Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 1, 2019
1LE may sound like a meaningless trio of symbols but to us, it’s the difference between a medium rare and overcooked steak. Available on any Camaro with the turbo-four, V6, or V8 engine, the 1LE package infuses the best bits of what Chevrolet has to offer like the front and rear stabilizer bars, stiffer dampers, and rear cradle mounts from the Camaro SS. Forged aluminum 20-inch wheels are shod with Goodyear Eagle F1 run-flat summer tires on all four corners, joining the mechanical limited-slip differential, Brembo 4-piston brakes, a short-throw gear shifter and flat-bottom steering wheel both wrapped in faux suede.
To visually set the 1LE-equipped Camaros apart from those without the package, Chevrolet has wrapped the front hood, rear spoiler, front splitter, and mirror caps in satin black. The result is heightened road presence and one of the most aggressive looking Camaros to date. In essence then, 1LE is a track-oriented box of goodies that should open up the Camaro to a whole new crop of customers who may have never considered one before.
Now that introductions are out of the way, we can talk about what makes the Camaro Turbo 1LE so special because on their own, the list of ingredients don’t sound all that impressive. Under the hood is a tiny 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four that only puts out 275 hp and 295 lb-ft, compared to the 455 horses from the SS. To many, that’s considered underpowered and unworthy of a muscle car commonly known for dueling in the American horsepower wars, but its low-power and great-handling mojo falls in line with other modest sports cars like the Subaru BRZ and Mazda MX-5 Miata. In fact, Chevrolet has cleverly distilled and reduced the Camaro down to its basic essentials with a six-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. It only takes a few minutes behind the wheel to realize that the Camaro 1LE is worth more than the sum of its parts, and is a rising star in the $30,000 realm alongside two of our perennial favourites, the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Si.
The steering. Oh goodness, the steering! Despite utilizing an electric power-assisted setup with variable ratios, the Camaro 1LE has got that old-school hydraulic heaviness with hair-trigger sensitivity, something that the Ford Mustang has trouble replicating, even the Shelby version. Being rear wheel drive only, the steering is pure, unfiltered, and offers a two-way conversation between tire and driver. There’s a McLaren crispiness to the way it turns with such immediacy, and the lighter and smaller four-pot engine bolsters front nose reactivity.
The suspension walks a fine balance between comfort and body control, delivering a ride that isn’t as harsh as you might expect - impressive for a sports car without adaptive dampers. That said, the rear end is not as glued down to the road as the BRZ or Miata. It likes to come out and play with even the slightest prod of the throttle mid-corner. It bites you if you upset the chassis but there’s a playfulness and a sense of confidence that no other high-powered muscle car could ever dream of. Kudos to the folks at Chevrolet’s performance department. This 1LE puts the Mustang and Challenger to shame. In terms of driver involvement and enjoyability, I’d even put it up there with the Honda Civic Type R, one of our team's most lauded sports cars of 2017.
Don’t expect the Camaro Turbo 1LE to win pink slips, though. It would much rather be carving corners on your local backroad. Power delivery from the dainty engine isn’t bad and the lag is manageable but once the boost comes on, the rush to the top is predictable and polished. The turbo-four isn’t a happy revver though and quickly taps out after dragging itself to 5,600 rpm, losing a significant amount of steam despite redlining at 7,000 rpm. The exhaust noise on that plateau is exciting, for a four-cylinder. It’s louder than a Civic Type R and more raw than a Golf R. Unfortunately, the dual-mode exhaust, which is well worth the money, only comes with the V6- and V8-equipped Camaros. You can listen to our Exhaust Notes video below to hear them for yourself.
1LE-spec'd Camaros can only be equipped with a manual transmission, as they should be. Shift lever action is pleasant and though the gates are not very defined or crisp, it has enjoyable operative feel. The travel is short but notchy, almost like a WRX, and sometimes I was not sure if I was fully engaged into the slot or not, requiring an extra confirmative shove. There is no gear indicator on the instrument display either. Pedal placement is excellent, and the clutch pedal is light with a broad bite point, three hallmarks that make this a great beginner’s car for new manual drivers. Though, turbo lag does mean it’s not as happy to rev, and you will have to depress the gas pedal more than usual to get a quicker response.
This being a track-oriented sports car, interior quality, refinement, and comfort, should not warrant as much evaluative weight as its performance, but it is still worth talking about. The Camaro we tested was the second-from-base 1LT trim, so it did not come with basic creature comforts like heated seats or navigation, but there was Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to quell our insatiable appetite for connectivity. The cloth seats are plenty supportive, the suede inserts, though synthetic as they may be, have a grainy texture, and the thin-rimmed steering wheel feels better to grasp than the wheel in the Type R.
Where the Camaro interior falls apart relative to the competition is in the realm of ergonomics. There are random yet peculiarly consistent gaps between panels on each side of the dashboard, so if you happen to place your credit card next to the gear shifter, it will slip under the air vents never to be seen again. The center console lid doesn’t have a sprung mechanism , so it will, rather loudly I might add, slam shut when released. The seats don’t line up straight with the vehicle either. In fact, the entire interior aside from the steering wheel is on a slight angle. And I know the touchscreen display is angled downwards to reduce light glare but boy, does it look aesthetically awkward.
Summing it up into words a foodie might understand: the Camaro Turbo 1LE is a three-course meal at a one Michelin star restaurant. The catch is, the prices are more than reasonable and unproportional with the culinary quality put into each dish. Each ingredient is not the freshest or the most expensive, but they come together synergistically and amplify the overall taste. The Camaro Turbo 1LE epitomizes that euphoric sensation of umami with its involving drive and world-class chassis, and proves that you don’t need to spend six figures just to have fun behind the wheel of a sports car.
Model: 2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE
Paint Type: Riverside Blue ($495)
Base Price: $29,845
Price as Tested: $35,660
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 275 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.2
Tires: Goodyear Eagle F1; Front P245/40R20 / Rear P275/35R20