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2020 Toyota Camry Review: Unshakable

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 Toyota Camry, in its hybrid, AWD and TRD variations.

It’s getting pretty repetitive to say, but it’s no less true for the repeating: today’s sedans are, overall, better-built, better-performing and more fuel-efficient than they’ve ever been, at precisely the time when they’ve been unceremoniously shoved aside as consumers stampede towards SUV formats.

The result is some mighty fine four-doors fighting for their share of a much smaller pie. This is the lot of the Honda Accord, the VW Passat (soon to be gone from our market), the Kia Optima-become-K5 and… the Toyota Camry. The trusty, solid Camry.

We had occasion to test out several iterations of the 2020 Camry, each quite distinct within the lineup: the hybrid, the new AWD variant, and the TRD, all decked up for a day at the track. The first two could be appealing to a wide swath of Canadian customers, while the last one is more of a niche affair. We’re just not sure of the niche.

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2020 Toyota Camry TRD
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry TRD

The look
No matter which version you take, the Camry is a well-put-together, comely four-door with its lines and proportions in the right place. At least, that’s so in my eyes. I’m particularly a fan of the car’s back end with its slinky-eyed rear lights and small lip overhanging the Toyota badge and pleasingly designed and font-ed C-A-M-R-Y lettering on the trunk. From the side, the lines are well-proportioned, the fenestration not being totally squeezed out by the tall door panels as they are on some other models.

The front end is… well let’s say there’s kind of a lot going on in that front end, what with the slanted headlights, air intakes down low on each side of the low-hanging grille, and grille openings farther up in the centre. But don’t count me among those bothered by the look, deemed too aggressive by some for what is, after all, a mid-size sedan designed to move people around in comfort. Why shouldn’t your comfy couch be a sharp-looking one as well?

Note that the XLE variant gets its own front grille, which might be the top-end trim in the product offering but is in my view a duller-looking affair. In the eye of the beholder, as they say…

2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid

The versions
The parade starts with the LE base version, priced at $28,889. Next come the SE ($30,819), the XSE ($37,259) and lastly the XLE, which starts at $39,059. All versions can he had with all-wheel drive (LE at $31,119, SE AWD at $32,559, XSE AWD at $38,919 and XLE AWD at $40,659). Those interested in the hybrid configuration can get it with all trims as well (LE at $33,819, SE at $32,599, XSE at $37,259 and XLE at $43,619).

For those who might look askance at a 4-cylinder or hybrid powertrain, there's the option of the V6-equipped XSE, priced at $40,659, or the XLE, costing $43,859. The XSE can be gussied up with the TRD package (more on that below), in which case you’ll pay $38,259 – less than the XSE because some other features are removed.

The Camry Hybrid

2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid, badging
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid, badging

This is for those who want mid-size spaciousness and fewer visits to the gas pump per month. It delivers the comfort and dependability you expect from a Toyota sedan, but there is an extra cost to getting that gas-saving technology; for example the regular version of the Camry SE (the version I drove) starts at $30,819, while the hybrid system brings that up to $32,599. Now, that’s not a huge jump, and it will, with this hybrid system that automatically toggles between electric and gas-engine drive, features regenerative braking and requires no plugging in, mean you benefit from substantially reduced fuel consumption. My average after a week of city-heavy driving was 5.6L/100 km. Nothing to sneeze at.

Toyota has installed a function in the Camry Hybrid that I feel every vehicle of this sort should have: an EV button for controlling when you drive in all-electric mode (in traffic in the city) and when you don’t (on the highway). Unfortunately, this particular system doesn’t do what I’d wish. Press the button and it means simply that the car starts from a stop on electric power, but it very quickly switches to gas power as soon as you get the slightest bit excited with the throttle. And, it does that anyways even if you don’t push the EV button. I’m sure that if I could control the situations in which the electric motor is used I’d maximize fuel economy, but here I don’t have the chance.

2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid, interior
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid, interior

Otherwise, there are three drive modes, Eco, Normal and Sport. The first is self-explanatory, and the last is false advertising. Stick to the middle one, it’s the porridge that’s just right for this model.

The Camry Hybrid runs on a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor as well as a continuously variable transmission (CVT). On its own the combustion engine delivers 176 hp, while total output from the two motors is 208 hp. In our test drive this powertrain never felt either particularly energetic or flaccid; it’s sufficient for the job, is what it is, and that’s cemented by the presence of the CVT and the limitations that format brings with it.

The Camry AWD

2020 Toyota Camry AWD, profile
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry AWD, profile

Toyota has returned the all-wheel-drive concept to the Camry sedan (and to the larger Avalon), which is likely music to the ears of Canadian sedan lovers, especially since it’s available at the buyer’s discretion on all four trims of the model (though not with the V6 engine, take note). Don’t go expecting a more-exciting drive or anything like that from this version, this is strictly to add even more safety and peace of mind to an already safety-focused car.

In this configuration, output is 202 hp from the 2.5L 4-cylinder, and the transmission is an 8-speed automatic. That last bit of equipment does help create a little more dynamism when you’re behind the wheel than you get from the hybrid. But let’s be clear: while this new Camry is a tighter on-road handler than the model was in years past, it’s still not a sporty affair. And keep in mind that AWD inevitably means higher fuel consumption. My week of mainly city driving delivered a mediocre 12.7L/100 km. I’m sure I was just one or two stretches of highway driving from bringing that total down to a more reasonable level, but still.

The version of the all-wheel-drive Camry I drove being an XSE, it actually looks quite a bit snazzier than the SE hybrid thanks to the extra sport styling that includes a sport front grille, rear spoiler, dual exhaust and 19-inch aluminum wheels. What’s more, it came with a dual-tone external finish that is apparently the bane of some critics’ existence but doesn’t bother me one bit. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at this car the week I had it. Mind you, I spent a lot of time looking at the Camry TRD as well, but that’s another story. Speaking of which…

The Camry TRD (XSE with V6)

2020 Toyota Camry TRD, three-quarters front
2020 Toyota Camry TRD, three-quarters front

This is the first time the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) team has gotten its crafty paws on the Camry, and it’s done good work. This thing grabs attention wherever it goes, taking a pretty sharp-looking but sober sedan and making it look, at least, like it’d be right at home on the track. That’s taking it a bit far, but still the Camry TRD is a substantially bigger performer than either of the other Camrys we tried this year.

The TRD package is an add-on that can be super-imposed on the XSE trim with V6 engine. It gives the Camry distinct and more-aggressive styling and an aerodynamic body kit. The latter includes a front splitter, side skirts, a trunk lid spoiler and, most in-your-face element of all, a rear diffuser.

But what Toyota giveth, Toyota taketh away: this version removes from the XSE it’s based on several items, such as the power moonroof, the 60-40 split folding rear seats and some tech like the blind spot monitoring and head-up display systems.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD, rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry TRD, rear

Between the patties, the beef takes the form of upgraded suspension and shock absorbers, braces to stiffen up the chassis, larger brakes (brake calipers are red) and front and rear sway bars.

In terms of looks, here again there’s a two-tone finish that pleases me, and the badging and C-A-M-R-Y lettering on the back are black to add a smidgen more menace. I spent a lot of time looking at this thing and vacillating between admiration and amused fascination, as it felt somehow too much. In the end I decided I liked all of it save for the diffuser, which just seemed like silly, inappropriate grandstanding to me. Too much. Take it away though and you’re left with a pretty rad-looking sporty sedan.

Inside are a number of touches that tell you the TRD folks have been in the house, so you get black leather with red stitching, red seatbelts, TRD logos on the seat backs, etc. Then when you turn on the engine you get an engine rumble that’s clearly distinct from the regular Camry V6.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD, interior
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry TRD, interior

That said, the look and sound might be overselling what the car can actually do. The engine is the Camry XSE’s 301-hp 3.5L V6, along with the 8-speed automatic transmission, and while it gets a crisper-handling body to propel down the road and around corners, it doesn’t really make the thing any faster.

For what it’s worth, I totaled a combined 8.6L/100 km in the Camry TRD, which is actually very solid fuel economy from a V6.

The 2020 Toyota Camry is a very nice-looking sedan that delivers the interior space, comfort and safety you want from a family car, and it drives, despite some looseness in the steering, fairly crisply. The hybrid option is wonderful for saving on gas, and remember those savings will continue month after month and year after year as you drive this supremely reliable car. I’m partial to the AWD configuration for the little extra cost it entails and the added peace of mind it delivers in winter. As for the TRD version, well, it will appeal to those who like to draw attention on the road even as they benefit from practicality. But that spoiler might also earn you a few giggles. Just saying…

2020 Toyota Camry AWD, three-quarters front
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry AWD, three-quarters front

We like

Solid looker with pleasing proportions
Comfortable, solid drive
Roomy interior
Cavernous trunk
The 8-speed automatic transmission is discreet and competent
All-wheel drive returns to the Camry
The hybrid version for its sure-fire fuel economy

We like less

The TRD version is fun and all, but would you bring it home to meet the folks?
The CVT is… well, it’s what it is
Not overwhelming power from the 2.5L 4-cylinder
Steering a little loose

The competition

Honda Accord
Hyundai Sonata
Kia K5
Mazda Mazda6
Nissan Altima
Subaru Legacy
Volkswagen Passat

2020 Toyota Camry TRD, spoiler
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Toyota Camry TRD, spoiler

Road Tests and Reviews

2020 Toyota Camry
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