While grip is a good thing, you definitely can have too much of it. Excess adhesion will dull the responses of a car and frequently make it snappier when it does eventually reach its limits. It reduces the ability to play in that delightful shadowland where stick turns to slip.
When Chevrolet started offering the 1LE performance package for the V-6 Camaro last year, our initial conclusion was that the company had indeed moved the grip-to-grunt ratio too far to the left. At the 2016 running of our Lightning Lap competition, the junior 1LE shone, smashing the lap record for its class by more than eight seconds. But on the road, it was obvious that the chassis’s ability to produce lateral g-forces wasn’t matched by the engine’s harvest of back-punching longitudinal g’s.
What Makes the 1LE
The track-focused Camaro is attractively priced, with the V-6 1LE in its base 1LS trim starting at less than 33 grand—some $5000 cheaper than the least expensive V-8 Camaro SS. (Get one with a few niceties, as on our 2LT test car, however, and the cost advantage over the SS becomes narrower.) As it does when ordered on V-8 and ZL1 models, the 1LE option brings a bundle of both cosmetic and mechanical modifications. Here that means a version of the SS’s suspension with retuned dampers, rear subframe mounts, and anti-roll bars. There also are staggered-width 20-inch forged-aluminum wheels carrying 245/40ZR-20 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires at the front and 275/35ZR-20s at the rear; a limited-slip differential; Brembo four-pot front brake calipers; enhanced cooling for the engine, transmission, and differential; and a dual-mode exhaust system. Visual changes for the V-6 model include satin-black vinyl wraps for the hood and side mirrors, a splitter beneath the front bumper, and a lip spoiler on the trunklid.
Although designed for life on a track, where it excels in tight corners, the 1LE doesn’t feel excessively compromised on the road, certainly not beyond the limitations common to the rest of the family. As with any sixth-generation Camaro, you’ll have to cope with a cramped cabin and visibility that’s limited by the shallowness of the windshield, the dearth of glass area, and the thick roof pillars. But while the 1LE is more stiffly sprung than the regular V-6 coupe, it still rides without excessive harshness. Adding velocity or cornering loads gives the upgraded dampers something to chew on, and hard use reveals a chassis that feels tight and poised, all of which keeps the body’s motions in check even on some of the poorest-quality surfaces that Michigan could throw at it. The tightened front end also brings a marked improvement in steering feel over the already communicative helm of the standard V-6 model, with the suede-wrapped steering wheel faithfully relaying information about tire loads, slip angle, and even surface textures. Many engineers responsible for the increasingly feel-free steering in posher sports cars could benefit from spending time with this humble Camaro.
Grip for Days
Grip levels are impressive, with the 1LE’s peak 0.98 g on the skidpad being significantly better than the 0.91 g we recorded in the standard V-6 coupe, if some way short of the huge 1.05 g that the V-8 SS 1LE managed on its fatter tires. It’s worth mentioning that our test car also showed evidence of a hard life during its 6500 miles, suffering noticeably more understeer when turning right than left; a factory-fresh car or brand-new rubber might have done even better. But the V-6 Camaro is 215 pounds lighter than the V-8 car, and although it can’t produce the same ultimate adhesion, it feels very agile when attacking a series of corners. In the dry, on-road traction is pretty much absolute, with only the hardest use causing the rear to squirm. In the wet, grip levels are much more limited on these summer-spec tires—the 1LE felt positively skittish, especially when asked to deal with standing water.
Braking performance was good, with the firm pedal offering plenty of feel and easy modulation. It’s well placed for heel-and-toe rev-matched shifting, too. The manual gearshift of the six-speed transmission has a nice weight and precise action.
We like General Motors’ free-spinning 3.6-liter V-6 in most of its applications, and it does a fine job in the 1LE most of the time, pulling cleanly from low revs and making the snarling noises you’d expect from a pony car when pressed a little harder. But although it runs to 7000 rpm without complaint, it also does so without fireworks, struggling to deliver on straight-line pace when compared to either its more muscular siblings or the broader sports-car segment. It wasn’t that long ago that a 5.2-second zero-to-60-mph time would have been regarded as a serious achievement, but now it feels almost leisurely, as does the 13.8-second quarter-mile time at a trap speed of just 101 mph. For perspective, the V-8 1LE reaches 70 mph in less time than it takes the V-6 car to get to 60, and it will be past 120 mph by the time the smaller-engined car reaches 100.
Of course, one purpose of any small-engined Chevy Camaro has always been to persuade buyers to purchase a more powerful version, and we acknowledge that the V-6 still feels like a sizable step up from the base turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. While we doubt that Camaro V-6 1LE buyers will ever grow tired of the grip generated by this chassis, whether on a road course or an actual road, we suspect many of them may regret not digging deeper for a V-8.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
PRICE AS TESTED: $43,085 (base price: $32,895)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 223 cu in, 3649 cc
Power: 335 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 284 lb-ft @ 5300 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 110.7 in
Length: 188.3 in
Width: 74.7 in Height: 53.1 in
Passenger volume: 85 cu ft
Trunk volume: 9 cu ft
Curb weight: 3532 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.2 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 13.4 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 27.7 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 5.7 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 14.2 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 11.8 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 13.8 sec @ 101 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 155 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 146 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.98 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
75-mph highway driving: 27 mpg
Highway range: 510 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 20/16/28 mpg