“Oh, c’mon Randy! Not another Camry?”
I hear you. I simply cannot get enough of the Toyota Camry. It is a car that was a born from a dictum by Toyota global chairman Akio Toyoda asking his company to not build any more boring cars. After generations of being accused as milquetoast and beige, this current Camry arrived with plenty of swagger.
The result is that it caught my attention. It was enough to be called one of my favorite vehicles of the V&R era. The reason for it was that each and every one of them – five in total – have given me a high level of satisfaction while putting them to the test.
Which brings me to this 2021 Toyota Camry TRD.
It is not like the other Camrys I have driven of this current generation. It looks like it belongs on a track.
The Camry TRD follows the same formula as the Avalon TRD I worked with last year. The TRD is part of the sportier trim lineup, with additional exterior and interior distinctions that make it stand out among other Camrys. There are some other further distinctions this TRD has that I will get into in a few paragraphs.
Let’s rewind a bit. Toyota Racing Development continues to be one of the company’s motorsports divisions, now under the name Toyota Racing. It also serves as the company’s tuning division. TRD’s concentration in North America is on upgrading and providing in-house modifications for its truck and SUV lineups, as well as the larger sedans.
It makes sense that Toyota would leverage its TRD unit to transform the Camry into a car with enough flexing among the enthusiast crowd. I wanted to see whether it adds more cred to the game.
The TRD starts off life as a Camry XSE. Then, the TRD folks take over. The overall stance is lowered by 0.6 inches, thanks to a set of suspension bits that enable the meek Camry to show off for the cameras. The aggressive “T” upper grille is thick and body colored. The Camry TRD wears matte-black 19-inch alloy wheels, a set of ground effects from the front lower fascia all the way around the rocker panels to the lower rear bumper area.
The crowning touch is a rear wing mounted on the trunk. My tester also wore the available Midnight Black contrasting roof to compliment the Ice Edge primary color – a very light gray-tinged white, to be exact. Let’s not forget about the rear brake calipers that make this Camry TRD pop when it stops.
Everything else is signature Camry. A cool Camry, at that!
The TRD touches continue with its black-and-red SofTex/cloth-ish upholstery, embroidered headrest logos, stitching, and red seatbelts. The seats are fine, but I wished it had better bolstering to induce some sporty driving to match the car. Rear seat room is what you expect from a Camry. Made for adults, except for the center hump that would challenge some leg space towards the outer seats.
Instrumentation in the Camry TRD is a mix of analog dials and a 4.2-inch information screen. The numbering of those dials is in red, which is great at night. During the day, they are hard to read. That is, if you follow the lighted needles as the sun glares down on you. The TRD shifter is short and nubby, which is absolutely perfect for me. It might just give you a bit of an adrenaline rush.
A seven-inch screen is nestled in a tablet-like infotainment pod on the center stack. Only six speakers emit sound inside the Camry TRD’s cabin. You do get smartphone integration through a USB-A connection.
Trunk space is rated at 15.1 cubic feet with folding rear seatbacks for longer items. As usual, the Camry passes the “Boomer test” with the drum’s bag sitting longitudinally and loading through the trunk lid opening without scuffing or damage. Why a conga drum bag? It represents a test for practicality and cargo management. Ask anyone who gigs for a living (especially now with the return of live shows) how important this test really is.
The Camry TRD only comes with the corporate 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. Connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission, power is sent to the front wheels only. Performance is good, with great response when you need it. Passing maneuvers were on point. It feels like a big engine, which is something that you might appreciate, compared to the turbocharged four-cylinder engines that its rivals are sporting these days.
Fuel economy-wise, I averaged 26.9 MPG. Just what I expected from this V6 model.
With the lowered suspension, one would assume that it would be a very firm ride. Truth be told, it is neither super firm nor soft – just firm enough for better handling and control. In turn, you do feel that control in the corners and through evasive maneuvers. In all, it yields some higher control limits than your run-of-the-mill Toyota Camry, which is always welcomed by enthusiasts (or those with a dream of being one).
The steering system is similar to what you find on other Camrys. Turns are solid with a good radius for tight maneuvers. On-center feel is fine and there is a sense of control overall.
Even with those red painted calipers, the braking is just fine. It is the lack of immediate bite at the rotors is where you might have some concern. Pedal feel is solid, as were stops in normal and panic situations. A little more aggression in the system would make this absolutely perfect – just a bit of nickpicking here, folks!
Pricing for my 2021 Toyota Camry TRD tester came to $34,207. The 2021 XSE V6 model starts at $35,620 which gives you a higher specification – including the nine-inch infotainment system, nine JBL speaker, and a panoramic glass roof. You can still get the Camry TRD for 2022, just in time for its return to the Daytona 500 next February.
The Toyota Camry TRD is an example of what Akio Toyoda wanted from his company’s products. It is not enough to create a Camry for everyday consumers and fleet customers that will simply “do the job” of transporting people across town and the continent. You have to present other possibilities that will find an audience.
You now have a Camry for every type of customer – enthusiasts included. The TRD looks the part. It would save enthusiasts money on body kits and suspension bits. You can do more, but some enthusiasts want an out-of-the-box vehicle that still looks cool, starts conversations, and spur on dreams.
This is where you stop and consider that, yes, it is a Camry. Just with a few more things to make it even cooler.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern