Dressed to thrill w/ 301 ponies under the hood. Cliff Leppke – CleanMPG – March 19, 2020 2020 Toyota Camry TRD There’s a Camry with a rear wing, fat 19-inch tires, chin spoiler and dual tailpipes. Don’t laugh. These juvenile affectations aren’t junior’s overwrought makeover of a hand-me-down family car. Instead, the 2020 Camry TRD wears these boy-racer pieces well. The car’s appeal, like the Guggenheim, is more than decorative. Toyota tuned its suspension and reinforced the body. Rear braces, for instance, require a fixed rear-seat back. The red dual-piston front-brake calipers are beefier too. Bridgestone summer-performance tires transform the TRD into a highway-sensing Scud missile. Ask the TRD to change directions and you’ll think you’re in Kyle Bush’s ride. This NASCAR-themed auto digs twisty roads like a famished fair goer does pretzels. It’s alert, precise and a pleasure to command. Due to its low center-of-gravity, the Camry feels nicely planted. One exception is full-throttle acceleration; the front-driver has light feet. Toyota employs a smooth 301-hp V-6 engine. Then, it saddles it with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Fat exhaust tips emit a purposeful growl. Organist E Power Biggs could have played them. One downside is the economy-oriented shift algorithm. It frequently upshifts or downshifts. The EPA ratings: 22/31/25 mpg city/highway/combined. I observed 26 mpg. While cog swapping is smooth, the accompanying exhaust barks weren’t a pipe dream. It’s as tiresome, as a TV informercial. Despite sport-mode shifting, and paddle shifters, you must drop down to fifth in order to stop gear shuffling on the interstate. The Bridgestone donuts aren’t winter-weather ready. Snowstorms transform the otherwise competent TRD into a street-fight battleground. Traction is awful. The stability programming thwarts engine revving and tire spinning. The car refused to climb slippery inclines; it often slid backward. This proved dramatic; my workplace’s self-closing metal fence threatened to guillotine the hill-challenged Toyota. Push the dashboard-mounted stability-program button. When it’s off, the front wheels spin. After the Camry’s tires find pavement, they bite like it needs Polident. Braking is effective and is easy to modulate on dry pavement. On slippery roads, stopping distances or lack of thereof were an eye opener. Mashing the left pedal summons antilock brakes. Yet, the TRD—now locomotive-- went entire city blocks without slowing. I parked it and waited for better weather. Clear pavement lets you explore the TRD’s racier persona. And it’s a relative bargain at $32,920. Toyota trimmed costs by choosing a less well-appointed model as the foundation. Yet, Toyota dressed the cabin with red threads and crimson belts. This hue works its way to instrument needles and illumination. Power outlets are convenient. Door cards are hard plastic in rear, soft-top in front. Only the driver gets cloth-insert seating with power controls. Rear riders don’t get a center armrest. Aft headrests are fixed, obstructing rear views. And the instrument cluster’s 4.2-inch info screen and the seven-inch center stack’s infotainment screen are relatively small. But there are TRD start-up animation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Sporty demeanor doesn’t mean a punishing ride. It’s comparatively civil, as if the TRD went to finishing school. There’s some head toss, but still rates good. Headlights are effective. Steering wheel switches, as with many Toyotas, lack detents. Rear seating for two adults is adequate. The center spot pushes a six-foot tall guy’s head into the untucked headliner—an untidy detail. Toyota nags all occupants to fasten their seat belts. These otherwise commendable requests thwart using the auto-hold function, which gets downright unhappy should you open the driver’s door to operate a parking lot’s entry keypad, when the windows are iced. Yet, one can back up with the driver’s door open a crack (no protesting here) in order to confirm tire placement on concrete ribbons. Sporting V-6 midsize sedans are an endangered species. Toyota’s Camry TRD, therefore, stands out. It’s dressed to thrill with athletic mechanical upgrades.