A family sedan in a racing suit.

A lot has changed since the first Toyota Camry showed up in 1982. Today, this mid-sizer is no longer the bland butt of jokes. Rather, with a sporty XSE option and an available V6, it’s actually a solid vehicle that offers enough excitement for the average consumer. But things have gotten more exciting with the addition of the 2020 Toyota Camry TRD, a special package with seriously sporty chops that help separate it from the pack of more mundane rivals.

But it's not any more powerful. Like its off-road focused TRD truck siblings, work’s done underneath the bodywork. The engineering masters at TRD went to work on the suspension, making this Camry stiffer and more responsive all around, while designers gave it a healthy visual makeover. The outcome is a Toyota Camry TRD that – no joke – is actually pretty hot.

Wings ‘N Things

The Camry TRD looks genuinely stylish. This is a much more aggressive take on an otherwise understated car. Upgrades like 19-inch TRD wheels, gloss-black grille inserts, and sporty red accents up the already-edgy styling of the Camry XSE on which the TRD model is based. Our only minor gripe is the gloss black rear spoiler – it's a bit silly atop the otherwise traditional-looking Camry. Interestingly, Toyota engineers tell us that the spoiler was “almost much bigger." But considering it’s mostly just for aesthetics, we appreciate the restraint.

The Camry TRD's cabin is more reserved. Well-bolstered, faux-leather seats with red accents and headrests with a TRD logo look good, but aren't totally comfortable. It feels like you sit on them rather than in them. But we dig the red stitching, red seat belts, leather TRD shifter and steering wheel, as well as other premium materials located throughout. Updating helps the otherwise conventional cabin (with its same 7.0-inch touchscreen) feel fresher.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive
2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive
2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive
2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive
2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive

Old-School Charm

Instead of downsizing and turbocharging, as many of its competitors have, the Camry TRD keeps things refreshingly old-school. And Toyota’s hesitation to downsize actually helps it here. The Camry’s punchy naturally aspirated V6 lives under the hood, potentially for one last hurrah in the midsize sedan. It's the same 3.5-liter engine offered elsewhere in the range (on the XSE and XLE models) but it doesn't get any additional oomph here. The same 301 horses and 267 pound-feet of torque carry over.

That said, this is still a genuinely quick car. And not just quick for a Camry, either. Thanks to additional stiffening from new shocks and an increased spring rate (a 44-percent increase in stiffness up front, and 67-percent in the rear), the Camry remains composed in a straight line. The only thing the Camry TRD lacks is the same low-end oomph you'll find on its turbocharged classmates like the Honda Accord Sport and Mazda6 2.5T. In this case, torque peaks at a relatively high 4,700 RPM, routed through an unchanged eight-speed automatic gearbox. At least this Camry sounds good on the way to 60 miles per hour, as the TRD cat-back exhaust system’s dual tips help fill the cabin with a deep, burbly exhaust note when you gun it. And that sound is au natural – there’s no artificial engine note through the internal speakers.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive

This is still a genuinely quick car. And not just quick for a Camry, either.

But judging the Camry TRD on straight-line speed or sound alone would be doing this car a huge disservice. Believe it or not, this Camry corners. The TRD-tweaked suspension, with stiffer springs, TRD-specific shocks, and a dropped ride height (by six-tenths of an inch), result in huge upgrades in lateral grip. The Camry TRD is fun as hell to fling around twisty back roads at speed, and lacks the standard variant's more-obvious body roll and clumsy handling. And the Camry TRD’s ability to change directions quickly actually makes it pretty good at autocrossing, too.

The Camry TRD handles a makeshift autocross course on the infield of Texas Motor Speedway like an expert. It's speedy down the long front straight, flat in the corners, and linear and composed when braking thanks to new 12.9-inch brake rotors (nearly an inch improvement over the standard Camry) clamped down by two-piston calipers on the front wheels. The front tires squeal angrily, still – front-wheel-drive just isn't as good in this situation as rear- or all-wheel drive – but the half-inch wider TRD wheels with the XSE’s Potenza all-season P235/40R19 tires improve lateral movement just enough for us to notice.

And because it's still a Camry at its core, the TRD model doesn't totally forfeit comfort for the sake of performance. It's amenable on the road, relatively quiet (just a bit of tire noise penetrates the cabin), and easy-going in traffic and urban situations. Even in Sport mode, where the steering stiffens up and throttle pressure becomes more sensitive, the Camry TRD’s ride is neither harsh nor uncomfortable. However, Eco and Normal modes almost make this Camry too soft for its otherwise sporty TRD designation. The TRD also comes standard with the brand’s Toyota Safety Sense P umbrella of advanced safety features (forward-collision warning, automatic front braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights), as well as up to 31 miles per gallon on the highway.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive
2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive
2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive
2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive

Affordable Entertainment

The lack of additional power may be a turn off to some buyers, as might the lightly warmed-over interior. But the Toyota Camry TRD makes a lot of sense when looking at the price tag: it costs just $31,995. This is the cheapest way to get into a V6-powered Camry, folks, and it’s really the only option in the segment available at that price. Sure, it’s a touch pricier than turbocharged alternatives, but think of another V6-powered sports sedan available at the price – you can't. And this Camry feels well worth it.

The suspension’s improvements are the TRD's main selling point, followed by better steering, better braking, and agro styling (though, we could do without the shouty rear spoiler) with the same relative comfort and safety you expect from a Camry. The end product is a sporty sedan that lives up to its new moniker's roots, while still maintaining its Camry core.

Gallery: 2020 Toyota Camry TRD: First Drive