Stock car racing used to be based on stock cars—production cars you could buy, modified to race.
Today, it’s the reverse.
The race cars are cars you can’t buy, with the production cars modified to look like race cars such as the latest iteration of Toyota’s Camry sedan. The one you can buy is a front-drive car with an available V6 engine; the race car has a V8 engine driving the rear wheels and rear doors that aren’t there.
Now you can buy a Camry that looks like a race car with a wing on the trunk, even, plus rear doors that aren’t stenciled on.
What It Is
The Camry is the best-selling mid-size family sedan on the market. It comes with both four- and six-cylinder engines and, for the first time, a wing if you order the new Toyota Racing Development (TRD) package.
This racing package also includes a racy-looking front end with a contrast-color chin spoiler, side-sill extensions, and handling/braking upgrades over the stock Camry. Unfortunately for race fans, there’s no V8 option on the menu.
At least not yet.
But the V6 you can buy is actually pretty racy, mostly because none of its immediate rivals offers one anymore.
Prices start at $24,425 for the stock Camry L with a less racy four-cylinder engine. Toyota now offers AWD as an option—something the race Camry doesn’t have. But you have to step up to the LE or SE trims to buy it, and it’s only available with the four-cylinder engine.
The V6 engine is standard with the XLE, XSE, and the new TRD trims, all of which are front-drive only.
Only the TRD looks like a race car. It stickers for $31,170.
In addition to the TRD package and the AWD option for four-cylinder Camrys, AndroidAuto is now standard in all trims.
TRD package is more than just racy looks.
It’s much more practical than a race car.
Lots of potential to be racier.
What’s Not So Good
TRD’s visuals give away the racy performance V6 Camrys capability.
TRD’s V6 isn’t racier than the stock V6 in the XLE and XSE.
Chin spoiler is vulnerable to curb stops and dips in the road.
Under The Hood
There’s no V8 on the menu, but the Camry still offers something that’s essentially nonexistent in the segment, a V6 engine.
Rivals like the Honda Accord, Mazda 6, and Nissan Altima are now four cylinder-only.
Turbochargers power up their available fours, but they’re still much less powerful than the Camry’s optional 3.5-liter V6. The Camry makes a class-best 301 horsepower vs. the Accord’s optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four, which makes 252 hp; the Nissan’s optional 2.0-liter, 248 hp turbocharged four and the Mazda 6’s optional turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 250 hp if you feed it premium unleaded.
The TRD’s V6 makes no more horsepower, however than the stock V6 you’ll find under the hood of other Camrys.
Still, it outperforms the fours in the class. A V6-equipped Camry, TRD or not, gets to 60 in the mid-high fives. It also gets 22 city/31 highway—much better mileage than the V8 not-so-stock race car. And the same mileage advertised by some of the turbo four-cylinder-powered competition, like the Accord, equipped with its top-dog 2.0-liter turbocharged engine (also 22 city, 32 highway). But it does have a racier six-speed manual transmission, which you can’t get in a Camry unless you get a Nextel Cup Camry.
Then you can’t get AC or doors that open.
The rest of the Camry’s rivals, such as the Mazda6, are also automatic-only.
When equipped with its optional 2.5-liter turbocharged four, the Mazda rates 23 city and 31 highway, also about the same as the V6-equipped Camry. But the Mazda requires premium fuel to make its advertised peak power; on regular unleaded, the 2.5-liter turbo-four makes 227 hp.
Both the Toyota’s V6 and the Honda’s optional turbo-four are regular unleaded engines.
The Camry is also available with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Even though it hasn’t got a turbo, it also makes the most standard power in the segment: 203 hp vs. the Nissan’s standard 2.5-liter, 188 hp four, or Honda’s standard 1.5-liter turbocharged four, which makes 192 hp, or the Mazda 6’s standard 2.5-liter four (without the turbo) which only makes 187 hp.
And neither the Mazda nor the Honda offers their fours with all-wheel-drive. They are FWD-only.
Besides the Camry, the only other mid-sized family sedans in this class available with AWD are the Altima (which doesn’t offer a V6) and the about-to-be-discontinued (and also four-cylinder-only) Ford Fusion.
If you’re willing to go up a notch in size and price, you might want to check out the Dodge Charger sedan, which is mechanically closer to the not-so-stock cars going around the wide ovals. It is rear-drive and comes standard with a V6 with a racy V8 available.
The six is also available with AWD, and the price so equipped ($33,595) is within range of the TRD’s base price.
Its racy looks (and racier layout) notwithstanding, the V6-equipped Charger isn’t as racy as the V6/FWD Camry TRD. It needs about 6.7 seconds to get to 60 not because its 3.6-liter V6 is weak (it makes 300 hp, almost as much as the Camry’s V6) but rather because it is much heavier than the Camry.
A stock (rear-drive) V6 Charger weighs 3,964 lbs. With AWD, the hunky sedan’s weight bloats to 4,205 lbs.
The V6 Camry is a featherweight in comparison—just 3,572 lbs. with the four. With AWD, the Camry’s weight drops to 3,475 lbs.
On The Road
The Camry has always been a fast car when ordered with its available V6, which is fundamentally the same V6 that you’d find under the hood of a Lexus GS350 (powering the rear wheels, in that case).
But it has never looked quick.
Not looking quick is a perk in that you could sprint without being noticed by insurance companies and the police. In the event someone did notice, the odds were better that you might be able to talk your way out of it by playing the family guy, “Sorry, Officer, I didn’t realize how fast I was going.”
It is harder to make that play when your car has a wing on the trunk, bright red powder-coated brake calipers poking through 19-inch lightweight alloy wheels, and a chin spoiler that looks like something you’d see at Darlington.
Nothing else in this class looks as fast as the new Camry. And it can back it up, though the TRD enhancements play no role in straight-line performance. A V6 XSE or XLE is just as quick to 60 and through the quarter-mile.
But the TRD Camry is quicker through the curves. It stops quicker, too, especially if you stop quickly, often. The larger (12.9 inch vs.12 inch) rotors and gripper (40-series) “summer” tires see to that.
And in the curves, the chassis bracing, suspension tuning, and the short-sidewall tires noticeably reduce body roll without noticeably (negatively) affecting the car’s civility.
It may look like a race car, but it still rides like a Camry and sounds like one, too.
There’s no race car bellow coming out of the twin TRD exhaust tips, just a slightly deeper tone. A more aggressive TRD exhaust system, perhaps with those neat-o baffles that pop open under full-throttle acceleration and bypass the mufflers entirely that you can now get in several new performance cars. This makes it sound racier and possibly freed up another ten horsepower or so, giving the TRD Camry an edge over the stock V6 Camry.
An open-element air cleaner. Maybe hotter cams, more lift, or at least, a more aggressive final drive ratio in the axle (all V6 Camrys use the same 2.56 gearing).
Still, there’s a lot of potential here in a reversion of the role that stock cars used to play—basing the actual stock production cars for the new cars.
Back in the day, Dodge built 426 Street Hemi-equipped Chargers designed to become 200 MPH Chargers on the high ovals. The stock engines you could buy were modified into race car engines.
Today, the stock car Camry doing 200 MPH laps around Daytona is powered by an engine built specifically for racing that isn’t based on any engine Toyota sells in a stock production car.
But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t modify the production Camry’s V6 to deliver race-car performance. In part because you have two more cylinders to work with than in rivals that have only four, which in a way, it already does.
A stock Camry, not even TRD’d, is quicker than classic muscle car heavyweights like the 1970 Dodge Charger Daytona 426 Hemi, which needed about 5.8 seconds to get to 60 MPH.
And now the TRD Camry has the looks to match—including the wing.
At The Curb
The Camry became a lot sportier-looking when it was redesigned in 2018. Probably because Toyota knows the market for family cars is rapidly becoming the market for family crossovers, which are roomier-for-the-dollar.
Hence the more visual appeal, directed toward people who can indulge looks because maybe they haven’t got kids yet.
And now look at this one. In red – with the gloss black roof and matching chin and trunk spoiler. All it needs is a shaker hood scoop and a screaming chicken decal on its hood.
To look a little less obvious, consider a neutral color like white, which draws less attention to the chin spoiler, though there’s no hiding that wing.
Toyota is obviously proud of what the Camry can do and wants to make sure everyone knows about it. But it might be better to offer a Down Low version of the Camry with the TRD mechanicals but sans the all-too-obvious visuals.
This was once common practice.
Examples include the Mustang 5.0LX of the ’80s, which had all the high-performance equipment of the Mustang GT but the external appearance of a Hertz Rental Car Mustang sporting the didden-do-nuffin four-cylinder engine. Except it had the GT’s V8 and was even faster because it was a little lighter.
There was also the down low version of the Pontiac Trans-Am, the Firebird Formula. It had the Trans-Am’s engine, but not its shaking hood scoop or the gigantic screaming chicken decal that served the same purpose attracting cops as it would throw a stick at a sleeping junkyard dog while you’re trying to sneak past him.
The TRD visuals do serve a functional purpose. The front clip and road-hugging chin spoiler divert air around the car at high speed, while the wing on the trunk converts wind at high speed into a downforce on the rear, improving stability at the high speeds this car is very capable of achieving.
Just be careful about potholes and low spots in the road, such as dips just before driveways.
Otherwise, this is a Camry and so just as practical as any other Camry.
It has generous front and backseat legroom (42.1 and 38 inches, respectively) and a 15.1 cubic foot trunk. It has three USB ports, including one on top of the center console that’s easy to see and plug into by feel plus two more in the center console storage cubby.
There are a few TRD trim touches inside, such as the stubby gear selector knob for the six-speed automatic and red contrast stitching for the steering wheel and seats.
But nothing nearly as flashy as what’s outside.
One area Toyota completely overlooked is under the hood—how the engine looks. It has the same anonymous gray-black plastic cover which covers other Camry engines. Nothing dressy and much less gaudy, which is a shame.
Performance packages used to almost always come with engine dress-up packages. It was part of the fun to raise the hood and look at the chrome valve covers, the open-element, or dual snorkel air cleaner. The things that made it look not run-of-the-mill.
The TRD’s engine bay looks as run-of-the-mill as it gets.
The Bottom Line
The Camry always was a race winner whether the measure was 0-60 or how many Toyota sold.
Now, except for under its hood, it looks like a race winner, too.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books and reviewing cars and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.