In the interest of full disclosure, we’ll begin our official first-drive review of the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE by admitting that this is not actually our first drive of the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE. That happened during the 2016 Lightning Lap competition, where the six-cylinder Camaro 1LE and the V-8–powered Camaro SS 1LE not only showed up, but showed up their much pricier competition at America’s toughest track, Virginia International Raceway. But this is our first experience with the car in a more normal setting—sans helmet and on public roads—specifically, the vast and seemingly unending roads of southern Nevada and California’s Death Valley.
At Lightning Lap, we couldn’t praise the 1LE’s grip enough. Riding on a suspension largely cribbed from the SS then tailored to the V-6’s lighter and slightly more evenly distributed weight, the thing just sticks in corners. Chevy claims that the 1LE’s 245/40ZR-20 front and 275/35ZR-20 rear Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 RunOnFlat tires can hold on to curves to the tune of 0.97 g, but we’ve seen 0.98 g in a heavier V-8 Camaro with those same tires (our long-term Camaro SS), so don’t be surprised if Chevrolet’s claim turns out to be conservative once we test the car ourselves.
Meanwhile, in the Real World
But the 1LE’s talent set includes far more than driving in circles and connecting apexes on a track. In the real world, the 1LE’s ability to track through a bend utterly impervious to any lumps in the asphalt, buckled pavement, or wobbly camber changes is remarkable. The steering is weighty and immediate, serving up loads of feedback through the microsuede-wrapped wheel, thus keeping the driver ever aware of exactly what kind of ground the car is covering. As we found at VIR, this 1LE’s limits are very high, and it takes a bit of time behind the wheel to comfortably understand where they are. Once understood, however, the 1LE is a grin machine. An occasional whiff of the benign understeer we noted during Lightning Lap returned—but only in our most heated moments.
Six Is Less Than Eight
In both 1LE models, the engine is left pretty much stock—hardly a problem with the SS’s 6.2-liter V-8, given its prodigious 455 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque. But as we noted at Lightning Lap, the V-6 model’s weak spot is the V-6 itself. With 335 horsepower at 6800 rpm and 284 lb-ft of torque at 5300 rpm, the 3.6-liter six is the same smooth and revvy mill we’ve praised in other Camaros, but we’re not so smitten with it in the 1LE. Why? Because it’s a 1LE. The quickest manual-equipped 2016 Camaro V-6 we’ve tested hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, with a quarter-mile pass of 13.7 seconds at 103 mph, which is hardly slow but is merely adequate by modern pony-car standards.
Out in the desert just as on the track, the V-6 simply didn’t feel strong enough. After we carved a path through the trickiest switchbacks at superhero speeds, the road would straighten out and we’d floor the gas pedal, bracing for a bombastic launch into the faraway horizon and . . . the action sequence would slow down. The engine would be working as hard as it could, but the slingshot never releases. The speedometer needle creeps ever so slowly up the dial, and you think, “Oh that’s right, this one has the V-6.”
The Chevy guys think the V-6 1LE is so good that there may be a market for a four-cylinder version, previewed by the Turbo AutoX Concept seen at the 2016 SEMA show. We’re not so sure. Having experienced the V-6 1LE on the road as well as on the track, we’re impressed with its insatiable hunger for corners, but while we’d like to say we didn’t miss the V-8’s extra 120 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, we did. The 3.6 is a lovely engine that serves many General Motors vehicles well enough—including non-1LE V-6 Camaros—but under this car’s matte-black hood, it feels like a placeholder for the real engine.