The Camry has long been boasted as one of the best values in its class, with Toyota’s strong track record for reliability—along with the Camry’s thrifty, fuel-efficient nature—making it the go-to choice for drivers looking for a dependable daily driver that won’t break the bank. This formula has proved fruitful for Toyota, with the Camry regularly ranking among the nation’s best-selling cars, but that level of popularity can easily start to work against you. Between its economical nature and pure ubiquity, the model has long struggled to shrug off a reputation for blandness that has dogged the Camry since its debut in 1983. So how do you turn one of the industry’s most economical, practical sedans into a sporty ride that drivers can get excited about? Simple: get Toyota Racing Development (TRD) involved.
Toyota’s in-house tuning shop has an impressive track record for injecting a little high-performance fun into the automaker’s lineup. From trucks and SUVs like the Tundra, Tacoma, 4Runner, and Sequoia to sedans like the Camry and Avalon, the TRD badge gives Toyota engineers a great excuse to revisit some of the brand’s most popular models, transforming them from stolid family vehicles into thrilling, race-inspired vehicles that are sure to get any driver’s blood pumping. Introduced in 2020, the Camry TRD is one of the most recent models to get the sporty treatment, giving those in the market for a new or used Toyota Camry for sale an exhilarating new option. Before you hit your local Toyota dealership, let’s explore the history of the Camry and Toyota’s TRD program and see just how the Camry TRD came to be.
First, Take a Camry…
Before we delve into the genesis of the Camry TRD, let’s take a moment for a little history lesson. While the Camry might have first hit the streets in 1983, the model’s ancestry actually stretches back a few years earlier when it was introduced as a four-door version of the Toyota Celica coupe. Based on the design of the Toyota Carina—a compact car exclusive to the Japanese market—the Celica Camry was a longer, roomier model designed with families in mind. This Celica variant proved popular, leading Toyota to introduce a standalone Camry in 1983, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
With SUVs still in their infancy, the mid-80s were the era of the four-door sedan, with this segment winning acclaim for its unique combination of affordability and reliability. Toyota made the fateful decision to export the Camry to the North American market; this sedan quickly became a driver favorite, going on to make history as one of the best-selling sedans of all time, with an impressive 19-year run as America’s best-selling vehicle. But it wasn’t just the Camry’s affordable nature and ease of ownership that made the model such a hit…
While this sedan has been characterized as being a bit underwhelming, performance has long been a part of the Camry equation. When Toyota brought the Camry to the US market, it arrived with an upgraded engine that immediately gave it an edge over the fuel-focused compacts of the day. Toyota upped the ante with the debut of the model’s third generation, rolling out an SE trim that saw the Camry graced with a standard V6 engine and a sports suspension lifted from the Lexus ES 300. The SE wouldn’t make it past the third generation, but its spirit would live on as Toyota began offering an optional V6 for later Camry models. Generally regarded as the first Camry that could be described as “sporty” with a straight face, the SE would set a precedent that only the TRD could match.
The Camry TRD isn’t the model’s first run-in with the Toyota Racing Development team. The brand offered a TRD supercharger kit for the fourth-generation (XV20) from 1997 to 2000, helping the model’s 3.0L V6 engine to achieve an impressive 247 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. It was an intriguing look at how, with a few tweaks, the Camry could demonstrate some real sporty potential—but the public would have to wait another two decades for a dedicated TRD version of the Camry.
Then, Add the TRD…
To truly understand the Camry TRD, we need to learn a little more about Toyota Racing Development itself. As Toyota’s tuning and performance arm, TRD translates its experience from the world of motorsports to the average consumer, producing suped-up versions of some of the automaker’s most popular models to add a little excitement to the lineup. While the program has gone by a few different names over the years, it’s always been an integral part of Toyota’s success both on and off the track, giving racers an important edge while serving as a testing ground for new automotive developments and techniques.
Founded in 1957 as the Toyota Sports Corner (commonly abbreviated as TOSCO), Toyota’s performance arm started gaining some attention in the 1960s with a slate of notable wins in the various world racing circuits, including the 1963 Japanese Grand Prix and the 1967 Fuji 24-Hour Endurance Race. The brand’s first win on US soil would come in 1973 when a Toyota Corolla took home the crown at the World Rally Championship’s Michigan’s Press-on-Regardless Rally, a marquee win that would lead Toyota to rebrand TOSCO as Toyota Racing Development (TRD).
TRD entered into the performance parts market in earnest during the late 1970s, designing high-performance parts and accessories for much of the Toyota lineup—but it was the grueling desert racing scene that would give rise to the first true TRD model. A TRD-designed Tacoma pickup would earn wins at iconic desert racing events, including the Mint 400 and Baja 1000, earning the brand no shortage of headlines and leading to the debut of a full-production Tacoma TRD model in 1997.
Finding success in the desert racing circuit is one thing, but Toyota knew that if the TRD brand were ever to become a household name, it needed to replicate its success on the biggest stage in domestic motorsport: NASCAR. The Tundra TRD would come to dominate the league’s Camping World Truck Series throughout the early 2000s, earning 12 Manufacturer’s Championship titles. Toyota has since won championships in all three of NASCAR’s top series thanks to the TRD program, with the Tundra and Camry earning considerable praise from competitors and fans alike.
And Now You’ve Got a Camry TRD
The Camry finally received the TRD treatment in 2020, rolling out a new trim aimed at infusing the beloved sedan with the high-performance components that have led to so much racing success for Toyota. The centerpiece of the sporty sedan is a 3.5L V6 that can deliver up to 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque—and while those three-digit numbers would be impressive on any vehicle, it’s the number ‘six’ (as in ‘V6’) that really gets our blood pumping.
These days, most family sedans have nixed their V6 engines in favor of economical four-cylinder setups that provide little in the way of thrills. That makes the V6 Camry TRD something of an iconoclast in the segment and allows the sedan to provide a level of excitement that simply can’t be matched. Don’t believe us? Just try to find another family sedan that can shoot from zero to sixty in 5.8 seconds and hit a top speed of 135 mph.
The Camry TRD’s V6 engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which might not sound that sporty until you discover that this sedan also comes with paddle shifters that allow drivers to choose their own gear on the fly. A dedicated sport mode shifts the Camry TRD’s control parameters, adjusting the transmission, shifting, throttle response, and electronic power steering assist to improve handling and stability; meanwhile, a dual cat-back exhaust provides a boost to overall horsepower—and makes a satisfying racket to boot.
To its credit, Toyota hasn’t just plunked a few TRD-branded components under the hood; they’ve redesigned the Camry from the ground up, upping the model’s rigidity with thicker underbody braces and minimizing body roll with new stabilizer bars. TRD coil springs allow the Camry to sit 0.6 inches lower to the ground, while upgraded brakes provide an important upgrade for keeping those 301 horses in check.
The model also looks every bit like a sports sedan, with a spoiler, aerodynamic sill panels, and 19-inch matte black alloy wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza 235/40R19 summer tires. The Camry TRD is available in four colors for 2023—Midnight Black Metallic, Reservoir Blue, Wind Chill Pearl, and a matte black hue dubbed Underground—but those who appreciate some good matching should keep an eye out for 2020-2022 models as they come with a Ruby Flare Pearl option that is the perfect complement to all the red interior accents. From red seat inserts and piping to stitching, floor mats, and seatbelts, the Camry TRD is nothing if not eye-catching. Best of all, the Camry doesn’t lose any of its legendary practicality when opting for the TRD model.
This sedan includes all the comfort and convenience features one would expect from a family vehicle, inducing keyless entry, a 9.0-inch infotainment system, heated mirrors, and a full suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), but it’s the sports sedan’s ample cargo space that really set it over the edge. Automotive athleticism often comes at the cost of interior volume—just ask any Porsche owner who can only buy one bag of groceries at a time—but that’s not the case regarding the Camry TRD. With a 111-inch wheelbase, 101 cu.ft. of passenger space, and 15 cu.ft. of cargo room, the Camry TRD doesn’t ask drivers to sacrifice practicality in the name of performance.
For those who aren’t quite ready to trade in their sports car daydreams for a dependable-if-mundane family vehicle, the Camry TRD provides the perfect middle ground. With a design informed by Toyota’s 50-plus years in the world of professional motorsports, the Camry TRD doesn’t ask drivers to sacrifice fun in the name of practicality, delivering a well-rounded option that should go a long way in spicing up the daily commute. At the same time, Toyota has never lost sight of those factors that have made the Camry such a popular choice over the decades.
The TRD excels not only in terms of performance but also reliability, efficiency, and price, starting at just over $34,000 for the 2023 model. If you’re looking to get your hands on a Camry TRD, it’s best to act quickly. Toyota has limited the performance-minded model to just 6,000 units per year, making the Camry TRD just as exclusive as it is thrilling.