It seems almost every review of the Chevrolet Camaro compares it to the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, and with good reason—these three nameplates were historic foes 50 years ago. Well, Constant Readers, that’s not going to happen today, as the subject of this test is the four-cylinder 2021 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE, an endangered species that combines the Camaro’s smallest engine with the suspension of the SS model.
To be honest, reading the spec sheet led us to think that this Camaro’s natural enemies might be compact sports cars like the Hyundai Veloster N and Volkswagen Golf R. With a 275-hp 2.0-liter turbo I-4, six-speed manual, and an emphasis on handling over tire strength. -sucking would put it on average, we thought, but a few weeks of real-world driving denies us of this idea. The Camaro 1LE has a very different character from the hot hatch. But it also has a very different character from the more dashing Camaros we drove. We’ve come with likes, dislikes, lots of respect — and the newfound notion that a Camaro equipped like this is truly one-of-a-kind.
First, a little more about the Camaro 1LE. It is a track performance package that combines the FE3 suspension components of a V-8-powered SS with four-piston Brembo front brakes, mechanical limited-slip differential, 3.27:1 final drive ratio, short-throw shifters and coolant for engine, transmission, and engine oil. and rear differential. The V-6 Camaro 1LE also gets an expanded engine cooling system and dual-mode exhaust. Exterior elements of the 1LE include a black hood, black lightweight wheels, Goodyear Eagle F1 summer run-flat tires, and (oddly enough) an RS badge.
Turbo Four Small But Powerful
As mentioned, our Camaro 1LE has a 2.0 liter turbo engine, which is the smallest Camaro but not very powerful. Although the 3.6 liter V-6 beats it on horsepower, with 335 versus 275 2.0T, the 4-cylinder’s 295 lb-ft of torque exceeds six by 11 lb-ft. That said, the 2.0T is up to 60 mph slower than the V-8 (4.1 seconds with automatic) or V-6 (5.0 flat with manual). But a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds means the 2.0T hardly needs to apologize for its tiny displacement.
We found that we could get faster acceleration times by launching ourselves (rotating to 4,000 rpm before releasing the clutch) than using launch mode. The no-lift-shift feature—where you can keep the accelerator against the floor as you shift gears, and the ECU will keep the spin where it’s supposed to be—proves to be very helpful, as is racing style. shift indicator on the heads-up display.
One peculiarity of the four-cylinder Camaro 1LE is its very high gear. Sixth gear is so high that it literally pulls the engine at 65 mph. Without investing in a new gearbox, we think Chevrolet could fit in a shorter final drive and improve the Camaro’s sprint capabilities, but then you’ll run out of laps in first gear too soon. Gear range and speed range feel perfect as they are, so we can live with sixth gear that’s just for super-highway cruising. We rarely shift above fifth and still manage to do better than 20 mpg.
1LE Means This Camaro Can Handle
But the 1LE is all about handling, and on our favorite winding road, our love for this particular Camaro really blossomed—and the differences between it and our favorite hot hatchback are starting to emerge. The good sports compact strikes the curves with a wide, dumb grin, but the Camaro wears the concentrated grin of a pro. Not without excitement, just focus.
Like any good hot hatch, the Camaro’s limits are high but accessible. It copes with heroic tenacity, although we’re amused to note that on the skidpad, it’s grippier in right-hand turns (1.03 g on average) than left turns (0.98 g on average), something of a left-to-right weight distribution. (49.9/50.1 percent ) doesn’t seem to explain—especially with drivers loading further on the left. On the open road, if you get funny and try to provoke the Camaro 1LE, it will dislodge in an instant, especially if the tires are cold — but the telepathic connection between the driver and the car is so good that you’ll probably be able to pick it up pretty quickly.
One of the main arguments in favor of the four-cylinder 1LE over other Camaro models is the reduction in weight on the nose, although we’re not sure there’s much difference in the real world. Our test car weighed exactly 100 pounds lighter than the last V-6 manual Camaro we tested, but the front/rear weight distribution was identical at 52%/48%. It’s a different story compared to the V-8, which carries 54 percent of its weight on the front wheels.
But whatever the conversation that took place between the Camaro 1LE and Sir Isaac Newton, what the driver experienced was something of a miracle. Turn-in is smooth, and once around the corner, the feedback from the steering is excellent, with the front tires serving as your eyes and ears on the road surface. Rolling out of corners, the steering does its best to guide you back straight and right while you experience another benefit of a four-cylinder engine: you can open the throttle wide without worrying about the rear tires coming off and causing unwanted impacts. variables into your driving equation. Drag race with the V-8, but if your ideal road is winding rather than straight, the 2.0T is the machine you want.
That is, most of the time.
Here’s the thing: As much as we enjoyed, liked, and admired the four-cylinder Camaro 1LE on curvy roads, it wasn’t the pleasant daily driver we hoped for.
We all know the Camaro’s built-in weaknesses: poor outside visibility, awkward entry and exit (worsened by the $1,595 Recaro bucket seats of our test car), highly theoretical rear seats, and pint-sized trunk. That’s not what we’re talking about. And while the Camaro’s cabin is easy to pocket, we can’t fault the ergonomics, driving position or control layout. The touchscreen infotainment system is simple and easy to learn, and we love the climate control—the idea of turning the chrome ring surrounding the vent into a temperature control is Joe Cool’s genius.
Our problem is that, unlike our favorite hot hatchback, the day-to-day driving experience is a bit bleak. The 1LE isn’t offered with an automatic transmission, which we like—but even for a tough stick-shifter like ours, the Camaro’s heavy clutch and hard shifter fill the line between fun and duty.
Sound, or lack thereof
But the Camaro turbo’s worst sin is its poor engine record. We know that four-cylinder engines can’t make the deep rumble of a V-8, but with this 2.0T, it’s as if GM engineers didn’t even try to make it sound good. Below 4,500 rpm all it can manage is a bland, lackluster hum that’s too common to call bloated. Seriously, we can’t overstate how bad this engine sounds. We tried to pass this on to a car enthusiast friend who expressed disbelief that any engine could sound as bad as we described—until we took him for a walk.
Only at the top 1,000 rpm or so of its rev range does the Camaro’s engine show some aural promise, but given its flat torque characteristics and high gear, there’s rarely any reason to spin it into the stratosphere. Come on, Chevrolet—Honda has been building amazing-sounding four-cylinders for decades. Even the Hyundai Veloster N makes a better sound. We’re putting you on hold until you can find a way to make this sound what it is—an honest-to-goodness performance engine.
Herein lies our one major problem with the four-cylinder Camaro 1LE: It doesn’t keep dragging Hyundai into this stuff, but the Veloster N is great fun whether you’re tearing corners or dropping your kids off to school. The Camaro is great at running hard, but we want it to always be fun.
Would that make it a better car? It would have been more interesting, but maybe that wasn’t what Chevrolet had in mind. After all, the 1LE was meant to be a track pack. What the four-cylinder Camaro 1LE did best was prove that the Camaro is truly a multitalented vehicle. It’s not just a muscle car, and it’s not a compact sports car. On the other hand, the 2021 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE Turbo is completely his own thing—and it’s a very talented thing.
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|Specifications of the 2021 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 1LE|
|PRICE ACCORDING TO TEST||$39,480|
|VEHICLE Layout||Front engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|MACHINE||2.0L/275-hp/295-lb-ft 16-valve DOHC turbo I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6 speed manual|
|ROAD WEIGHT (F/R REACH)||3,414 pounds (52/48%)|
|Length x width x height||188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 inches|
|0-60 MPH||5.6 seconds|
|QUARTER MILE||14.2 seconds @ 96.7 mph|
|REM, 60-0 MPH||104 feet|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.01 g (average)|
|MT PICTURE EIGHT||24.5 sec @ 0.76 g (average)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/29/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/116 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.86 lb/mile|