I can’t help but think, “Who needs an 8,250 rpm redline?” as I row the long-geared Tremec unit as the glorious LT1 V-8 of the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE shouts at the world. Sure, Ford’s Shelby GT350 sounds amazing, but this LT1 is quicker to 60 mph than the flat-plane crank-powered V-8 Mustang (4.2 seconds to 4.3), and it feels as if I’m revving past 8,000 rpm even though I’m shifting at 7,000. That’s the magic of the SS 1LE: It feels like a high-dollar German sports car, and a damn good one at that.
The Camaro SS 1LE uses the same 455-horsepower, 455 lb-ft, 6.2-liter 16-valve LT1 V-8 found in the standard Camaro SS. Nothing else in the powertrain is different, though the 1LE gets a short-throw shifter. Peak power arrives at 6,000 rpm and peak torque at 4,400. Yet, when developing the base SS, like Porsche’s new turbo engines, Chevrolet allowed its V-8 to rev past peak performance to better engage the driver.
And engage it does.
On open stretches of highway, you’ll find yourself dropping down a gear and crushing the accelerator, unleashing the Camaro SS 1LE’s fury of power and torque. But you won’t want to shift until it screams at 7,000 rpm, letting your foot stay plastered to pedal as the flood of noise fills the cabin. Power swells, but it doesn’t rapidly build as it does in a Ferrari, McLaren, or Porsche. Instead, the gradual buildup of power indeed makes the car feel like it has a higher redline, similar to the GT350 and its full stop 8,250 top end.
It’s that feeling that will make you keep coming back to the Camaro SS 1LE day after day. To get you coming back week after week though, the car’s excellent suspension befits the Camaro’s recent race-car heritage.
Before the fifth generation, the Camaro was dealt the same “couldn’t turn to save its life” plight as other ponycars. The car was a straight-line animal and not much else. Then, a rebellion. Independent rear suspension led to magnetorheological shocks, which led to the last generation’s Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve shocks (DSSV) optioned in the magnificent Camaro Z/28.
And while the new 1LE doesn’t use those DSSV pieces, it gets updated, upgraded, and reworked magnetorheological dampers, springs, and stabilizer bars that transform the Camaro SS 1LE from daily commuter to “holy [expletive], how am I going so fast around a turn” with a push of a button. With these upgrades, the Camaro SS 1LE ties — ties! — the last generation Z/28 around Chevrolet’s proving grounds, despite using less-sticky tires and non-carbon-ceramic brakes. But what do all these stats, figures, and performance metrics mean in the real world? How does the car make you feel?
Sunlight fading, a cool breeze wafting its way through the canyons, I’m propelled by furious noise. The Camaro SS 1LE is in Sport mode, with firmer dampening, heavier steering, exhaust baffles open. Throttle response is increased, and traction control is off. I don’t need it. The Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar tires are sticky enough and the slick electronic limited-slip differential sends power to the rear so perfectly that when I come out of a turn hot, the slide is controllable and hysterically good fun.
A puff of tire smoke trailing behind, the car lazily revs to 7,000 before I grab third gear. Vibrations, noise, and the guttural menace of the Camaro SS 1LE vibrates through the suede steering wheel, detailing the rocks and road imperfections. It’s not as communicative as, say, a Porsche 718 Cayman S, but you have to remember this car weighs nearly 3,500 pounds. Yet there’s never a sense of disconnect, letting me confidently push the car.
Up ahead, a sharp switchback with an off camber exit nears. I wait to push the aggressive six-piston Brembo brakes deeper into the turn. Nonplussed, the car shrugs and almost destructively bites into the road, nearly halting my forward momentum. The Camaro holds the radius and barely wriggles or writhes out of the turn that normally upsets rear-wheel-drive sports cars with this much horsepower. I’ve been grinning since I started my run, but after that turn and believing I — by myself and not the car and all its amazing systems — nailed that turn, the smile has become wider.
Through each turn, I make a quick glance at the Camaro’s g-meter. I know it’s pedantic and really belongs on a racetrack, but according to Chevrolet, the Camaro SS 1LE can clip 1 lateral g, and I can’t help but try to hit those lofty performance stats. I see 0.76 g, 0.88, 0.93. Close. For a road car, however, on non-slick tires and carrying a fair amount of heft, that’s hugely impressive, especially on such uneven, pockmarked pavement.
When Chevrolet unveiled the Camaro SS 1LE, chief engineer Al Oppenheiser said, “The Camaro 1LE package follows a recipe any track-day enthusiast will appreciate.” And while that’s probably true, it’s up here, in the mountains railing the Krypton Green Camaro, leaving behind a wake of summer-rated tire smoke and aural enchantment, where enthusiasts will truly appreciate just what Chevrolet has built.
Yet, everything isn’t sunshine and growly V-8s. There are two problems I’d love Chevrolet to fix: the heavily bolstered seat and the irritating “Skip Shift” transmission programming.
I’m not exactly the slimmest, trimmest, or fittest individual. Nor am I the star of TLC’s “My 600-lb Life.” Yet that’s how I felt as I tried to squeeze my 220-pound frame into the bolstered Recaro seats. The problem isn’t so much the sides as it is the thigh bolstering. The channel that makes up the seat pad is far too tight for me. I end up feeling as if I’m sitting only partially in the seat. Shifting my weight, I either have my right or left butt cheek on the bolsters. On long commutes through Los Angeles traffic, it can get somewhat painful. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I need to lay off the burgers and bratwurst. But then again, I’m not exactly Andre the Giant.
Beyond the seats, the interior offers some hard plastics and a few inexpensive trimmings, but overall it is comfortable if a bit claustrophobic. Standing outside the car, you’d expect the interior to be roomier, as the exterior’s lovely old-school looks and dimensions feel larger than your average sports car. But get inside, and everything is tightly packed. And don’t even think about putting a full-sized adult in the rear seats unless you bring a bone saw or know how to origami a person.
As for the long-standing Skip Shift transmission programming, it is designed to save fuel when shifting at lower rpms — 35 percent throttle or less. From first gear, the transmission gate will lock out second in favor of skipping to fourth with almost no revs. It doesn’t always feel as if there really is any rhyme or reason to when the computer decides to lock you out of the process, either. Throughout a week with the car, I couldn’t accurately find that 35 percent or less cutoff, and it instead always caught me by surprise. Yet the way this car drives as you approach the limit will make you forgive its little hiccups.
Detroit’s reigning sports-car maker has taken a heavy, lumbering, old-world type of car and built a dominant, yet pliable, monster for the road. The Camaro’s anachronistic exterior may befuddle you at first, but the engineering underneath will make anyone a believer. If you’re thinking about getting a track-ready muscle car, one that pushes you and sounds magnificent, look no further as the 2017 Camaro SS 1LE is one of the best performance cars on the market.
2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE Specifications
|Engine:||6.2L OHV 16-Valve V-8/455 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 455 lb-ft@ 4,400|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||16/25 mpg|
|L x W x H:||188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.2 sec|