It features cooling upgrades for the engine, transmission and differential, big four-piston Brembo front brakes, and upgraded suspension. The suspension is basically what you find on the standard Camaro SS, but with slightly retuned shocks and springs for the lighter engine. That lightweight four-cylinder also means that it'll be 100 pounds lighter than its V6 sibling, and it has a nearly even 50/50 weight distribution front and rear. If that's not enough, Chevy also adds launch control and no-lift shifting, and the company will still warranty any parts broken while being driven on the race track.
The only arguably disappointing part on paper is that, like all the other 1LEs, the engine receives no additional power. That means the four-cylinder is working with the same 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. That puts it behind the V6's 335 horsepower, though it does have about 10 more pound-feet of twist. So is it any fun?
Well, Chevrolet flew us out to Las Vegas to get an early taste of the high-performance, low-displacement Camaro. We drove it for just about three laps of a small course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Thanks to an excellent chassis, the lightest 1LE feels eager to corner. The chassis gives you plenty of warning as to whether the tail wants to take the lead, or the front wants to pack it in. And its braking and steering are all very responsive and precise, making it easy to compensate for those under- and oversteering situations. Those situations are never particularly severe either, since the 1LE gets really grippy tires. They're Goodyear Eagle F1 tires that are 245 mm wide up front, and 275 mm wide at the rear. Those are the same specs as the tires on the V6 1LE and SS. The suspension and tire combination results in a car that holds on well in long, fast corners, and Chevy says the car is capable of 0.97g on a skidpad.
If there's a weak point, it's that the 2.0-liter 1LE feels a bit soft on track. The hard cornering revealed more body roll than you might want for a track car, resulting in a car that feels reluctant to make quick adjustments to direction. On the upside, it wasn't too jarring over curbs, and it should make the 2.0-liter turbo 1LE actually pretty livable on public streets.
This Camaro also has several driving modes: touring, track and snow modes, the first of which lightens up the steering. There's also a "competition" mode, which is how we experienced the car, that's activated by switching to track and pressing the traction control button twice. This shuts off traction control and puts the stability control system in the most lenient setting. It also weights up the steering.
On track, the 2.0L and V6 traded benefits and drawbacks. While the four-cylinder lacks peak power, the healthy torque in the middle of the rev band was actually quite handy on track. The V6 has a far narrower powerband, and it was tricky to keep in its sweet spot. The advantage goes to the turbo, which required less shifting, and which was more forgiving of gear selection. This is also a good thing because the manual transmission, shared between the four-cylinder and the V6, isn't all that great to use. It gets the job done, but the throws are a tad long and not particularly slick.
One thing we do miss from the V6 is the noise. The V6 with the active exhaust or the performance exhaust sounds amazing. It's a full sound that is urgent and melodious and improves with revs. The four-cylinder doesn't make that much noise, despite Chevy taking steps to amplify the sound, and what's there isn't terribly inspiring. The four-cylinder 1LE plays a recording of some of the better noises from the engine through the speakers to make it louder and better, especially with a helmet on, but we didn't notice much difference. For anyone with a strong aversion to digital sound enhancement, the speaker sounds can be shut off completely.
All-in-all, the four-cylinder Camaro in 1LE guise is a very fun car. The engine is grunty enough. The chassis is playful and predictable without being punishing. It should also be a more affordable way to get into a performance Camaro. Chevy hasn't announced pricing, being undetermined at this time. It's safe to assume it will cost less than the V6 1LE, simply because the four-cylinder Camaro is $1,500 cheaper than the V6. The equipment list is nearly identical to the V6 1LE, though, so the package is probably going to be about the same in cost, which is $4,500 for the V6. We could possibly see Chevy discounting the package a bit for the four-cylinder simply to widen the gap. As such, we think the Turbo 1LE will be right around $30,000, maybe just a bit under, in comparison to the V6's nearly $33,000 price tag.
This pricing also helps reveal the target audience for the Camaro. Chevrolet told us that they're aiming at people that would usually consider a little turbo hot hatch such as a VW GTI, Ford Focus ST or Honda Civic Type R, or possibly a Subaru BRZ or Toyota 86. Whether those buyers will be tempted by the Camaro is a tough call. It does certainly offer fun rear-drive characteristics that only the Toyobaru can match, and the turbo engine rectifies the little coupe's dearth of torque.
But the Camaro also has disadvantages. The GTI and Focus ST, while not quite as potent, are cheaper than we expect the Camaro to be, and they offer more practicality. And once over the $30,000 price point, vehicles such as the Type R and Focus RS offer more power and torque, and the RS offers all-wheel drive.
This is all to say nothing of the Ford Mustang EcoBoost, which, with the Performance Package, comes it at just barely over $29,000 and has more power and way more torque at 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet.
It will be interesting to see how the Camaro Turbo 1LE fares in this increasingly competitive performance car segment. It delivers on the fun, but we'll see if the performance-to-dollar ratio is good enough to get attention. The good news for Chevy is that this is a low-risk move, since most of the parts were already developed for the SS and the V6 1LE; it was simply a matter of fitting them to the four-cylinder. And the good news for the rest of us is that there's yet another fun sports car option on the horizon.