A quick spin in Chevrolet’s new 2.0-liter Camaro 1LE provides a reminder that power isn’t everything.
These days, the best Camaros wear 1LE badges. Whether it’s fitted to a V6- or V8-powered Camaro, or even a supercharged ZL1, the 1LE kit offers substantial benefits in handling, braking, cooling and traction — the things that matter most. If you want to get the most out of your Camaro driving experience, 1LE is the obvious way to go.
To that end, Chevy will soon offer the 1LE treatment on the base Camaro 2.0T. The aptly named Turbo 1LE arrives later this year along with the rest of the updated 2019 Camaro range, and Chevy says it’ll allow customers to get into a great-handling coupe without having to pony up for a bigger engine.
The Turbo 1LE follows the same formula as its V6 and V8 siblings, meaning the powertrain carries over unchanged. Chevy’s 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 puts out 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque in the Camaro, and while other Turbo models can be had with an automatic gearbox, the 1LE is offered exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. Rightfully so.
Larger Brembo brakes are fitted behind these 20-inch wheels. Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires offer improved grip, as well.
For the 1LE, Chevy ditches the base car’s suspension in favor of the FE3 setup from the Camaro SS, which uses larger stabilizer bars and retuned dampers, as well as stiffer bushings and ball joints at the rear. Beefier Brembo brakes are fitted at all four wheels, with four-piston stoppers up front and single-piston calipers in back. The 1LE kit also adds a mechanical limited-slip differential with a 3.27:1 final drive ratio, launch control and revised Track and Competition driving modes. Finally, the Turbo 1LE gets model-specific 20-inch wheels, wrapped in asymmetric Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires — 245/40-series rubber in front and 275/30-series out back.
The 1LE’s enhancements become apparent when it’s time to put that power to the road — or, in this case, track. Following a very brief stint behind the wheel of a camouflaged Camaro Turbo 1LE prototype on the infield track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I can tell you its whole package works as advertised. The chassis improvements offer meaningful improvements in overall handling and stability.
Engine power is adequate — enough shove to get the Camaro up and running with a quickness, but not so much that it’ll get you in trouble. The Camaro’s nicely weighted, direct steering makes it a joy to toss around, with crisp action from the six-speed manual gearbox. The Turbo 1LE stays flat and balanced through both long sweepers and tight corners, and because the chassis can handle way more than what the engine’s throwing down, you’re able to carry a lot of speed during turns. This, friends, is what’s known as a “momentum car” (see also: Subaru BRZ). It’s delightful.
Never has a turbocharged Camaro handled so nicely.
Without the ability to drive the Turbo 1LE prototype on any surface other than the aforementioned track, I can’t comment on whether or not the stiffer suspension will make this Camaro too harsh for daily-driver consideration. That said, I’ve driven plenty of Camaro SS models on a wide variety of surfaces, and no standout complaints come to mind. I’ll want more time behind the wheel of a production Turbo 1LE before giving it a final stamp of approval, but after this short lapping session in Las Vegas, I’m perfectly optimistic.
The Turbo 1LE comes standard with the RS appearance package available on other Camaro models — you can see an uncamouflaged 1LE here. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about the 2019 Camaro’s design, but even in hot 1LE trim, I can’t call it an improvement. Despite the model-specific black hood and 20-inch wheels, that new face just ruins what was previously a very attractive car.
My other issues with the Turbo 1LE aren’t specific to the model itself, but rather the Camaro as a whole. The Turbo 1LE’s cabin is the same as any other 2019 Camaro, aside from a unique “performance” gauge cluster. Recaro front seats are optional, and they’re stellar. Chevy’s new Infotainment 3 technology is on hand, too, with better graphics and simplified menus. But none of this changes the fact that there are still a number of questionable materials throughout the Camaro’s interior. Hard plastics continue to line the doors and transmission tunnel. And yes, outward visibility remains terrible.
You can’t see it under all this pesky camouflage, but the 1LE gets the same RS appearance package available on other Camaro models.
Chevy hopes the Turbo 1LE will appeal to more than just existing Camaro fans. The automaker is targeting folks who’d normally end up in a Honda Civic Si or Type R, Ford Focus ST or RS, a Volkswagen GTI or even — really — the new Kia Stinger. I can’t imagine your typical hot hatch enthusiast suddenly wanting to bro down with the Camaro set, but with Turbo 1LE pricing expected to start around $30,000, there’s certainly potential for a lot of cross-shopping.
On the other hand, if you’re already in the Camaro headspace, consider this: a Turbo 1LE will likely cost about the same as a non-1LE V6. Sure, the 2.0T is down on power compared to that 3.6-liter engine, but the added handling chops more than makes up for the disparity in output. Power isn’t everything, after all.
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