2020 Camry AWD adds confidence but not performance

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The front tires of the 2020 Toyota Camry XSE are sliding sideways in the snow. Usually, that could be dangerous, but it’s all right this time because I’m causing the slide. I’m on an autocross covered in ice and snow in a field outside of Park City, Utah, and I’m sliding the nose to test the limits of the Camry’s new Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel-drive system.

The nose is sliding because I’ve turned the wheel too far for the traction to hold in this slippery right-hand turn. I gradually unwind the steering wheel until the front tires grip, then feel up to half the power at the rear end help the Camry navigate this turn better than it would with only front-wheel drive. If I jab the throttle, I can even kick out the rear end for a split second before all four wheels grip to get the Camry back on track. I can’t feel the AWD system engage and disengage.

The only engine available with AWD is the 2.5-liter inline-4 that makes 185 horsepower and 205 pound-feet of torque in the XSE model and 182 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque in other models.

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

Borrowed from certain versions of the Toyota RAV4, the Camry’s new all-wheel-drive system is one of several in Toyota’s arsenal, and it isn’t meant to improve performance particularly advanced despite the name. The first AWD system in a Camry since the 1991 Camry Alltrac, the system powers the front tires as a default and works in front-wheel drive most of the time. A driveshaft to the rear wheels is always spinning, but not always engaged. A magnetic coupler engages the driveshaft to send power to the rear. Power flows to the rear when the front wheels slip or when accelerating from a stop.

The rear axle has an open differential and side-to-side torque is controlled via targeted braking through the antilock braking system. That helps put the most power to the surface but doesn’t aid handling like systems with mechanical torque vectoring that can send the power to the outside wheel in corners.

Toyota had to modify the Camry to make the system work. Both the Camry and RAV4 use Toyota’s TNGA platform and they share the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. The transmission, transfer case, and rear differential all come from the RAV4, and the RAV4’s multi-link rear suspension was adapted to fit the Camry. The Camry’s floor also had to be modified, a saddle-style fuel tank installed, and an electronic rear parking brake fitted.

These changes, along with 165 pounds of extra weight, do little to change the Camry’s driving character. Toyota tunes each model’s suspension, wheels, and tires similarly, whether they have AWD or not. That means handling is still more composed than sporty (though SE and XSE models are more responsive), and the ride is smooth and comfortable.

However, that extra weight and the power required to constantly spin that driveshaft have a notable impact on fuel economy. The XSE AWD model carries an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city, 34 highway, 28 combined, while the other models improve to 25/34/29 mpg overall. Front-drive versions of the Camry with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder are rated up to 28/39/32 mpg.

Other Toyota AWD systems offer such features as two-speed transfer cases, mechanical torque vectoring (in some Highlanders and RAV4s), and a rear e-axle controlled by an electric motor in a hybrid powertrain.

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

The AWD system does its best work getting the Camry moving. With four tires to dig in instead of two, the Camry XSE gets moving quickly on the packed snow. Like any AWD system, it does nothing for stopping distance—that’s mostly a product of the tires.

Toyota doesn’t change the car much to make it an off-road machine. The ride height is raised about a quarter of an inch, and the tires are the same all-seasons used on other Camrys. That means it doesn’t have the ride height to drive over the top of accumulated snow or the traction to dig into mud, sand, and snow. The system is best used for added confidence in bad weather.

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

While Toyota hasn’t said exactly how much the AWD system will cost, a company spokesman estimated $1,500 as a stand-alone option. It will be offered for the XE, SE, XLE, and XSE models, and all will offer a Cold Weather package that will feature heated seats and mirrors for the LE model; heated seats, mirrors, and steering wheel on SE; and a heated steering wheel on the XLE and XSE.

I could probably drive this same snowy autocross in a front-wheel-drive Camry. Sure, it would make it through the course and I could get its nose to slide the same way. However, it would struggle to get moving on the slippery surface and its rear end wouldn’t help through the turns. That might actually be fun because I could just whip the tail around, but it would take far more time to go anywhere.

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD

The new AWD system, which is set to arrive at dealers in early spring on the 2020 Camry and this fall on the 2021 Avalon, is a fine bit of all-weather confidence for buyers in northern states, but it comes with a fuel economy penalty that buyers should consider if they get snow and ice often enough to justify the added cost.

Toyota provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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