jefferson drive around his Monticello estate in a Camry? Highlighting its popularity, Toyota stores delivered more than 340,000 of them in 2018. Clearly, there are reasons why this simple, unintimidating vehicle appeals to so many consumers.
TRD: Totally Revamped Dynamics
When the latest-generation Camry debuted for model-year 2018 it was a clear indication from Toyota that the company was committed to building more-exciting vehicles. The automaker took what is arguably the crown jewel of its product lineup and seriously spiced things up. With wild grille designs and an expressive interior, this version of the car is far more interesting than past models.
Further ratcheting up the excitement, a Camry TRD is now offered, a specially modified version enhanced Toyota Racing Development, the automaker's own tuning division. Major alterations include things like thicker underbody bracing for improved torsional rigidity; a dual-outlet, cat-back exhaust system; stiffer stabilizer bars; new coil springs that drop the ride height by more than half an inch; special shock absorbers; and matte-black, 19-inch wheels.
Beyond those not-insignificant changes, larger, 12.9-inch front brake rotors squeezed by dual-piston calipers are fitted to TRD models, providing greater stopping performance. Lesser Camrys make do with single-pot binders clamping down on 12-inch discs.
Styling to match
Ensuring this Camry commands attention at stoplights and in parking lots, a host of visual changes have been made, some of which are praiseworthy, others not so much. An aggressive grille design with black mesh inserts is included, and nearly impossible to miss. TRD models are also fitted with color-keyed rocker-panel trim, black exterior mirror covers and window moldings, unique badges and a racy-looking though somewhat obnoxious rear spoiler. Yes, this car has received some important upgrades but c'mon, it's still a Camry. That wing is just a bit too much.
Four exterior color schemes are offered on this TRD-ified sedan. You can get all black, a sinister choice that makes the car look a bit like Darth Vader's helmet, or you could grab white, gray or crimson, all of which come paired with a black roof. The last of those options, called Supersonic Red, is particularly fetching.
Matching its flashy body, this Camry is fitted with a variety of interior upgrades. Things like red safety belts and stitching, TRD-branded mats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and SofTex-trimmed seats with fabric inserts provide some visual flash in addition to the car's swooping, asymmetrical dashboard. Whether any of this is sporty or not is up to you.
For added convenience, there's keyless entry and push-button start. A touchscreen infotainment system with a 7-inch display is also included. This is a little on the small side these days, but it's mounted up high and is easy enough to use. Mercifully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now both supported. Helping keep mobile devices juiced up is a pair of USB charge ports.
Toyota's Safety Sense P driver-assistance suite is standard equipment. This includes helpful amenities like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and more.
The front buckets are soft and quite comfortable, though a bit more lateral support would be appreciated, especially since this car's reworked suspension encourages drivers to seek winding roads.
For passengers forced to travel in the economy-class cabin, there are about as many frills as on a low-cost airline. Yes, the backbench offers plenty of room for noggins and knees, but the lack of a center armrest, power ports and air vents reeks of cost cutting.
The Camry TRD gains numerous mechanical and visual changes, but has Toyota created something genuinely special or merely pushed cynicism to new heights? I'll give you the short answer right now: This car is definitely more of the former than the latter, but it's not all bad news, so keep reading for all the bawdy details.
Only one powertrain is offered in the Camry TRD. A silken, 3.5-liter V6 provides the thrust and an eight-speed automatic gearbox handles shifting duties, with torque being routed to the front wheels.
That smooth-running engine is fitted with both port and direct fuel injection, an arrangement that aides efficiency and performance. All told, it cranks out a rather modest 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of twist, a bit less than other manufacturers wring out of similarly sized engines.
But it doesn't matter, because the Camry TRD is still plenty quick, moving briskly when the accelerator pedal is prodded. Power deliver is incredibly refined, with no kicks, jerks or uncouth vibrations manifesting, though it does feel old fashioned, and I mean that in the best way possible. Unlike the downsized, turbocharged engines that are so pervasive these days, which typically provide a wallop at low rpm, this powerplant has to rev before it wakes up.
Keep the tachometer needle in the middle of its sweep or higher and you're rewarded with plenty of oomph and alluring noises. That TRD exhaust system provides just enough theatrics to sound interesting without straying into annoying territory. Really, it's nicely balanced.
I wish the same could be said about the throttle. When this Camry is used in its default, Normal driving mode the accelerator tip-in is unbearably slothful. Press on the gas when taking off from a stop and nothing seems to happen for perhaps a third of its travel. I'm not sure if this is a fuel-economy-boosting ploy or a result of Toyota's unintended-acceleration scandal from years ago, but it's annoying. Fortunately, there's an easy fix: Just put the car in Sport mode, which makes the throttle respond as you'd expect, in a much more linear fashion.
As for that eight-speed automatic transmission, there's not much to say, and that's a good thing. It does its job with minimal fuss or drama, shifting quickly sans harshness. There's nothing to gripe about here, and neither is there when it's time to fill 'er up. Around town this car is rated at 22 miles per gallon. On highway drives it should return 31 mpg. Combined, the EPA says the Camry TRD ought to go 25 miles on a single gallon of gasoline. Helping keep costs low, it happily runs on 87-octane, regular-grade fuel.
What about that chassis?
The Camry TRD's drivetrain really isn't any different than what you get in other models fitted with the V6. What sets this car apart from the horde of other variants Toyota offers is that raft of suspension changes.
All those TRD bits conspire to provide a tight, controlled ride. This car has none of the softness or wallowing you're probably accustomed to experiencing in a Camry. Recklessly toss it into a corner and the body stays flatter than a granite countertop a diemaker's kitchen, even as you crank the tiller to irresponsible angles. Making this chassis' stoicism even more impressive is the ride quality, which is certainly firm but never unbearable, even while traversing war-torn pavement.
One area that could stand to be improved is the steering. It's quite uninspired, but, sadly, that's the case with the vast majority of new vehicles sold today. Nearly all the fun has been smothered by a sopping-wet comforter, a fuel-saving feature called electrically assisted power steering. The Camry TRD's tiller is fine, no better or worse than what you get in other midsize cars.
So, can a Camry be sporty?
For what it is, this TRD-enhanced family sedan drives well, with a firm ride, improved brakes and a throaty-sounding exhaust. Throw in all the visual enhancements that come with this package and you have a car that's more than just a thin veneer of sport applied to the same old Camry. Granted, it's not much more than that, but this package is still unexpectedly satisfying.
And it's made all the more likable when pricing is factored in. For the amount of car you're getting here, the Camry TRD is surprisingly affordable. The test unit I evaluated here stickered for a downright reasonable $32,920, including $995 in destination fees. Two-tone paint added a mere $500 to the base price.
If Camry is the car that jingles your bells and you'd like one with a V6 engine instead of the base four-banger or available hybrid powertrain, check out the TRD model. It's a machine that should appeal to actual car people, not just folks that wear elastic-waistband jeans or do their holiday shopping at a drugstore.