With the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro currently rolling into showrooms, the 1LE package is expected to play a much more promient role in Chevrolet's long term sales plans. From the beefy V8 powered 1LE, to the introduction of the all new four cylinder 1LE, track ready performance has never been so readily accessible. But is the 1LE in its basic formula a solid all rounder for eager enthusiasts?
Race Ready Styling:
To find out we spent some time behind the wheel of the 2018 Camaro SS 1LE to see if its distinct charms could indeed win us over. The exterior styling of our 1SS grade tester carries on the bold muscular look that defines other Camaros, with a long hood and muscular flanks being nicely complimented with a short rear end. 1LE grade models like our tester stand out thanks to their matte black hoods. While the hood looked perfect with the vivid red hue that adorned our tester, it does clash with other colors, so we recommend spending some extra time in the color configurator to find the right color combination that works for you. The black out treatment also extends to the mirrors and various other bits of the car, including the seductively stylish 20-inch forged alloy wheels. When viewed against rivals such as the Ford Mustang Performance Package 2 model that we recently tested, the Camaro is arguably the more brutish of the bunch, but thankfully, it still manages to blend enough retro touches to help its futuristic lines not stray too far from its muscle car roots. Lastly, we actually prefer the styling language of this particular iteration of Camaro to the 2019 model, which is mainly due to its superior front fascia styling that in our eyes, encapsulates the muscular look better than its decidedly more polarizing counterpart.
A Caution Flag For Versatility:
With the exterior embodying the muscular look perfectly, it's a pity that the interior of our tester could not quite measure up to its Ford badged rival. Before we get to that though, we might as well focus on many of the good changes that the 1LE package brings to consumers. For example, the standard SS's thrones are replaced with supportive Recaro sport seats. These chairs are well bolstered, and do a good job of keeping the driver in place during spirited driving. However, they do not sacrifice comfort, which makes them great places to spend time in during long journeys. The suede shift knob and steering wheel of our tester also felt great in the hands, and the included heads up display system is also a welcome touch that reduces distractions when its time to make the 1LE dance.
Our car also featured Chevrolet's latest MyLink infotainment system that includes a built in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple and Android Auto capability, as well as a crisp looking 8-inch color infotainment screen. The six speaker audio system is no Bose unit, but it gets the job done, and also serves to remind you that listening to your favorite Rihanna album is not the focal point of this car, and that the far more enjoyable music lurks underneath the Camaro's hood. Ergonomics here are reasonably sound, with many buttons and switches being within easy reach of the driver, and the gauges themselves delivering welcome amounts of information to the driver. Headroom is tight, but front leg room is abundant which further enhances its appeal as a road trip car.
These positive details are overshadowed by some of the flaws that readily make themselves apparent when you take a moment to soak in all the scenery around you. The honed exterior styling forces occupants to live with massive rear blind spots, and narrow windows, which can occasionally make the Camaro feel like a WWII era pillbox versus a track focused weapon of mass destruction. Rear passenger room is very tight for taller occupants, and our tester's 1SS roots translates into acres of cheap feeling plastic especially on the dashboard and instrument panel. 2SS models bring better plastics and more amenities to buyers, but even they don't quite match the level of quality that is seen in current Mustang models.
Lastly, the Camaro has perhaps THE WORST trunk we have ever seen in a muscle car on the market today. The opening is very small, and the miniscule amounts of space available means strategic packing is the order of the day. We got to experience this first hand when we enlisted the Camaro as transport to a family gathering in Toledo, with the trunk barely able to swallow a decently sized cooler and accompanying smaller items. While practicality will never be a defining Camaro trait, having a smaller trunk than both the Mustang and the Dodge Challenger is somewhat troubling, and causes the Camaro to fall behind those two in regards to long term versatility.
Checkered Flag Grade Performance:
But its easy to forgive the Camaro for its numerous shortcomings simply because it gets what matters the most right, driving fun. When the $7,000 1LE package is checked off, buyers are rewarded with an extensive suite of upgraded hardware. The 6.2 liter LT1 V8 is unchanged at a balanced 455 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, but Chevy engineers equipped the car with a whole range of hardware upgrades. Key items include revised tuning for the springs, a firmer suspension, an electronically controlled limited slip differential, and an extensive track cooling package with coolers for the engine, transmission, and differential. The end result is a Camaro that has sharper reflexes despite its over 3,600 lb curb weight, and rewards the driver with plenty of grip and confident poise. This is mainly due to the package exclusive Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 tires, which feature a rubber compound that was engineered exclusively for the Camaro, and these tires did a good job handling the rigors of the daily commute, but without sacrificing the capability needed for sharp cornering and spirited driving. Unlike the Performance Package 2 equipped Mustang that visited the office prior to the Chevy's arrival, the Camaro did not twitch or dart about, and remained in the direction that it was pointed at.
The V8 is a delectable engine with abundant amounts of power and torque all over the rev band. This vigor means the engine is eager to show its muscle at any speed, and it will take a restrained right foot to keep you and the Camaro from an impromptu roadside meeting with Johnny Law. A six speed manual transmission is the sole unit available, and it did a good job delivering smooth shifts, with a very progressive clutch pedal. This poise helped our tester reach 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, and made the 1LE a very easy instrument to operate. The lone exception were times where GM's Skip Shift technology decided to make its mark on the driving experience. Formally known as the "Computer Aided Shift" system (CAGS) this technology uses a solenoid in the transmission to force drivers to shift from first to fourth gear when certain GM vehicles are driven in a leisurely manner.
In our case, the daily commute was marred by occasions where we were forced to shift into fourth gear by the computer, this caused second and third gear to be bypassed, which in turn forced us to put more throttle into acceleration to prevent the solenoid from activating in stop light sprints, as well as urban passing maneuvers. While the aftermarket has released numerous low cost solutions to disable CAGS, we wish that GM would at least allow drivers to turn the system on or off via a button or switch versus leaving it on by default.
When we were not frustrated with CAGS and its frequent interruptions, we were impressed with the subtle details that do their part to enhance the overall driving experience. Steering feel was very responsive and direct, with the wheel doing a good job delivering information to the driver about what the front tires were doing, especially in sharp cornering. The Camaro's platform also delivers a balanced ride with the firmness you expect out of a sports car, but with just enough plushness to still retain a good degree of ride comfort. A BMW it isn't, but the Alpha platform that underpins the Camaro does a pretty good impression of one in many situations. The 1LE also benefits from the SS's Magnetic Ride Control, with drivers having the option to choose from Touring, Sport, Track, and Weather. We generally chose to keep things in either Sport or Track, with Touring reserved for instances where we had to visit locales with rougher pavement. The first two modes in particular helped make our trek to some local backroads an enjoyable experience, and the Camaro was very eager to show its chops when it was pushed during spirited driving.
Wrapping things up are a set of track focused brakes, with SS based 1LE's like our tester featuring six piston Brembo front disc brakes. Stops were smooth, stable, and accurate with the brake pedal doing a good job delivering a very linear but informative feel to the driver. This hardware also allows the 1LE to best some exotic supercars in this department, especially when considering that some of them are well over the $100,000 barrier.
Speaking of pricing, the 2018 Camaro still aims to be a value oriented entry in the muscle car segment. With 2019 models just beginning to roll into showrooms, time is running out for folks to build the 2018 model of their dreams. A base 1LS still starts $26,900, but opt for a 1SS model like our tester and the base price goes up to $37,995. As mentioned, the 1LE package adds $7,000 to the base price, and our tester had a final price of $46,295 which includes the $1,300 Performance Data Recorder, as well as the $995 destination fee. This puts it in the running with the Ford Mustang Performance Package duo, as well as the more powerful but aging Dodge Challenger SRT Scat Pack, with the Camaro besting the heftier Challenger in handling. As for the Mustang, it's a much closer fight with the Chevy easily outclassing a Performance Package 1 Mustang. The Performance Package 2 Mustang is a more formidable opponent, but even that model is no match for the Camaro's fine tuned balance of track ready performance and every day civility.
At the end of the day it's all about what drivers want most, and when it comes to delivering grin inducing fun and all the right noises, the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE is a pretty comelling package that is the true definition of getting the best bang for your automotive buck. With the 1LE package now being extended to the four cylinder Camaro model for 2019, it appears that Chevrolet has delivered in its goal of offering ALL Camaro buyers something truly special in their automotive stocking.