First Drive: 2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE

LAS VEGAS – Folks want what they want. And when it comes to attracting the import tuning, Fast and Furious–loving crowd, a base V6 Camaro just doesn’t quite stir those enthusiast heartstrings. So said Al Oppenheiser, chief engineer for the Chevrolet Camaro, at a sneak peek at the first 1LE version of the turbocharged 2019 Camaro to come fresh off the factory floor.

How does all this come together at the track? Very nicely, if not overwhelmingly.

GM has poured lots of research track time into its 1LE Camaro models, which had already added track capability to its V6, SS, and supercharged ZL1 Camaro versions. “And we’re the only manufacturer that will honour the warranty to all 1LE packages if anything breaks,” said Oppenheiser, before I went out for a brief track drive (five minutes, maybe) in the latest version of the Camaro 1LE. “Nobody else offers that.”

But first, some details on this new 1LE, starting with the heart of any performance machine: its engine. The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder powerplant is sadly one of the few performance areas not enhanced with this new 1LE package. Putting out 275 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, it actually offers slightly more torque than the up-level 3.6L V6’s 284 lb-ft of torque.

That turbo four – which joined the Camaro lineup in 2016 to appeal to buyers otherwise most interested in turbocharged sporting compacts such as the Volkswagen GTI, Subaru WRX/STI, and the Focus ST/RS – makes that torque surprisingly lower down in the rev range (between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm) compared to the V6, which peaks up at 5,300 rpm. Chevrolet estimates a 0–96 km/h time of 5.4 seconds in the current ’18 Camaro Turbo.

Clearly, this “base” engine already has some advantages outside of lower fuel consumption.

Where the 2019 Camaro Turbo 1LE sets itself apart is with basically every other dynamic system on Chevy’s base four-seat sports car: transmission, suspension, brakes, tires, gauges, and rear differential. Plus the 1LE brings launch control along with a no-lift shift system.

The Turbo 1LE only comes with a six-speed manual transmission, unlike even the mighty $70K-plus Camaro ZL1, which offers both manual and automatic options. But the Turbo 1LE brings the driver track-ready performance goodies such as a computer system that allows the driver to keep the right pedal buried during high rpm shifts, a launch control system that comes with shift lights, and performance gauges that display the extra cooling ability of engine, transmission, and differential components.

That 1LE transmission now adds a Competition Mode along with the car’s Sport and Track modes, which sharpen up the throttle and suspension response while relaxing the stability control system. Plus a suede flat-bottom steering wheel and shifter knob inside help remind you – and passengers – that this is no rental Camaro, no matter how many cylinders under the hood.

Another reminder for those passengers is the enhanced “engine sound management” system. “It kicks up sound when you have a helmet on,” explained Oppenheiser. “It’s not fake, it’s just an enhancement.”

Braking will be improved by the Brembo four-piston front brakes, as well as the Goodyear Eagle F1 performance summer tires, which are capable of 0.97g on the skid pad. Those tires will also help handling, as will the FE3 suspension system from the pricier Camaro SS.

So how does all this come together at the track? Very nicely, if not overwhelmingly, my short stint behind the wheel of camouflaged Camaro Turbo 1LE prototypes suggested. After placing it in the Track mode’s most aggressive, and new-to-1LE Competition setting, my helmeted melon could certainly attest that you could hear the four-cylinder working hard through the firewall – and balaclava and helmet – though how different it would sound in similar Track settings to a regular Camaro four would take some back-to-back sampling.

There’s no rev-matching on the downshifts here, but it was mentally comforting to know that not even the smallest lift was needed on upshifts, which over the course of a few laps could add up to a worthwhile decrease in lap times. That Competition mode also allowed for a fair bit of rear-end dancing before coming in to rein in the party, so owners looking to enjoy dancing on the limit will appreciate the extra leniency.

Holding down that traction control button for over seven seconds will disengage the traction and stability control systems entirely. Say the Camaro forums. Doing so will allow full burnout and tail-sliding, bodywork-threatening powerslides, if you’re so inclined.

The brakes and tires may just be the most impressive performance upgrades of the bunch, with impressive stick while slowing down – and keeping the back-end underneath you when testing the limits of the looser stability control system in tight corners.

Outside of the Turbo 1LE, other versions of the 2019 Camaro will offer notable upgrades this fall, including the addition of a better rear camera system, available forward collision alert, as well as a standard rear camera mirror on 2SS and ZL1 models. These will all help with the Camaro’s notoriously poor sightlines out the front and rear, where a short windshield and even shallower rear window mean that drivers of any height can use all the help they can get seeing out of the Camaro’s high dash and tight greenhouse.

All that said, the Camaro Turbo 1LE is no doubt the main news for the 2019 Camaro. However, it’s still true that a muscle car like a Camaro feels more natural with a big, brawny V8 under the hood, whether supercharged (ZL1) or not (SS), on the racetrack or otherwise. The handling and braking upgrades of the 1LE may help it compete at the track, but likely its greatest victory will be helping its adrenaline-addicted owners better hold up to sustained track use.

Turbo four 1LE flexes muscles 4/9/2018 9:00:00 AM