A brilliant handling machine with the Track Performance Package
By: Brian Makse
May 30, 2019
THE PROS & CONS
What’s Good: Excellent performance value.
What’s Bad: The sounds of the turbocharged four cylinder.
When you think about Camaro, you can’t be faulted for associating it with the rumble and wail of a small block Chevy.
For this Camaro, they’ve fitted it with GM’s proven two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine – and it’s quite good. This Camaro is GM’s take on a less is more philosophy, where less weight (and a little less power) might add up to something fun for driving enthusiasts like us.
If you’ve got less than forty grand to spend and you want a rear drive coupe, what are your options? There’s the Mazda MX-5 RF, of course, and there are the Toyota and Subaru 86 twins. If you want to stretch your budget a little bit, you could get yourself an entry level BMW 2-Series.
For American options, there is the EcoBoost Mustang or a V6 Dodge Challenger, but we all know that the Challenger is more muscle car than pony car and, heck, pony cars theses days are more like sports cars. Ford offers a similar, track-oriented Performance Package option for the EcoBoost Mustang and pricing is right in line with this Camaro 1LE, though current GM incentives will save you $3,000 before talking turkey with your dealer.
To get the Camaro we’ve got here, you have to start with a 2LT trim and add the 1LE Track Performance Package option, which is a bargain at $5,195. That puts you out the door for well under forty thousand dollars and at this price, it’s a heck of car. This tester’s Riverside Blue paint is the only other option, but I do recommend at least the Recaro seats. These base seats are acceptable, but the Recaros are going to set you up much better for corner carving, track days, autocross, or whatever sort of enthusiastic driving you might do.
This four-cylinder is a hundred pounds lighter than the V6 and that weight that comes right off the nose, giving this Chevy nearly 50/50 weight distribution, which is exceptional for the traditionally nose-heavy Camaro.
It rolls over the scales at 1,520 kilograms and the way this 1LE handles gives the lightest-of-all-Camaros the feeling of agility, and the result is that it drives much smaller than it actually is.
As part of this 1LE package, the Camaro rolls on 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 tires that are 245-wide at the front, 275 rear, and I have to think that it might actually be a bit too much tire for the Camaro.
On the other hand with 275 horsepower and 295 pounds of torque, and most of it accessible down low in the rev range, plus the excellent 1LE chassis, you can definitely use as much grip as these tires will give you.
The Tremec six-speed manual gearbox is simply excellent, as you’d expect by its reputation. The gates are perfectly defined and if you mis-shift, that’s on you. You definitely can’t fault the shifter. This is one of the most rewarding gearboxes available today, regardless of price point.
As a package, the 1LE option includes a thoroughly revised suspension package, based around a brilliant set of dampers, larger anti roll bars front and rear, stiffer rear subframe bushings, and a couple of minor tweaks. The Goodyear Eagle F1 tires are mounted on 20-inch wheels finished in black for a little attitude.
Chevy’s engineers also addressed cooling because 1LE owners will have a tendency to take their Camaros to the track. There’s an external oil cooler, a differential cooler, and they’ve increased the engine cooling system capacity. Nice work.
There are larger brakes with Brembo calipers up front and a simple, single-piston caliper setup at the rear. Brakes are a home run with excellent modulation, feel and control. Other manufacturers should use these 1LE brakes as inspiration for brake pedal excellence.
Inside the cabin, the 1LE option adds faux suede steering wheel and shifter trim that always feel great in your hands. On the outside, there is the now-traditional flat black hood, which is in fact a wrap and not paint, along with the flat black decklid spoiler. HID headlamps also come as part of the package.
Even though it’s turbocharged, the throttle is responsive and there’s no problem with heel and toe downshifts. In taller gears, there’s the tiniest bit of lag between the time you put your foot into it and the moment it builds boost. But when you’re into the throttle with any kind of enthusiasm, response is sharp and immediate.
This four-cylinder Camaro does feel noticeable lighter than any other Camaro I’ve driven, but it’s got a completely different balance and poise that is unlike all of the other Camaro models. It feels light on its feet, with a willingness to change direction unlike the V8 models.
Like all modern cars, steering assist is electric, but the assist motor is rack mounted so response is direct and feedback isn’t bad either. With the steering wheel, you can place this Camaro on a proverbial dime.
These Goodyear tires do grip and you’ve got tremendous confidence that they’ll stick when you’re hustling through corners. Sliding this Camaro on the other hand, well, that takes a wholehearted effort and tricks like that are best left for the racetrack.
Where the Toyota/Subaru 86 twins subscribe to the philosophy of low grip, the 1LE package puts a lot of tire under this Camaro and that gives it wonderfully high limits, which I’m sure would work great on the track, but on the road, the result is a car that you can’t completely dance with.
Still, I wouldn’t say no to blasting one of these 1LEs around a fast, old school race track because I think it would outperform plenty of cars perceived to be faster.
Most importantly, this 1LE suspension wizardry is pure magic and Chevy’s delivered a fully resolved package. Wheel control is excellent and this Camaro feels so buttoned down that you’ve got confidence every time you turn the wheel and every time you throw it through a corner.
Better still, they’ve found a magical combination of ride comfort and handling. This is the kind of car you can take on a long trip, you can daily drive, and then you can take it to the track and embarrass more powerful and more expensive sports cars.
The thing about this Camaro 1LE is that is a brilliant handling machine. It’s got great balance and poise, and wonderful reflexes and responses. The seating position is decent and the pedals are set up perfectly for high performance work. Plus, that Tremec six-speed box is rewarding to shift up and down the gears, which enhances the driving experience. And, heck, if you’re nice, it’ll even get thirty miles per gallon (7.9 L/100 km) in the real world. That’s just icing on this Camaro’s cake.
The one thing that’s missing from this Chevy is the traditional small block V8 rumble. Instead of a soundtrack punctuated by bass, you’re left with something that’s muted, but the 1LE’s performance speaks for itself. It’s a pleasure to drive this Camaro 1LE, even if it does sound a little shy.