In a world where the two-headed monster called automation and electrification is gobbling up more and more of the automotive universe, the Chevrolet Camaro is a genuine anachronism, especially in its SS V8 incarnation. But for fans of racy driving, and even for those nostalgic for certain times past, the beast out of Detroit is still a reference, and a perfect mate for a day at the track.
In 2017, Chevrolet reintroduced to the Camaro product line the optional 1LE package, basically a long list of components designed to boost the performance of an already-powerful sports car. For sure, at $8,495 it’s a pricy gift to treat yourself to, but on a winding road or track, it’s probably the best investment a Camaro fan can make for the joy it offers in return.
This is the sober conclusion I had come to after driving the old Camaro 1LE, which rested on an older platform. Needless to say, I was looking forward to my time with the new Camaro 1LE with the impatience of a four-year-old on Christmas Eve.
So what is the i1LE package?
Before sharing my driving impressions with you, I’ll take a moment to define just what a Camaro 1LE is. The model is visually distinct right of the bat via a few black body elements, like the hood, the front lower spoiler at the base of the fascia, the rear spoiler mounted on the tip of the trunk, even the sideview mirrors.
As for the 20-inch forged-aluminum wheels, they get a satin graphite finish that blends in well with the lugubrious appearance of the Camaro 1LE. And if you want an even more menacing car, consider decking it all in black! Also worth noting are the Eagle F1 SuperCar tires taken from the Goodyear catalogue, and which help keep the car stuck to the asphalt.
Inside, the 1LE package includes highly enveloping Recaro bucket seats, a flat-bottom suede-wrapped steering wheel and a suede-covered gear knob. Chevrolet also added the head-up display, a function that could contribute greatly to the driver hanging on to their driver’s licence, if you catch my meaning.
Over and above the appearance and the distinctive interior, a number of upgraded components help make this particular Camaro even more desirable. The braking system, for one, is courtesy of Brembo, and its red calipers are impossible to miss. The front ones are six-piston, while the back ones make do with four pistons.
Perhaps the most impressive element of this options package is the Magnetic Ride Control shocks. The suspension’s shocks adjust constantly to the road surface and to the type of driving going on, not only improving overall comfort levels in the car but also ensuring excellent road handling. On top of the “magnetic” shocks, the springs, pads and stabilizer bars are all unique to the 1LE. The electronic limited-slip differential completes the package.
So what does that translate into on the road?
Like with any hard-top Camaro – convertible Camaros being easier of access, of course – it takes a few times to get the hang of sliding into the car. But once ensconced, the seats are instantly, and surprisingly, comfortable. The steering wheel straight ahead is the next thing to grab your attention; despite its above-average thickness it’s still pleasant to grip.
Push the magic button, and the V8 roars to life like a caged lion on approach of the feeder with a bucket of steaks. The gear knob is heavy, and so is the steering! In a nod to modernity, the good old hand brake has been replaced by a small electronic lever. And since we’re in 2018, the Camaro SS also comes with drive modes (Sport, Track, Tour and Ice/Snow) to suit varying driving conditions. As often happens, the Track mode ratchets up the intensity a little too much for urban driving. The best compromise, without a doubt, is the Sport, which adds muscle to the responses of the mechanics and to the sound of the exhaust system, and firms up the suspension and the steering.
With 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque at its disposal, the Camaro SS is no tortoise. Accelerations are so dynamic that you almost wonder if there’s any point to the 650-hp (!) ZL1, except maybe on the track. We were already familiar with the brutality of the 6.2L V8, and with the heaviness of that gearbox, but where the 1LE truly stands out is in the way it handles. The Camaro is not a lightweight car, yet it handles easily – as long as you obey the laws of physics. The Goodyear tires really stick to the road and the braking is confidence-inspiring. Plus with that guttural sound coming from under the hood, the pleasure increases every time you drive it.
All is not perfect in the Camaro. The stiff chassis and the firmness of the suspension make for a sore back after too long a trek. Visibility out the back is horrible, and the blind spots are big. The opening of the trunk is nothing to write home about either, while access to the back seats is downright laughable.
But. We all know that choosing a car like this is not an act of reason. Buying and driving a Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is a thing of passion above all else. Fans of muscle cars know to what extent the vibrations of the V8 engine are a magnet for those who like to drive. And yes, even in 2018, there are still plenty of people like that on the planet, who like to drive an outsized toy like the Camaro!