Toyota isn’t calling their new, all-wheel drive Camry the All-Trac. That’s a bit disappointing. But that doesn’t take away from their announcement. In 2020, shoppers interested in a mid-size sedan with some extra traction will have four models to choose from. And let’s not forget about the Avalon. It will offer the same exact powertrain as the Camry, although the value proposition of that model is less clear.
What prompted Toyota to reintroduce all-wheel drive into its sedan lineup? Blame America’s insatiable appetite for crossovers. The Camry is still the number one seller in the mid-size segment, but its sales are down significantly since gas prices plummeted around 2015. In terms of volume it’s basically swapped places with the Rav4. About 429k buyers picked the Camry in 2015. In 2018 that figured decreased to 343k units. The company will probably finish 2019 with about 315k units sold. Contrast that with the Rav4, which went from 315k sold in 2015 to 427k total sales for 2018. Toyota will probably move 465k Rav4 models this year.
Even if Toyota retained every Camry customer by switching them to a Rav4, the company is facing increased competition from the redesigned Altima. The Subaru Legacy doesn’t sell in high enough numbers to be a threat to Toyota and the Fusion only offered all-wheel drive with the 2.0 EcoBoost, essentially making it a niche vehicle in the lineup. By contrast, the Altima is a relatively fresh product that’s more competitive than it’s been in a long time. Nissan’s American dealers likely operate near their Toyota counterparts too, which makes it extremely easy for customers to check out the Altima after seeing what the Camry is like. According to Nissan, about 50% of Altima shoppers in “wintry states” opt for all-wheel drive. Toyota probably wants to prevent the Altima from becoming the default choice for shoppers interested in an all-wheel drive mid-size sedan.
It’s a smart move made possible by the Rav4. Say what? Yes, you read that right. Toyota’s TNGA platform, which underpins all three vehicles, enabled engineers to adapt the Rav4’s transmission, transfer case, and differential to both sedans. There was also a bunch of other modifications made to the Camry and Avalon, like the inclusion of a different gas tank. The two cars also borrowed the crossover’s rear suspension. Don’t expect them to handle like the Rav4 though, because Toyota tuned them to behave like their front-wheel drive counterparts.
The mechanical all-wheel drive system is limited to the 2.5 liter four cylinder engine. Given the low take rate of any optional engine, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. And the Camry boasts more standard power than the Legacy, about twenty more. Paired with Toyota’s eight speed automatic, it should be the desirable option for customers looking for an affordable, all-wheel drive mid-size sedan that offers a more exciting driving experience than the CVT equipped competition. As for the Avalon, it’s a nice option for those who want it, even if the car is a niche option in a smaller segment.
Any chance we’ll see four wheel traction on Toyota’s smaller sedans? It’s a possibility. The company’s electric all-wheel drive system is already available on the Japanese Corolla and Americans can get it on the Prius. The Yaris will remain a reskinned Mazda 2 for another generation, but the global, TNGA-based version also offers the same system. And with Mazda adding all-wheel drive to models like the 3, it’s possible we’ll see the American Yaris get it eventually.
Toyota of America’s successful campaign to get all-wheel drive on the Camry, especially before a mid-cycle refresh, is telling. It means Toyota is committed to retaining as many sedan customers as it possibly can. And that it views the all-wheel drive Altima as a threat. Perhaps an all-wheel drive Accord is next.
In any event, if you want a Camry with four wheel traction, you’ll be able to get one in spring 2020. It will be a standalone option on LE and above. The 2021 Avalon will offer it on XLE and above and will arrive in Toyota showrooms next fall.