The 2019 Chevy Camaro 1LE is the entry-level track car you’ve been missing
There’s a long list of changes in store for the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro, but only one that was compelling enough for us to drive all the way to shiny Las Vegas from Southern California. For the first time ever, the much-lauded 1LE performance handling package will be offered alongside the 275-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that has made up about a quarter of Camaro’s sales since it launched with the new sixth-generation pony car in 2016. That’s a big deal for performance enthusiasts, who will be able to get the best out of the Camaro’s tight handling with its lightest engine.
Across the board, the number of standard features have increased so there will be fewer build options, simplifying things for consumers and dealers, but also streamlining production. This is not a new trend, as the days of a la carte options are long gone.
For its first model-wide refresh since the sixth-generation Camaro debuted, the 2019 model adds optional Forward Collision Alert, Chevrolet Infotainment 3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Rear Camera Mirror. The optional mirror will use a wide-angle camera mounted on the center station of the spoiler to help solve one of the biggest gripes among Camaro owners, rear visibility when parking. Camaro SS also receives a version of the amazing new 10-speed automatic transmission previously available only in the ZL1.
Aside from the ZL1, which carries over with its unique bodywork, all 2019 Camaros will receive a new hood with a center power bulge, with the SS version adding functional heat extractors. All LS and LT trim level cars—those powered by the 275-hp 2.0-liter or 335-hp V-6—will use a fascia with a larger upper grille opening reminiscent of the first-generation F-body. SS models will receive their own fascia, complete with a center-bar-mounted “flowtie” that allows for an additional two cubic meters of airflow per minute to access the heat exchangers mounted up front. All SS models will use LED dual-element headlamps that are shared with the RS.
At the rear, all models receive new, twin rounded rectangular LED tail lights in a new rear fascia, with unique diffusers on RS and SS models equipped with Dual Mode exhaust. The new lights are red on LS and LT, while RS, SS, and ZL1 models will get tinted lenses.
The 2.0-liter turbo 1LE is available with only the six-speed manual transmission and now offers no-lift shifting so the driver can keep the throttle pinned while making upshifts. Unfortunately, rev-matching is still reserved for the V-8 Camaros. The 1LE’s four-piston Brembo front brakes are inherited from the V-6 1LE, but it uses bespoke suspension tuning and anti-roll bars due to the four-cylinder’s better front-rear weight balance (near 50/50). The front anti-roll bar is 45 percent stiffer than the base 2.0-liter. The rear bar is also stiffer for a 200-percent improvement on roll rate and they’ve ditched rubber isolated toe links in the rear suspension in favor of ball joints.
Despite the beefier parts, weight gain is negligible due to the weight reduction common across the 1LE lineup, which includes thinner rear window glass. The result is more precise handling that is very communicative at the limit thanks to a staggered tire fitment that puts 245/40R20s in front and 275/35R20s in the rear for a sizable footprint capable of 0.97g of lateral grip. In our brief time at the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway we found the grip to be predictable as the tires fought for traction through the corners and gave plenty of warning they were nearing their limit until the point of oversteer, which was easily controlled. The 2.0-liter is well-suited to track duty as a flat torque curve and smooth power delivery provided solid acceleration on corner exit.
Chevrolet sees the 2.0-liter 1LE as its entry-level track car and backs it with a warranty that extends to the racetrack, giving it a leg up on the segment. Chevrolet has yet to announce pricing, but expect it, like the rest of the Camaro lineup, to be a performance bargain, hitting right at the heart of the sporty four-cylinder market that includes the Subaru BRZ tS, Honda Civic Type-R, Focus RS, and other hot hatches. That’s right, although the Camaro hasn’t had a hatchback since the days of the F-body, Chevrolet sees customers shopping for those range-topping economy cars as potential turbo 1LE customers.
Camaro Chief Al Oppenheiser has been keeping an eye on various automotive forums, and he feels that the climate is right for a performance four-cylinder model. Oppenheiser has seen a sea change in the type of young buyer that typically shops a hot hatch. “They wouldn’t look at us before. By putting the 2.0-liter turbo in 2016, at least they consider us. Now we give them a factory-warranty track car. Will they give up their hatch for this car? Our hope is that they will. When we start putting out performance numbers, they’re gonna have to give us a look.”
Chevrolet should have pricing, along with those performance numbers for 1LE and hopefully the 10-speed SS, just before production starts later this summer.