We’re just getting off a massive wave of mid-engine hype, thanks to the long-anticipated introduction of the C8 Corvette, the first production mid-engine Corvette. All this middle-engine talk got me pretty worked up, which got me thinking: what if mid-engine mania migrated out of the sports car world? What if a mainstream automaker decided to apply a mid-engine design to a normal, boring passenger car? In short, what if there was a mid-engine Toyota Camry?
I mean, at first it seems like a ridiculous idea: mounting the engine in the middle comes with a whole host of packaging and development challenges and expense, and is almost exclusively used for high end sports cars where performance and handling are the most important factors.
Think McLarens, Lamborghinis, Lotuses, Ferraris, Bugattis, that sort of thing. Not Camrys.
But then again, it’s not like Toyota has no history in selling mid-engine everyday family vehicles. Look at the Previa, for example. Sure, it was a van, but it was a very mid-engined van, and it was very mainstream.
Other companies have had mid-engined non-sports cars, too. Most are pretty archaic, like the underfloor-engined Trojan Utility Car, and some were bold ideas that never got off the ground, like Volkswagen’s EA266 project. Plus, you could also think of modern Teslas as mid-motored, but packaging in an electric car is pretty different.
A modern, mainstream sedan like a Toyota Camry, though, that’s a pretty unlikely candidate for mid-enginery. I mean, the Camry isn’t ever really bought under the expectation that it’s got incredible handling, and a mid-engine design will almost certainly be more expensive, much more difficult to service, and introduce a whole host of new and unique heat, noise, manufacturing and all kinds of other issues. It’s not rationally a good idea.
Which is why I really wanted to think about how it could be done.
I’m going to try and imagine this thing while keeping as close as I can to Toyota’s current Camry’s design and technical underpinnings; with that in mind, the mid-engine Camry uses the same Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform as the current front engine/front drive Camry, and pains have been taken to keep the styling as similar as possible to the current 2020 Camry design language.
With that in mind, let me present to you they deliciously hypothetical Mid-Engine/rear-drive Camry:
It looks mostly the same as a Camry, with a few key differences: first, it’s a bit longer at the rear overhang, and it has more vents and intakes on it.
Luckily, Toyota’s current design language has gone vent and intake and gill crazy, so adding a bunch of extra ones—including ones that actually do something—doesn’t really feel all that out of place, really. Here’s the extra vents and intakes I think will likely be needed:
Toyota being Toyota, I don’t see them getting rid of their fake vents just because they’re adding six more new vents. The existing locations of the main cooling systems will be retained, with a front-mounted radiator still optimally placed for airflow, and then coolant plumbed to the middle of the car, much like how most current mid-engine cars do it.
I think I like the extra vents on the car; they make it look a little less bland, a little more exciting. Let’s see how things look under the skin, and peek at the mid-engine variation of the TNGA platform:
Essentially, hypothetical, bizarro-world Toyota has taken the transverse drivetrain package (either the V6 or the inline-4) and moved it to a position right atop the rear axle, where it drives the rear wheels via a pair of half-shafts just like it did up front, just minus any steering equipment.
I think the width between the wheel wells is sufficient, but it is possible some changes will need to be made in the rear strut assemblies and surrounding frame to accommodate the power pack.
Two new firewalls will be needed, one between the engine and back seat, and one between the engine and trunk. Ideally, both would be removable for engine service access, which would give good access from both sides.
I think Toyota could leave their low-mounted gas tank in the same place, along with the battery and much of the thermal management and HVAC systems.
The former engine compartment will require a floor with an integrated spare wheel well and will be finished to provide a good-sized front trunk. The rear overhang will be extended a bit to compensate for the loss of space in the rear trunk due to the engine:
Overall, I think total cargo capacity will be significantly increased, and, as Tesla has demonstrated, an open volume in a frunk area can actually be very beneficial for crash protection, thanks to the significant energy-absorbing crumple zone a front trunk provides.
I think a mid-engine Camry could prove to be a safer car in accidents, hold more cargo, be a far more engaging car to drive, with much better and more capable handling, especially with higher-output engines. I mean, the V6 Camry already makes over 300 horsepower, a number once well within the realm of sports and muscle cars, so why shouldn’t it have handling to match?
And, it goes without saying that a mid-engine Camry would immediately be the most interesting car in its segment, no question.
It would also be likely significantly more expensive, and servicing in it would be a vastly greater ass-pain. Though, to be fair, Camry owners tend not to bother tinkering on their cars themselves. Or, for that matter, probably aren’t really all that interested in the handling benefits of a mid-engine, if I’m being honest.
I bet that rear seat may sometimes get a little hot, too? Maybe not? Toyota has plenty of clever engineers.
I think it’s safe to say that there’s no way in hell Toyota is ever going to build a mid-engine Camry, even though I’ve done, what, like half* their work for them, right here, for free.
As always, Toyota, you know how to get ahold of me: place a picture of a 1982 Starlet in the northwest corner window on the 14th floor of your North American HQ, and I’ll be there.
* This isn’t even close to being true.