I had a nice sunny day and decided to go for a drive. Apexes were being clipped, highways were getting slayed, and I was as one with a tight-handling sport sedan that inhales inspiration from its NASCAR siblings. The car looks the part too with all kinds of ground affects and aero trickery. Step down and it delights the ears. I had to look at the window sticker to realize I was whomping a Toyota Camry. A Toyota Camry, for goodness sake! Who would’ve thunk?
Try to work out in your mind that this fine sedan has both “Camry” and “TRD”, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, in its name. It is not in-fact a NASCAR racer, but sure looks like it could be one. Camry TRD shares its basic sporty styling – metallic black roof and aggressive facia – with the XSE edition, but goes full racer with a front splitter, side aero skirts, winged spoiler, and rear diffuser. They actually enhance high speed stability. Further styling enhancements include a gloss black grille, red brake calipers, and TRD exhaust tips.
Like a proper racecar, the interior is a bit sparse, but continues the TRD theme. I do like the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching and supper supportive sport seats with fabric inserts, red accents, and red-stitched TRD embroidered headrests. Red seatbelts flash a bright safety smile. The swervy-curvy dash with large touchscreen, metallic trim, and red stitching adds a touch of sporty starship.
As expected in a Camry, everything is functional. The touchscreen intuitively controls the audio system with devices connected via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G Wi-Fi. Conjure up your latest desire with Amazon Alexa. Proper volume and tuning knobs add convenience. There’s an available 800w JBL audio system, but our car went without. I’d also like a head-up display and heated seats, but they were AWOL too. Fortunately, safety was a key priority with a heap of standard equipment: Pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitor, and rear cross traffic alert.
What this car really needs is a couple of turbos, but they’re not on the menu either. Instead, the car drives its front wheels with a 3.5-liter V6 delivering 310 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque through an 8-speed direct shift automatic transmission. There’s no manual option, so click paddles to shift yourself. It sings like a symphony of happy banshees through the cat-back dual exhaust system. Settle down to achieve 21/31-MPG city/highway.
How Toyota’s engineers turned grandma’s sedan into a track champ should be studied. Reflexive steering and wheels that seemingly step through every road feature are the extreme opposite of what I assumed would be a boring fluffbox with over-wrought styling. Nope, thicker underbody braces increase torsional rigidity and redesigned coil springs lower the car 0.6 inches to improve the reflexes. Stiffer springs and sway bars resist body roll while TRD shock absorbers, light alloy wheels, and larger brake rotors back it all up. Once you find this car’s groove, you’ll want to drive all night.
With the advent of crossovers, mid-size sedans are in steep decline. Yet, Toyota has shown how to turn a family sedan into a very engaging driver’s car whose styling is seriously undergirded. Best of all, it’s still a solid, reliable Camry at heart. While base Camrys start at $24,425, our TRD came to a value-packed $33,090. Competitors include the Nissan Altima SR, Kia K5 GT, Honda Accord Sport, and Subaru Legacy Sport.
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