– Las Vegas, Nevada
Three laps around Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s twisty road course was all it took for me to be instantly enamored with Chevy’s new Camaro Turbo 1LE. It’s the entry-level performance offering Camaro fans will undoubtedly snap up, and follows the same formula as the V6- and V8-powered 1LE models before it: stiffer, lighter, and all-around more fun to drive.
Producing just 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine from the standard Camaro RS carries over, and it’s the least powerful 1LE of the bunch. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make up or it elsewhere. A finely tuned suspension, sharp, direct steering, and plenty of straight-line speed make the Turbo 1LE one to consider.
The most important upgrade is the beefier suspension. The Turbo 1LE rides on a new FE3 performance setup, making it tighter and more athletic all around. Technically speaking, the new suspension features larger front and rear anti-roll bars, specially tuned dampers, stiffer rear cradle bushings, and cross-axis ball joints in the rear toe links. Combined, the extra engineering increases lateral stiffness, and yields a near-perfect 50/50 weight balance, resulting in better handling on the track.
The steering is scalpel sharp; the Camaro has the ability to dive into corners with tons of speed. The body is firm and planted and allows you to push the vehicle even further than you would the standard RS model. Chunkier tires also help with grip, specifically a set of P245/40R20 front and P275/35R20 rear Goodyears that prevent that 1LE from kicking out too dramatically in the corners.
A revised Track Mode setting improves throttle response, assuring all 275 horses are delivered more abruptly. A full-fledged Competition setting, meanwhile, (located within Sport and Track Modes) doesn’t necessarily do anything to further enhance performance, but does provide a few neat features like instrument readouts, shift lights on the head-up display, and yes, even launch control.
But even without launch control equipped, the Turbo 1LE feels fast. Paired to a six-speed manual gearbox (the only option), the Camaro sprints down the straights with speed you’d expect on a larger V6, leaving me stiff-necked with my helmet firm against the headrest, watching the shift point lights bounce from green to yellow before heavy braking; new Brembo brakes give the sporty coupe a significant amount of stopping power.
The only noticeable blemish to its otherwise impressive performance portfolio is exit speed; there’s a bit of turbo lag where the naturally aspirated V6 produces power more readily. For what it’s worth, our instructors told us to stick it in third gear and leave it for the entirety of the particularly quick, tight circuit; heel-toeing down to second probably would have yielded more pop out of the corners. Chevy hasn’t specified whether the Turbo 1LE gets the same mechanical limited-slip differential from the V6 model, but we’d assume so.
Even with all that newfound performance, the Turbo 1LE remains a reasonably comfortable place to be. Sure, the sight lines are still pretty bad out of the front windshield, but the optional Recaro seats are both capable and comfortable, and there’s still a standard seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, meaning you won’t have to settle for something completely stripped out in the name of performance (i.e., Camaro Z/28).
Though all 2019 Camaros have been restyled, the Turbo 1LE, thankfully, is the most appealing trim of them all. Whereas the base RS model looks a little too Mustang-inspired for my liking, and the high-powered SS is overly styled with a gaping grille and black plastic accents, the styling of the 1LE is more inspired, with a more sculpted, aggressive look overall.
The headlights are sleeker and more stylish, and a larger upper grille and a second lower grille are separated by body-colored sheet metal that splits up the otherwise in-your-face look found on the SS model. A new front splitter, a carbon fiber hood, and a matching rear wing enhance the design, as do a new set of 20-inch wheels.
Chevy hasn’t officially given out details on price, but by all accounts, the Turbo 1LE will be performance on a budget. The bowtie brand benchmarked cars like the Honda Civic Type R, the Subaru WRX, and interestingly enough, the Hyundai Veloster N at its presentation. So expect pricing to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 to $35,000 when it goes on sale later in the year.
All told, the Chevy Camaro Turbo 1LE takes the already successful formula found on the entry-level RS model and notches it up to 11 with race-inspired upgrades, and a punchy, powerful turbocharged engine that work together in perfect harmony to create an enticing vehicle. If anything, it’s further proof that you don’t need a V8 – or even a V6, for that matter – to have a ton of fun in the Camaro. There’s still a lot to learn about the Turbo 1LE – 0-60, top speed, weight, etc. – but we’ll be eager to see how the new 1LE performs more than three laps at a time.
Gallery: 2019 Chevy Camaro Turbo 1LE: First Drive
2019 Chevy Camaro Turbo 1LE Prototype