2021 Toyota Camry TRD review: Flash with some performance sizzle

The Toyota Camry TRD definitely has a sporty look.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Forgive me, but I couldn’t help but be initially skeptical of the Toyota Camry TRD. Admittedly, the current generation of Camry is arguably the most aggressive to date and Toyota has made progress in building more eye-catching cars with products like the Supra. But a performance version of the Camry? Really?

Like it

  • Silky V6
  • Sporty handling
  • Good-looking

I do not like

  • Flat front seats
  • Soft brake pedal
  • Slow response of the infotainment screen

More visual flash

To give the Camry TRD more character, Toyota’s designers have developed a body kit that adds a black grille with mesh insert, front splitter, side aero skirts, trunk spoiler and rear diffuser. If these aren’t enough to warn other motorists on the road that they aren’t dealing with a typical common Camry, then the red TRD badges will make it clear as day. The whole package is fitted with 19-inch matte black wheels.

I have to say this Camry TRD boasts a bit of style and attitude. The front looks very aggressive and all the black TRD body extras contrast nicely with the Ice Edge paint on my test car. It all works well with the Midnight Black roof for an impactful two-tone look.

Inside, TRD exclusives include black SofTex upholstered seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, red contrast stitching, TRD gear knob, TRD gauges, red seat belts, TRD floor mats and aluminum pedals. I wish Toyota had gone a step further and reinforced the side bolsters of the front seats. As it stands, there is some support there, but a little more would be appreciated to keep riders better snuggled in place.

The rest of the Camry’s interior is on par with everything in the midsize sedan class. The materials are beautiful with most of the main surfaces wrapped and swapped, while the hard plastics are well finished. Passenger space in both rows is generous and there are plenty of slots and closets for stashing things up front. Unfortunately, people in the back will have to do without climate vents, center armrest or power outlets. Trunk space measures a roomy 15.1 cubic feet, but carrying longer items in the TRD will be difficult as the second row seat backs won’t fold due to a V-brace installed behind for added body stiffening.

Updated technology

Like every 2021 Camry, the TRD receives a new floating touchscreen infotainment display that brings controls closer to passengers and helps reduce glare on the relatively small 7-inch screen. Buttons and knobs flanking the screen allow easy access to commonly used menus and stereo adjustments, while the touchscreen layout is easy to navigate. Unfortunately, the system has a noticeable delay when switching between menus.

A floating infotainment screen is new for 2021.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Standard features include a six-speed audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. If you’re an audiophile, you can opt for your Camry TRD with a nine-speaker JBL audio system for an additional $ 1,585.

On the active safety front, the TRD gets standard blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic warning for 2021 as well as an improved Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 Plus package. Front collision warning can now detect cyclists and is more effective at detecting pedestrians in low light situations. Also included are adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and road sign assistance.

A better performer

Motivation comes from a silky 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 301 horsepower and 267 foot-pounds of torque. Like competitors I have abandoned the six-cylinder engines in favor of the turbos, I applaud Toyota’s decision to stick with a six for its linear and linear power delivery. Throttle response is snappy at tip-in and low-end torque is acceptable, though certainly not as beefy as the force-induced I4s in rival cars. From the mid-rev range to the 6,800-rpm redline, however, the V6 pulls hard and plays smoothly, emitting a surprisingly good mid-range growl through a TRD cat-back exhaust.

The Camry’s V6 is a smooth 301 horsepower operator.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

An eight-speed automatic transmission directs the power to the by Camry front wheels and does its job without problems. Gear changes are always timely and there’s no hesitation in stepping down a gear or two when you need to get moving. If you want to use the large steering wheel-mounted paddles to manually orchestrate the gears, they are surprisingly responsive to shifting commands. However, the behavior for the higher shifts is more erratic: at times quick to respond and hesitant at others.

When driven normally, the TRD’s transmission returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. In mixed driving, I observed 25 mpg, which matches the EPA’s combined fuel economy rating.

The Camry TRD’s the biggest changes come in the chassis department. The thicker underbody and the aforementioned rear seat reinforcement increase the torsional stiffness of the sedan. A suspension overhaul brings several shock absorbers, stiffer springs, a half-inch lower ride height, and larger anti-roll bars. Place all of this on 19 inches Michelin Primacy MXM4 all season tires and you will have a neat rider.

The larger front brakes are one of the TRD’s many performance improvements.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Upon entering the corner, the TRD’s body squats slightly and curves confidently better than any Camry I’ve ever driven. There is enough grip and composure to have a good time behind the wheel. Obviously, pushing hard on the Camry results in a gradual wash of the front end. The trade-off with the firmer chassis is a small decrease in ride comfort. Crash impacts are felt more than a standard Camry, but are in no way violent or uncomfortable. The development team has done an incredible job balancing performance and ride quality here.

The brakes have also been updated, and not just with red paint on the front calipers. The front clamps of the TRD are two-piston units instead of single-piston latches on Camry not TRD, and clamp the larger 12.9-inch (compared to 12) rotors. They are strong, reduce speed quickly, although firmer pedal feedback is on my wish list. The steering is quite direct and acceptably weighted, despite a small dead center in the center.

This 2021 Toyota Camry TRD pictured here will cost you $ 34,312.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

How would I specify it

The Camry TRD starts at $ 33,285, including $ 1,025 for the destination. As for me, I’d start by checking the box for the Ice Edge two-tone paint and the Midnight Black Metallic roof like my tester. It looks great and is worth the $ 500 cost. Since I like my tunes, I’d also grab the $ 1,585 JBL sound system for something better than the standard six speaker setup. And finally, $ 129 to give rear passengers easy access to a pair of USB ports is a breeze, taking my ideal Toyota’s bottom line to $ 35,499. That’s more than my $ 34,312 tester, but I feel it’s worth it.

A more fun Camry

Compared to basic car, the Camry TRD is undoubtedly a sharper specimen. The body kit isn’t flamboyant, doing enough to visually pump this sedan, while the louder exhaust and better handling reflections provide a driving experience that’s truly more fun. There is, however, room for improvement: some tweaks to the steering and brakes would further amplify this Camry. All in all, however, the TRD is a pleasant surprise.

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