Out in Dearborn, Ford has made a big deal about its EcoBoost Mustang, touting the four-cylinder’s turbocharged horsepower and banishing the six-cylinder pony car from the minds of performance fans by concentrating exclusively on the 5.0-liter V8 and the 2.3-liter four.
Until now, that is.
Heralding the styling and equipment updates that have been made to the refreshed 2019 Camaro (the SS gains the 10-speed automatic gearbox that’s been slowly working its way across the GM portfolio, Chevrolet’s new Infotainment 3 system is now available, and, of course, the regular roundup of design tweaks also join the order list) comes the full 1LE treatment for the most affordable version of Chevrolet’s every-person performance car. The newest 1LE model doesn’t just allow the Bowtie to pull even with Ford, but it actually gives them something the Mustang doesn’t have: a legitimate track-ready package that’s now available with three separate drivetrains.
A summons to the Nevada desert and a day spent at Las Vegas Motor Speedway provided me with the opportunity to pilot a camo-wearing pre-production version of the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE and determine whether it’s a worthy addition to a fleet that already includes V6 and SS versions of the same.
Grip, Control, Durability
Why does the Turbo 1LE matter? The history of the package dates back several decades to the third-generation F-body when GM engineers got tired of the Camaro’s general malaise with road course duty as compared to its sports car contemporaries. The solution was a series of suspension tweaks and upgrades that eventually grew, over the years, into a much more focused set of track-ready components that significantly improved the coupe’s capabilities.
In a modern context, the Camaro SS 1LE snags equipment from the Camaro ZL1 (magnetic ride suspension, electronic limited slip differential, bigger brakes), while the V6 1LE, in turn, borrows most of its gear from the eight-cylinder SS (cooling, tires, etc).
The Turbo 1LE runs much of the same playbook. The car features the same FE3 suspension system that you’ll find on the standard Camaro SS (dampers, toe links, stabilizer bars, along with upgraded Brembo brakes (4-piston at the front), a mechanical limited-slip rear differential (featuring 3.27:1 gearing), similar transmission, engine, and even differential cooling as is built in to the other 1LE models, and, of course, the Goodyear Eagle F1 tires found on the SS.
More subtle, but equally important are the electronics helping to manage the Turbo 1LE’s newfound fury. This includes a Competitive drive mode for the stability and traction control system, launch control, and a no-lift shift feature that, truth be told, forces you to go against every instinct to properly use.
Same Turbo Power
What the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE doesn’t deliver is a power bump. The car features the same 275 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque that you’d get with an entry-level Camaro, matched with a six-speed manual transmission.
I’ve had the good fortune to put both V6 and SS 1LE variants through their paces at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, another of the Silver State’s premier race tracks, and each impressed me with just how focused they were on delivering consistent and drama-free lap times right from the showroom floor.
The Turbo has never generated the same level of excitement for me — not even when loaded up with parts from the Chevrolet Performance catalog and set free in a similarly closed-course environment. While the engine certainly delivers the goods, it’s not particularly engaging, especially towards the upper register of the RPM range where track driving often takes you.
It was with this in mind — and with me eager to have my original assumptions shook — that I slipped behind the wheel of the black-and-white swirl-pattern mule at LVMS and headed out for a brief on-track sojourn.
From the first lap, it was clear that the Turbo 1LE was a better-tuned car than the aftermarket-style model I had piloted a couple of years beforehand. Although my time with the coupe was limited, I could tell that the car felt better-planted (understandably, given the upgraded rubber underneath it), as well more predictable when applying the throttle coming out of a corner. It was surprisingly easy to run up against the turbo four’s redline without realizing how quickly I was piling on speed post-corner exit, which was a testament to the 1LE’s composed nature.
“Active sound management” also did its best to displace the industrial rush of air more commonly associated with the 2.0-liter mill at full gallop (and, to my ears, it’s a better aural experience than that offered by Ford’s Mustang EcoBoost).
Better, But For Who?
I can certainly say that the 1LE package is a clear upgrade over the base Camaro Turbo in terms of handling, on-track durability, and presumably (once I’ve seen a factory paint job) style.
The bigger question, for me, is who is this car for? Chevrolet has aimed it at the same crowd that buys other turbocharged four-cylinder performance vehicles, but that’s a wide net to cast, especially considering that it snags hatchbacks and all-wheel drive rally rides in addition to the Mustang. I’m not entirely certain that someone shopping for a Subaru WRX or Honda Civic Type R is also adding the Camaro to their list simply because it also has a snail tucked under the hood.
The Verdict: 2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE Track Drive
Will Chevrolet succeed in selling the Camaro Turbo 1LE? Undoubtedly. There will always be enthusiasts out there seeking the most exciting car they can afford, and that includes those shopping at the Turbo’s more modest price point. That being said, of the 25 percent of Camaro customers checking off the Turbo box at buying time, it’s likely that the vast majority are more interested in affordability rather than roundy-round speed. After all, that’s what the SS 1LE is for, right?