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2019 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T 1LE: First Drive Review

Making up the fourth member of the Chevrolet Camaro 1LE "track stars" grouping, the 2019 Camaro 2.0T 1LE takes advantage of the already familiar sports car’s already good weight distribution and handling characteristics with a new version that features the well-respected 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine. Add to that the 1LE track bits, and you have a stout performer that’s warranteed even after a long day of hijinks at your local go-fast emporium. We bet the Camaro’s competitors — which include the Hyundai Veloster, Ford Focus ST/RS and the Honda Civic Si/Type R — don’t do that.

Thoroughly massaged from front to rear, this turbocharged Camaro, in addition to being a mouthful, is powered by the General’s 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That power gets to the rear axle via the exclusively-equipped Tremec 8L45 6-speed manual transmission (with no-lift shifting) and a Chevrolet Limited Slip Differential (mLSD). When all is tightened down, this drivetrain package can push the 2.0T equipped Camaro to a 0-to-60 time of 5.4 seconds. The Brembo 4-piston front, 1-piston rear brake package brings things adequately back under control when such a run is completed.

The 1LE includes an FE3 suspension with larger diameter front and rear stabilizer bars, specially-tuned dampers, stiffer rear suspension cradle bushings and cross-axis ball joints for lateral stiffness. It’s the same kit found on the Camaro V6 1LE. What this all translates to is a firmer, performance-based suspension with less side-to-side wallow, which makes for quicker lap times around the track. Break a half-shaft while thrashing around at Willow Springs or Gingerman Raceways? That’s ok, as all 1LE-equipped "track stars" are factory warranteed against "track-day breakage" — for the normal warranty terms, of course.

Chevrolet has included a new 2nd generation full display mirror that gives a full-wide view in an effort to allay concerns over blind spots from the Camaro’s C-pillars. Now with zoom, vertical and brightness adjustment, it provides a 270-degree rear view mirror image. From an audible standpoint, knowing how performance car owners love the sound of an engine being driven in anger, Chevrolet design engineers have bumped up the sound levels from the engine and pumped it through the Bose sound system. It’s not a fake noise, just more of it.

Camouflaged Up!

Our opportunity to test the 2019 Camaro 2.0-T took place at the Proving Grounds of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, about 20 miles outside of downtown Las Vegas. It was not what you would call love at first sight. Think of it more as a face only a mother could love. What greeted us after we were helmeted up were a pair of Camaro hard tops with camouflaging over the front and rear thirds of the car. Masked with Velcro to hold on larger obstructionist panels over the front and rear end, they managed to keep us guessing as to its final appearance. But in this case, the beauty was skin deep, and then some.

Covered to hide the newly revealed grille and front fascia, we saw the 2.0T 1LE fully uncovered a day later. Building on its already good bones, the 2.0T Camaro comes back home with the looks that we’re long familiar with. Gazing nearby, like a father making sure his daughter would be returned safely after a date, was Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser. He was obviously proud of what he and his engineering team had managed, but also cautiously hopeful that one of the legends-in-their-own-mind auto journalists didn’t wrap up one of his test cars in a heap of twisted metal. Luckily, there were no take-away stories at the end of the event.

Oppenheiser is a 32-year veteran of General Motors, having worked on everything from Corvette to GM joint ventures with Toyota, Suzuki, Isuzu, and Daewoo, to Opel in Germany, and even Pontiac with its high-performance G8 before the brand was put out to pasture. He was placed in charge of the fifth-generation Camaro in 2007, and has never looked back. We caught up to him in the pits at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Proving Grounds to hear more about Chevrolet’s latest efforts.

Oppenheiser is quick to point out that they didn’t start out to re-invent the wheel with this new Camaro 2.0T 1LE. They just wanted to improve upon it. As such, this new Camaro is what is known in the business as a parts bin baby. "This newest Camaro uses the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine found in the Cadillac ATS, CTS and Chevrolet Equinox. We are a little quicker than the ATS Cadillac. This Turbo 1LE has been tuned for 0-to-60 in 5.4 seconds," he said.

"All the tuning has been completed in-house," he continued. "Because of our experience with the previous V6 and V8 1LE Camaro models, it was a no-brainer to utilize such parts bin bits, like a 45 percent stiffer front stabilizer bar with 60 percent improvement in front roll rate. The rear stabilizer bar is 122 percent stiffer, with a 200 percent improvement, as well." The Brembo braking system has been lifted directly from the V6 1LE. This Camaro rides on stagger-sized Goodyear Eagle F1 tires front and rear (EDS: Rear tires are larger than the front tires). Forged aluminum wheels and a cross axis ball joint help to round out what is almost the Camaro FE3 suspension package. "All the 1LE cars are factory-warranted for track days. No other manufacturer covers track day warranty issues," said Oppenheiser.

Drive Time

Getting into and out of the 2.0T 1LE was devoid of surprises (read: bumps on the head) that present themselves with other vehicles. And that was while wearing the Bell racing helmet that was required while driving on the LVMS Proving Grounds. It’s a tight, technically challenging course that really shows a vehicle’s capabilities in a relatively short time.

The Camaro’s interior remains relatively unchanged, save for the addition of the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 package that holds sway over an 8-inch center console display housing all audio, climate, telephonic and navigation functions. Some of the same hard plastics are inside as before. These were prototypes, so we can at least be hopeful for some improved materials when the cars are finally delivered. Or not.

We leave pit row and turn onto the track, pushing upwards on the Tremec 6-speed shift lever. Fully loaded, its clutch is state of the art, neither a racing style model that is typically too hard nor a clutch that feels too soft, and more at home in one of the Camaro’s Pacific Rim-based rivals. This one was just right.

We could circle the track in third gear, which placed us almost in the middle of the torque band. We found it good enough to navigate the sharp turns and brief rides over the rumble strips and still provide plenty of acceleration on exit from the turn a few seconds later. Overall, its near 50:50 balance helped the Camaro find its own way around the track.

Speaking of acceleration, there was plenty of it when exiting a turn. Laying on the accelerator while still turning in found enough torque to kick the tail out, which offered a great form of afternoon pick-me-up, to get us through the end of the day. Braking from the Brembo binders offered a no-fade solution to scrubbing off some speed at the end of a long straight, as we have come to expect from such a brake kit.

Our time in the 2.0T 1LE track package, although brief, once again reiterated the fact that good things can come in small packages. We can’t wait to really put the production Turbo Camaro through its paces.

Story and Photos by Mark Elias. Additional photography courtesy of General Motors.

To gain access to this information, attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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Mark Elias
Mark Elias is a writer and photographer specializing in automotive topics ranging from new and used cars to classics and motorsports. His first car was a Matchbox Jaguar D-Type. From there, things have only become larger. During his professional career, he has been a staff photographer for the Associated Press, a contract photographer for Bloomberg News, and a contributor to automotive outlets ranging from Autoweek, Automotive News, Excellence (Porsche), Bentley magazine, Autoevolution, Leftlanenews, and more. He is proud to be an AutoTrader contributor.

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