Road noise from those Bridgestones is insignificant, and though wind noise is more noticeable, it’s easily drowned out by a perfectly fine six-speaker sound system that won’t have buyers browsing Pioneer’s website until several years into ownership. The Toyota Entune 3.0 infotainment OS has a straightforward interface, though one finds it unsatisfactory for some reason, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
The touchscreen itself is sufficiently responsive, and its seven-inch span is just enough to make clear that this podunk little turn-off is the one that leads to Pikes Peak—in case our eventful visit in a Nissan Leaf Plus last summer hadn’t left an impression.
What Goes Up…
After passing the toll gate manned by a masked park ranger, the time came to put TRD’s work to the test, and the Camry proved itself worthy of the badge. Mostly. Nearly 3,600 pounds of curb weight means the Camry TRD has a no chance of being as agile as something like a Honda Civic Si, but carefully load the weight onto the outer drive wheel and the Camry TRD finds the traction to hold on to sweepers in a way that’ll make parents lunge for the grab handles. The suspension and chassis upgrades definitely make it the best-handling factory Camry ever made, so…a check mark there for whatever that’s worth to you.
Those lightweight alloy wheels and Bridgestone tires deserve some of the credit too, though as Travis Pastrana told us in 2018: the plummeting air pressure as you cross 10,000 feet means even the best tires in the world get slippery among the clouds. Though little more than passable for a proper performance car costing twice as much, the electronic power steering pushes back with just enough weight to make clear where the Bridgestone start to screech, and with the threshold established, staying a few hairs short of the limit is easy.
Understeering off anywhere along Pike’s Peak Highway—much less that spot they call Bottomless Pit—would be less than ideal, though slightly overcooking corner entry in the Camry TRD can be addressed with a stomp of the brakes, which felt up to the task of a fun run but aren’t exactly designed sustained track use. Though if that’s your intention—godspeed, I say—you should know they’re far from the biggest argument against tracking a Camry TRD.
…Must Come Down
The conceptual issues that dog the car aren’t the fault of Toyota Racing Development itself. The problems stem from the vehicle TRD had to work with, specifically its powertrain. The Camry’s 301-horsepower V6 gave journalists a small thrill when it was announced a few years back—300 horsepower! In a Camry!—but can’t quite match the aggro handling TRD tried to instill. The motor can drag it from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and down the quarter mile in just under 14—at sea level, that is.
Many of its 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque are truant at over 10,000 feet of elevation, though that has the upside of prolonging the time spent in the lower gears, and thus, more time nailing the top notes of the free-breathing V6’s rev range. But hunting for the sweet spot in those eight speeds showed the Camry TRD’s biggest downside: The automatic transmission, which is very slow to downshift for more power even in Sport mode. Manual control via two steering wheel paddles is a languorous task, with sluggish, soft shifts in moments when you’re really looking for a little kick.