2018 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE review: A track-ready pony car
When the updated 2019 Chevrolet Camaros roll into showrooms, customers will be able to option every engine in the lineup with the 1LE performance package to enjoy improvements in handling, braking, cooling and traction. On the tamer, more affordable end is the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, while the 650-horsepower supercharged V8 ZL1 occupies the ridiculous side of the Camaro spectrum. And in the middle of those sit the V6 and the V8 models, with the latter being the just-right 1LE option to have an absolute ball on a race track.
Sweet spot power
How do I know? First-hand experience with keys to the 2018 Chevy Camaro SS 1LE and a day at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, as my proving grounds. The 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque on tap from a 6.2-liter V8 shoves the Camaro out of corners and down straights with a healthy head of steam, an ear-pleasing roar emitting from the 1LE's dual-mode performance exhaust. No disrespect to the turbo-four or V6, but the naturally aspirated V8 makes the right noises and ideal power to get a driver's pulse up without being as frightening as the faster the ZL1 can be.
Adding to the experience is a fluid-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox with active rev-matching producing perfect downshifts every time. For those who prefer to take advantage of the well-placed pedals for heel-and-toe action and command the engine's stellar throttle response themselves, auto rev-matching can be turned off with a pull of a steering-wheel paddle.
The 1LE effect
But enough about power because the 1LE kit is about handling, with a Magnetic Ride Control suspension, electronic limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes and 20-inch forged wheels wrapped with sticky 285/30-series front and 305/30-series rear Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 tires. Toggling the Drive Mode Selector knob to the Track setting brings up the most aggressive suspension, steering and throttle map to transform the 1LE into one heck of a track star.
Considering its 3,685-pound curb weight, the SS 1LE boasts great reflexes. It's quick to turn in and hangs on tight through corners with slight body lean. Weight transfers from one side to another happen in a composed manner and rotating the rear around using the throttle is easily done. The chassis is well-balanced and communicative letting, you know when the front tires are reaching their limits before giving way to understeer through complexes like the off-camber downhill right leading onto GingerMan's back straight.
The Brembo brakes also prove their worth, with six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers providing strong and consisting stopping muscle throughout a hot day with temperatures hovering in the mid-90-degree Fahrenheit range. A trio of straights at GingerMan gives the clampers a thorough workout, with the Camaro regularly surpassing 120 miles per hour on the back straight, making heavy braking necessary for the sharp right hander at Turn 11. The brake pedal is a little softer at the end of the day, but stopping power never falls off.
Still civil on road
That the SS 1LE is at home on a race track isn't too much of a shock, but that its better track chops don't take away from the Camaro's on road manners is. For starters, it's not garish in appearance, with only low-key visual touches like the matte-black hood, front splitter and rear spoiler setting the 1LE apart.
The car's Tour mode softens the adaptive suspension, lightens the steering and simmers down the drivetrain to return an EPA-estimated 16 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Ride quality is quite comfortable with the suspension taking the edge off of the numerous small to medium holes and ruts I encounter during the 140-mile journey to GingerMan from Detroit. Nor do the massive Goodyear tires produce annoying road chatter.
The 1LE's well-bolstered Recaro sport seats that hold me tight around the track are also plush that I arrive at destinations ache-free after a couple of hours behind the wheel. However, it's still a Camaro, meaning the cabin sports gargantuan blind spots and cramped backseat accommodations.
Quarterbacking infotainment is the Chevy MyLink system with a responsive and crisp-looking 8-inch touchscreen display controlling a serviceable six-speaker audio system, with satellite radio, an OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth connectivity. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities are also included if you're not a fan of MyLink.
How I'd spec it
As much as I would like to have the Bose sound system and heated and cooled front seats that are included on the Camaro 2SS to better cope with Michigan's four-season climate, the $42,995 base price (including $995 for destination) is steep in comparison to the $37,995 1SS. So, I'll begin with the 1SS with a Summit White paint job and definitely add the $7,000 1LE package because I regularly go to track days. All-in, my ideal Chevy Camaro wears a sticker price of $44,995.
And, yes, I would get a 2018 model rather than waiting for the 2019 facelift because I think the Camaro's new mug is hideous.
A two-pony race
If you're looking for a rear-wheel-drive coupe with a V8 under the hood to do substantial track work, the Camaro SS 1LE isn't the only game in town for $45,000. Ford also offers the Mustang GT with an optional Performance Package Level 2 that follows a similar blueprint that the 1LE does with suspension, brake, wheel, tire and cooling upgrades. The Blue Oval's asking price for one of those is $44,850, including destination.
This leaves us with the age-old question: Camaro or Mustang? At the moment, I'm leaning towards the Camaro SS 1LE, but that could change when I drive the Mustang GT with Performance Package again. Really, both are so good that you can't go wrong either way.