By Eric Peters
Stock car racing used to be based on stock cars — production cars you could buy, modified to race.
Today, it’s the reverse. The race cars are cars you can’t buy, with the production cars modified to look like the race cars.
Such is the case with the latest iteration of Toyota’s Camry sedan. The one you can buy is a front-wheel-drive car with an available V-6 engine; the race car has a V-8 engine driving the rear wheels — without the rear doors.
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But now you can buy a Camry that looks like a race car — with a wing on the trunk, even.
Plus rear doors that aren’t stenciled on.
What It Is
The Camry is the bestselling midsize family sedan on the market. It comes with either a four- or a six-cylinder engine and, for the first time, a wing — if you order the new Toyota Racing Development, or TRD, package.
The TRD package also includes a racy-looking front end with a contrast-color chin spoiler, side-sill extensions and handling/braking upgrades over the stock Camry. Unfortunately for race fans, there’s no V-8 option on the menu.
Prices start at $24,425 for the stock Camry L with a less racy four-cylinder engine; Toyota now offers all-wheel drive as an option — something the race Camry doesn’t have. But you have to step up to the LE or SE trims to buy it, and it’s only available with the four-cylinder engine.
The V-6 engine is standard with the XLE, XSE and the new TRD trims — all of which are front-wheel drive only.
But only the TRD looks like a race car. It stickers for $31,170.
In addition to the TRD package and the all-wheel-drive option for four-cylinder Camrys, Android Auto is now standard in all trims.
The TRD package is more than just racy looks.
It’s much more practical than a race car.
It has lots of potential to be racier.
What’s Not So Good
TRD’s visuals give away the racy performance that V-6 Camrys have always been capable of.
TRD’s V-6 isn’t racier than the stock V-6 in the XLE and XSE.
The chin spoiler is vulnerable to curb stops and dips in the road.
Under the Hood
There’s no V-8 engine on the menu, but the Camry still offers something that’s essentially nonexistent in the segment — a V-6 engine.
The TRD’s 301-horsepower V-6 engine makes no more horsepower, however, than the stock V-6 you’ll find under the hood of other Camrys.
Still, it outperforms the fours in the class. A V-6-equipped Camry — TRD or not — gets to 60 mph in the mid-high five-second range. It also gets 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway — much better mileage than the V-8 not-so-stock race car.
And then you can’t get AC.
Or doors that open.
On the Road
The Camry has always been a quick car when ordered with its available V-6 — but it has never looked quick.
Which was a perk in that you could run quickly without being noticed — including by the insurance mafia. And in the event someone did notice — like a cop — the odds were better that you might be able to talk your way out of it by playing the Family Guy who didn’t realize how fast he was going, Officer. It is harder to make that play when your car has a wing on the trunk, bright red powder-coated brake calipers poking through 19-inch lightweight alloy wheels, and a chin spoiler that looks like something you’d see at Darlington.
And — also on the plus side — although it looks like a race car, it still rides like a Camry.
At the Curb
Toyota is obviously proud of what the Camry can do and wants to make sure everyone knows about it. But it might be better to offer a down-low version of the Camry — with the TRD chassis and brake upgrades but sans the all-too-obvious visuals.
This was once common practice.
Examples include the Mustang LX 5.0 of the ’80s — which had all the high-performance equipment of the Mustang GT but the external appearance of a Hertz rental car Mustang.
The TRD visuals do, however, serve a functional purpose. The front clip and road-hugging chin spoiler divert air around the car at high speed — while the wing on the trunk converts wind at high speed into downforce on the rear, improving stability at the high speeds this car is very capable of achieving.
Just be careful about potholes and low spots in the road, such as dips just before driveways.
Otherwise, this is a Camry — just as practical as any other Camry.
One area Toyota completely overlooked is under the hood — how the engine looks. It has the same anonymous gray-black plastic cover as covers on other Camry engines.
That’s a shame, because something really good lies underneath it.
The Bottom Line
The V-6 Camry was always a race winner, whether the measure was its zero-to-60 time or how many cars were sold.
Now — except for under its hood — it looks like a race winner, too.
Eric’s new book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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