The Camry’s never been a cool car – not even in an ironic way like a wagon – but Toyota’ll be damned if it won’t do its best to turn it into one.
It might not be quite as outrageous as the Honda Civic Type R, but the 2022 Toyota Camry XSE V6 TRD follows a similar formula. It started as an otherwise ordinary car, then had some performance parts added and the styling amped up accordingly. The result is a hilariously awesome midsize sedan that feels nothing like the car on which it’s based.
With this TRD-tuned Camry, Toyota didn’t so much push the envelope as it took the envelope, stuffed it with confetti, and delivered it to dealers across the country. The surprise that awaits those who dare open it is a sedan that’s genuinely enjoyable to drive.
Driving Feel: 9/10
The TRD package sends a bunch of stock suspension components to the parts bin in favour of stuff that makes the Camry drive like a proper sport sedan. Thicker sway bars front and rear, TRD-tuned shocks and springs all around, and additional bracing underneath all contribute to the newfound attitude of this car.
It rides roughly 15 mm (0.6 in) lower than a regular Camry, and it’s certainly firm – a by-product of the sporty suspension setup that lacks the travel that typically soaks up uneven surfaces in a car like this – but it’s also forgiving. Body roll is minimal, while the extra bracing makes the chassis feel crisp when hustling along a winding road. It also makes the lack of steering feel and feedback acceptable since the car is so quick to respond to inputs.
The brakes have also been changed, and it goes beyond the red paint on the calipers. The front discs measure some 328 mm (12.9 in) compared to the XSE V6’s 305 mm (12 in), and they’re grabbed by two-piston calipers instead of one. The brake booster has also been tweaked, as has the feel of the pedal. There will be no mistaking these for carbon-ceramics, but stopping power is more than adequate.
Finally, brake-based torque-vectoring reduces understeer, of which there’s little to report. It works by subtly applying the inside rear brake when cornering, helping the Camry weave its way through chicanes like a smaller, lighter car. There’s a directness to the drive – an almost surprising amount. It’s polished and performs like a proper sport sedan.
It’s only the drivetrain that could use some work, though not because it’s hungry for additional output, but rather to differentiate this version from the Camry XSE V6. While it employs a TRD cat-back exhaust system that sounds great, with just enough snarl but no droning on the highway, the 3.5L six-cylinder makes the same 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque as that trim. There’s still plenty of progressive pull, though, and turning traction control off will have this Toyota lighting up its front tires from every standing start.
Of course, that it’s front-wheel drive and employs an eight-speed automatic transmission might be sore spots for some, but neither are impediments to performance. With or without sport mode engaged, throttle response is smooth and snappy, and while the transmission can be a little slow to shift at times, the paddle shifters make it more playful when in use.
This Camry is very deliberate in the way it gets usable force down through the front wheels. There’s no torque steer tugging at the wheel, just tons of usable forward thrust. It’s controlled rather than chaotic – the kind of car that can surprise with its precision.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
When driven with enthusiasm, this V6-powered sedan can get thirsty. While a 275-km initial evaluation drive saw fuel consumption settle at just 8.2 L/100 km – better than its official combined rating of 9.4 L/100 km – that number quickly climbed after having some fun. A full week of testing finished at 9.8 L/100 km over the course of some 540 km.
User Friendliness: 9/10
In spite of the agility and performance acumen found here, this is still a Toyota Camry. That means an incredible approachability to, well, everything. From the space inside to the controls and the very way it drives, it’s simple. Sure, hammering the throttle and hustling through switchbacks might now be among its abilities; but it doesn’t take away from any of the other stuff this midsize sedan has long been known for.
There’s plenty of space inside, too, with the TRD package doing away with the sunroof and gaining good headroom in the process. That matches the rest of the cabin’s dimensions, which are generous in all directions. While fitting three adults across the back might be a tight squeeze, there are enough seatbelts to do the job (they look great in their red finish, too).
At 428 L, the Camry’s trunk is about average for the segment, though its wide opening is rare. This particular package means the back seats can’t be folded to create a pass-through to the cabin to accommodate long items, with a chassis brace blocking the way. It’s a worthy sacrifice given the sharpness it adds in the handling department, however.
Given how taut the chassis is, or how stiffly the suspension is sprung, it would be fair to assume that this is a firm ride. Yet it’s also forgiving, forgoing punishment in favour of pliability. Panel gaps are tight all around, and there are no squeaks or creaks to worry about, though some of the materials inside aren’t all that nice. However, the seats are comfortable and come wrapped in a combination of fabric and faux leather. They’re not especially well-contoured, but they’re supportive enough to do the trick on long drives while also featuring three-stage heat.
While the front seats are heated, this version of the Camry loses the ventilation that comes in the XSE V6 it’s based on. Likewise, it does without a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, and a nine-inch touchscreen. The seven-inch unit in its place doesn’t have much to it beyond Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections, though it runs just fine and is responsive to inputs. The bigger issue is that satellite radio has been dropped from the features list.
In fairness, the price reflects what’s been taken away, with the TRD package actually subtracting $4,350 from how much this sedan sells for. The Toyota Camry XSE V6 has a sticker price of $42,940 before tax including a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,790, but that drops to $38,590 should the performance kit be included (this tester rang in at $39,130 including a paint charge). While there’s quite literally nothing that compares to this Camry on the market, a sporty-looking Hyundai Sonata N Line has a pre-tax price of more than $40,000, while the V6-powered Nissan Maxima is more expensive still.
Graciously, Toyota didn’t touch the advanced safety offerings, and there’s plenty of good stuff here. There’s blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and so-called lane-tracing that provides steering assistance on the highway, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic. More basically, there are 10 airbags throughout the cabin, a government-mandated back-up camera, and electronic nannies like traction and stability control.
If there was anything that stood in this TRD-tuned model’s path to the same infamy enjoyed by predecessors such as the Subaru Legacy GT Spec-B, Nissan Altima SE-R, and Mazdaspeed6 it would be its styling – which also happens to be one of its defining attributes. No less than three times during a week-long test did strangers heap praise upon this Camry for its bold look. But actually driving a car with this kind of boy-racer styling isn’t for everyone, and it wouldn’t be unfair to describe it as a little much while still looking cool.
The body kit complete with red striping along the sides, the aggressive front end, matte-black wheels, and especially the spoiler bolted to the trunk – it all adds to the specialness of this Camry, especially in a contrast colour like this semigloss Cavalry Blue ($540) that’s new for 2022. But driving this every day takes the same kind of courage as cosplaying in public.
Inside is far more understated while still looking sporty, with red stitching across the dash, doors, and seats, red seatbelts front and back, and grey striped seat inserts that provide just a touch more character. Add in the TRD emblems embroidered on the front headrests and floor mats (as well as the carpet in the trunk), and Toyota has turned this cabin into a happy place for all who occupy it.
Toyota did it – it made the Camry objectively cool, and that’s something worth celebrating. Give the brand credit for going where no other automaker would and bringing a proper sport sedan to the mainstream market. Did it go a little too far with the styling? Yeah, maybe – but that’s also what makes it stand apart from the rest of the pack.
It may not look or feel like a run-of-the-mill Camry anymore, but this TRD version can still be used like one. That’s long been the key to a good sport sedan, and it’s nice to see that essence captured here – even if it’s in an unexpected package.
|301 hp @ 6,600 rpm
|267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
|10.8 / 7.6 / 9.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|2022 Toyota Camry XSE V6 TRD
|Price as Tested
$540 – Cavalry Blue Paint w/Black Roof, $540