2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE first drive review: Marathoner's muscles in a wide receiver's body


Muscle cars of the 1960s generally did one thing well. They ground out tarmac-ripping power and torque, hurtling their body-on-frame selves straight down the road or the dragstrip with astonishing acceleration. But squiggly roads, braking zones, or enduring a track meet for longer than 15 minutes caused overheating, oil starvation, and all manner of mechanical apoplexy.

Today's muscle cars do the full dance, though, and do so with damn near no excuses. Modern American muscle machines typically throb to the familiar beat of eight cylinders, just like in 1969. Chevrolet alters that beat with its V-6 Camaro 1LE, but now it’s getting even slimmer with the new 2019 Chevy Camaro Turbo 1LE powered by a 275-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4. It's lighter, less costly (at $30,995, including destination) and leans on lessons learned from its more-powerful brothers.

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The Turbo 1LE aims for drivers now served by sportsters as varied as Hyundai's Veloster N, Ford's Focus RS, Honda's Civic Type R, Subaru's WRX STi, and even Kia's Stinger, despite the latter being a large-ish four-door hatchback. Chevy’s production plans call for about 1,000 of the Turbo 1LEs per year, though Chevy is not limited in production capacity, nor in timeline to build them. Visually, the Turbo 1LE's body is minimally different that other Camaros, keeping the changes to a black hood and side mirrors and no specific badging.

On performance alone, Chevy makes damn good sense. Our track session at Ridge Motorsports Park outside Seattle shows the manual-only turbo 1LE to be athletic, tidy, chuckable, and user-friendly. There's very good power, though the 2.0-liter turbo-4 four falls short of breath at about 5,500 rpm on track, so I make the editorial decision to short-shift up at about 5,300 rpm, which actually helps on several corners at this track.

2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE first drive

2019 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE first drive

The shifter is a bit notchy, though this might improve with time and miles. As is the case with every recent GM car with a clutch pedal, the other two pedals are easily heel-and-toed for pro-level downshifts. The Camaro smooths over the ragged edge of adhesion in both slow- and high-speed corners, and the brakes are fully up to the punishment that the engine's and chassis' speed will inflict. A Competition Mode within the stability control system that allows a limited amount of slip (or yaw) at the rear helps, too. Chevy claims a cornering grip level of .97 G, up from .85 G with the base car.

Out on public roads, the 1LE has a slightly loud ride, though much of our route uses concrete roads, which are far louder than blacktop. More impressively, the ride motions are quite tame given the stiff suspension.

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But there's no escaping the feel of peering out onto the world through a tank-like turret, with high window sills and shallow glass all around. Elbows-out driving with the windows down is not possible. In addition, the high center console encroaches on elbow space, especially when shifting into the abaft 2nd, 4th and 6th gear gates.

To elicit a unique song from a turbo-4 is rather difficult. Especially when coming from a platform that also offers big, burly V-8 sounds, the Turbo 1LE's rather innocuous soundtrack is a disappointment. Chevy had no budget for a heavy exhaust rework to make it more musical, and it shows.


 
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