2021 Toyota Camry TRD review: Flash with some performance sizzle
Forgive me, but I couldn't help but initially be skeptical about the Toyota Camry TRD. Granted, the current-generation Camry is unquestionably the most aggressive-looking one to date and Toyota has been making headway in building more engaging cars with products like the Supra. But a performance version of the Camry? Really?
More visual flash
To give the Camry TRD more attitude, Toyota's designers developed a body kit that adds a black grille with mesh insert, front splitter, side aero skirts, trunk wing and rear diffuser. If those aren't enough to alert other motorists on the road that they aren't dealing with a typical run-of-the-mill Camry, then the red TRD badges will make it clear as day. The whole package rides on trick 19-inch matte-finish black wheels.
I have to say, this Camry TRD boasts some styling flair and attitude. The front end looks plenty aggressive, and all the black TRD body extras contrast nicely with my test car's Ice Edge paint. The whole thing works well with the Midnight Black roof for an impactful two-tone appearance.
Inside, the TRD exclusives include black SofTex-trimmed seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, red contrast stitching, a TRD shift knob, TRD gauges, red seat belts, TRD floor mats and aluminum pedals. I do wish Toyota would have gone one step further and beef up the front seat side bolsters. As is, there's some support there, but a little more would be appreciated to keep riders better nestled in place.
The rest of the Camry's interior is on par with everything in the midsize sedan class. The materials are nice with most major surfaces wrapped and switched, while the hard plastics are nicely finished. Passenger space in both rows is generous and there are numerous slots and cubbies to stash stuff up front. Unfortunately, people in the back will have to make do without climate vents, a center armrest or power points. Trunk space measures in at a roomy 15.1 cubic feet but carrying longer items in the TRD will be difficult since the second-row seat backs do not fold down because of a V-brace installed behind for added body stiffening.
Like every 2021 Camry, the TRD receives a new floating touchscreen infotainment display that puts the controls a tad closer to passengers, and helps decrease glare on the relatively small 7-inch screen. Buttons and knobs flanking the screen enable easy access to the commonly used menus and stereo adjustments, while the touchscreen's layout is easy to navigate. Unfortunately, the system has a noticeable delay when changing between menus.
Standard features include a six-speed sound system, satellite radio, Bluetooth, a Wi-Fi hotspot and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. If you're an audiophile, you can option out your Camry TRD with a nine-speaker JBL audio system for an additional $1,585.
On the active safety front, the TRD gains standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert for 2021 in addition to an improved Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 Plus package. Forward-collision warning can now pick up bicyclists and is better at detecting pedestrians in low-light situations. Adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and road sign assist are also included.
A better performer
Motivation comes from a silky 3.5-liter V6 pumping out 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. As competitors have abandoned six-pot engines in favor of turbocharged fours, I applaud Toyota's decision to stick with a six for its seamless and linear power delivery. Throttle response is snappy at tip-in and low-end torque is acceptable, though certainly not as muscular as force-induced I4s in rival cars. From the middle of the rev range to the 6,800rpm redline, though, the V6 pulls forcefully and sounds sweet, emitting a surprisingly good midrange growl through a TRD cat-back exhaust.
An eight-speed automatic transmission routes power to the Camry's front wheels and goes about its work in a seamless manner. Gear changes are always well-timed and there's zero hesitation to go down a cog or two when you need to get moving. If you want to use the big steering wheel-mounted paddles to manually orchestrate the gears, they are surprisingly responsive to downshift commands. Behavior for upshifts is more erratic, though -- quick to respond at times and hesitant at others.
When driven normally, the TRD's drivetrain returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. In mixed driving, I observed 25 mpg, matching the EPA's combined fuel economy rating.
The Camry TRD's biggest changes come in the chassis department. Thicker underbody and aforementioned rear seat bracing increases the sedan's torsional rigidity. A suspension overhaul brings different shock absorbers, stiffer springs, a half-inch lower ride height and bigger antiroll bars. Perch all of that on 19-inch Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season tires and you have yourself a tidy handler.
At corner turn-in, the TRD's body squats slightly and confidently corners better than any Camry I've ever driven. There's enough grip and composure to have a fairly good time behind the wheel. Of course, pushing the Camry hard results in the front end washing out in a gradual manner. The trade-off to the firmer chassis is a small decrease in ride comfort. Impacts from bumps are felt more than a standard Camry, but are in no way violent or uncomfortable. The development team did an incredible job balancing performance and ride quality here.
The brakes are also upgraded -- and not only with red paint on the front calipers. The TRD's front clampers are two-piston units instead of single-piston stoppers on non-TRD Camrys, and they clamp down on larger 12.9-inch rotors (up from 12). They're strong, scrubbing off speed in a hurry, though firmer pedal feedback is on my wish list. The steering is direct enough and acceptably weighted, despite a small dead spot on center.
How I'd spec it
The Camry TRD starts at $33,285, including $1,025 for destination. As for me, I'd begin by checking the box for the two-tone Ice Edge paint and Midnight Black Metallic roof like my tester. It looks great and is worth the $500 upcharge. Since I enjoy my tunes, I'd also get the $1,585 JBL audio system to have something better than the standard six-speaker setup. And finally, $129 to give rear passengers easy access to a pair of USB ports is a no-brainer, bringing the bottom line of my ideal Toyota to $35,499. That's more than my $34,312 tester, but I feel the couple extra niceties are worth it.
A more entertaining Camry
Compared to the base car, the Camry TRD is unquestionably a sharper specimen. The body kit isn't garish, doing enough to visually pump this sedan up, while the more boisterous exhaust and better handling reflexes provide a drive experience that is indeed more fun. There is, however, room for improvement -- some tinkering to the steering and brakes would further amp up this Camry. All things considered, however, the TRD is a pleasant surprise.