I took delivery of a 2020 Toyota Camry TRD the day before the second NASCAR Cup Series race of the disrupted season, the Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway. Although I'm not a huge oval track fan, I watched it anyway because there isn't any other racing happening. By coincidence, a Toyota Camry won the rain-shortened race.
As I watched the race, I thought the winning Camry has nothing in common with my test model. But after a few days, I realized it is more closely related to the NASCAR version than the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang race cars that it competed against. They are both supposedly based on retro versions of the original Pony Cars that first competed in the Trans Am race series in the late 1960s.
In contrast, the Camry is a midsize family car, which is what NASCAR race cars were historically based on. That's where the "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" catch phrase came from.
But more than that, the 2020 Camry TRD is more performance oriented than any current midsize Chevy or Ford. The current versions of the Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion are both good affordable family cars, but their most powerful engines are small turbocharged four cylinders, and there are no sport option package.
In contrast, Toyota offers several versions of the new Camry with a 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 301 horsepower and 267 foot-pounds of torque. And the TRD version include a genuine sport suspension, a lower restriction muffler, and such aerodynamic upgrades as a lower front scoop, side body moldings, and a rear wing.
More than that, the TRD is the least expensive V6 version of the Camry available. Although it lacks some features, like blind spot monitoring, it still includes all of the performance upgrades for around $32,000. Plus, the red and black paint job on my test car was striking, attracting attention everywhere I went.
It was also very comfortable and easy to drive for a performance-oriented car. Even with all the suspension upgrades, the ride was not too stiff. The exhaust was noticeable but not too loud. And, like all Camry models, it was roomy enough for five adults.
That said, the Camry TRD is not as fast as V8-equipped versions of Mustangs and Camaros. They are seriously fast, while V6 Camry's are merely quick. But even my TRD version is must easier to live with than its V8-powered counterparts. Their additional horsepower is hardly ever needed in day-to-day driving, or even weekend trips where traffic-free roads can occasionally be found.
I admit that I was a little annoyed when Toyota first began NASCAR racing. I thought the series was supposed to be a showcase for Detroit's Big Three. But then Dodge dropped out. And now the Camry is built in Georgetown, Kentucky, which makes it about as American as can be.
So while the 2020 Toyota Camry TRD may have nothing mechanically in common with the NASCAR version, it is more aligned with the most traditional of all American race series than you think. And it offers a lot of fun and style for relatively little money for the boy (and girl) racers in all of us.
2020 Toyota Camry TRD
Base price: $31,040
Price as tested: $32,920
Style: Midsize sedan
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (301 hp, 267 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and manual shift
EPA fuel economy: 22/31
Length: 192.1 inches
Weight: 3,571 pounds
Final assembly point: Georgetown, Kentucky
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.