Chevy's lightest, most balanced and least expensive Camaro is getting the track-rat treatment with the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE. Can a four-cylinder muscle car be a competitor on an autocross course rather than a drag strip? We drove the new Turbo 1LE on track and on the road in hopes of finding an answer.
2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE First Drive
A Muscle Car That's More Autocross Than Drag Strip
What Does 1LE Mean?
Camarophiles are already familiar with the 1LE package and its history, but the upshot is that it's designed to make the car more track-focused. You'll find this option available in various forms for all Camaro coupes, from the 650-horsepower Camaro ZL1 to this example, which comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
You get cooling upgrades and suspension bits — fatter anti-roll bars, retuned dampers, stiffer bushings, and a few other tweaks — along with heavy-duty brakes and performance pads. The wheels are 20 inches in diameter and come wrapped with 245 section-width summer tires up front and 275s on the rear.
On top of Normal and Sport drive settings, you get a Track mode that sharpens up steering and throttle response and loosens traction control. As with other 1LE-equipped models, there's a suite of available in-car tools, such as a head-up display with shift lights, launch control, and performance instrument readouts that show engine temperature and cornering forces. An available data logger records lap times and video of your session with a data overlay. Oh, and you get a matte-black hood.
The 1LE is designed to be driven off the dealer lot and onto the racetrack. To that end, Chevy honors the car's warranty should anything break on the track. No more having your buddies push your car out to the nearest public road and pretending you broke a half-shaft going over a pothole.
Muscle or Muscular?
This generation of Camaro has always been more of a sports car than a traditional muscle car, and this turbo 2.0-liter version drives the point home. Instead of the Mustang and Challenger, the Turbo 1LE looks to cars such as the Honda Civic Type R, Subaru WRX and Toyota GT86 for competition. It's meant for buyers who historically wouldn't have looked twice at a muscle car and want light, nimble cars that put handling and feel ahead of straight-line speed.
There's still a little muscle-car ethos happening. The Turbo 1LE is both more powerful and heavier than these competitors. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 275 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, while Chevy's published curb weight for it is 3,354 pounds. The four-cylinder is about 100 pounds lighter than the V6, reducing weight on the nose and bringing distribution to an almost perfect 50-50.
How Is It to Drive?
The Turbo 1LE doesn't feel heavy either on track or on the road. Everything about the car is sharp: Turn-in is immediate, and the car changes direction with no fuss, cornering flat no matter what you throw at it. On freeway drives, that sharpness can be a bit wearying. It's easy to start drifting off your line with even just a split second's inattention. Using the infotainment interface or even looking down at the display cluster can put you off-course if you're not careful. The head-up display really helps, showing all the relevant information and letting you keep your attention on the road.
The Turbo pulls strongly through the midrange, but power flattens as you approach redline. The lights in the head-up display take this into account, telling you to shift a little early to stay in the powerband. This sort of power delivery is common with modern turbo motors, and you'll see it in competitors in the segment. Power comes on early, with peak torque arriving by 3,000 rpm and staying mostly flat through the range. While this makes midrange power very accessible, it doesn't feel quite as lively as the numbers would lead you to think. The acceleration is so consistent that it seems almost undramatic.
A six-speed manual is the only transmission available with the 1LE. The shifter and clutch are direct and satisfying, with better feel than some competitors. Our only complaint is that there's no gate to stop you from going over to the position below reverse. Trying to go from third to second, we wound up hunting around until we got used to the shift pattern.
It's also a bit frustrating that you have to choose between a comfortable seat that's just a bit too high in the car or Recaros that offer great bolstering and a perfect height but totally lack lumbar support. It's a choice between a seat for the road or a seat for the track.
But these complaints are nitpicks in a car that ultimately does exactly what it says on the tin. The Turbo 1LE is engaging to drive and inspires confidence. The grip is incredible and lets you play with all the available power. Even better, it comes with a no-lift shift feature that allows you to change gears quickly with the gas pedal fully depressed. It's a lot of fun to use and, unlike with the more powerful ZL1, you can use it without worrying about getting yourself into trouble.
Is the 1LE a Good Deal?
The V6 engine delivers a more compelling experience, and it isn't much more expensive. However, the extra cylinders throw off weight distribution, and it's a little less approachable from an aftermarket modification standpoint. For the Turbo 1LE's target audience, there are some compelling reasons to stick with the four-banger.
With the high grip, rear-wheel-drive architecture and high power, it's a distinct experience from other affordable four-cylinder performance cars. We think the V6 1LE is one of the most underrated performance bargains on the market, but the Turbo 1LE makes a case for itself whether on back roads or on the track.
The 2019 Chevrolet Camaro goes on sale this fall, with a new base LS trim that starts at $25,995 with destination and handling. The 1LE package is a $4,500 add-on and requires at least a 1LT trim level, bringing the price of entry to $30,995. If you want all the goodies, such as the performance data and video recorder and head-up display, you're looking at just over $40,000. Considering the power, performance technology, features and warranty, that's not a bad price compared to other sporty four-cylinder compact cars. We look forward to comparing them soon.