Road Tests

First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE

A well-balanced performance variant with a palatable price

PAHRUMP, Nevada — Why did Chevrolet build a V-6 variant of the Camaro 1LE? Because Camaro owners approached Chevy engineers and marketers after the last-generation 1LE made its debut and said, “If you sold a V-6 version of the 1LE, I’d pick one up.” Without them, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE probably wouldn’t exist. That would have been a shame, because the less-powerful 1LE is an aggressive, affordable, and absolutely amusing performance car.

What 1LE is to the V-6 Camaro

The 1LE package now available for 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 1LS and 2LT is $4,500, which is $2,000 less than for the V-8 car. The V-6 and V-8 1LE models look very similar. Both wear satin-black vinyl-wrapped hoods, black front splitters, and small black rear lip spoilers. (The V-6 1LE even has the mesh front grilles from the Camaro SS because they provide better airflow.) Distinguishing the V-6 from the V-8 1LE are the V-6’s four-piston Brembo front brake calipers (the V-8 gets six-piston units), and the V-6 model doesn’t have hood vents like the V-8 does.

While the V-8 1LE cribs almost all of its upgrades from the soon-to-arrive Camaro ZL1, the V-6 1LE uses suspension parts from the standard V-8 Camaro SS. That means the “FE3” chassis setup — performance-tuned front struts, a differential cooler, a beefier multilink rear suspension, and the like — is bolted onto the V-6 1LE. On top of the SS’s suspension, the V-6 1LE also gets the SS’s auxiliary cooling systems and performance-orientated fuel management components. All 1LE models ride on 20-inch aluminum wheels that are wider in the rear than they are in the front, but the rear tires on the V-6 are narrower than the front tires on the V-8 1LE. The 3.6-liter V-6’s output stays at 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque, and the only transmission is a six-speed manual with a 1LE-specific short shifter.

Compared to the V-8 1LE, the V-6 1LE is down 120 horsepower, its transmission doesn’t have a trick rex`v-matching feature, and the snug Recaro seats aren’t standard—they’re available for an extra $1,195. On the flipside, the V-6 1LE is almost 300 pounds lighter than the V-8 1LE and starts $11,505 less at $33,890. “I like the fact that we have a V-6 Camaro 1LE now,” says Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer. “It opens up a whole new segment of track enthusiasts who can buy [a 1LE] now.”

From road to track

A completely basic 2017 Chevrolet Camaro coupe with a V-6 engine is a pleasant car with enough power and capability to get its owner in trouble, but it’s not exactly all that engaging or exciting. That’s not at all the case with this new 1LE model, which is sharp, surefooted, and agile. Its incredible-sounding standard dual-mode exhaust is intoxicating, even as we slowly cruise along the dead-straight roads on the edge of downtown Pahrump, Nevada. Just as we decide to see if the 1LE actually goes from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and brakes from 60 to 0 mph in 112 feet, we spot a sheriff deputy’s car and figure we should head to the closed road course at nearby Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch and try it there instead.

Very little needs to be done to set up the V-6 1LE for track use, seeing how the three driving modes affect only steering and the three traction control modes are pretty straightforward: on, off, or competitive. On long straights, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE is frustratingly gutless. It would be unfair to call the car slow, but it’s pretty boring when you’re not working the steering wheel. Fortunately straights always lead to turns, where the V-6 1LE comes alive. Braking is strong and progressive, the steering is nicely weighted, turn-in is immediate, and body movements are minimal. Thanks to its improved suspension and Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE can pull up to 0.97 g in a corner. (When Chevy engineers figured out how much stick this 1LE would have, they had to completely reimagine the base V-6 engine’s oiling system.) The car carries momentum into, through, and out of corners with confidence, transitioning from one turn to the next with absolutely no drama as the Recaro seat holds us tightly. (Unfortunately Chevrolet didn’t have a V-6 1LE with stock Camaro seats that we could sample.)

The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE is an unexpectedly charming compromise that someone who wants to improve their track driving could also comfortably commute in. (Those folks should consider that the optional $1,300 performance data recorder is available only on the 2LT model, not the 1LS model.) The V-6 1LE’s treatment is simple and straightforward, and the end product is balanced and enjoyable. “I’d own the V-6 1LE,” says Oppenheiser. “It’s a blast. It’s a car that anybody, regardless of their driving expertise, will feel like a better driver than they might be. Or if you’re an experienced driver, you can just throw it around. It’s fun, and you can compete, because it handles the corners well and has plenty of power.”

What about a turbocharged four-cylinder 1LE?

The cheapest 2017 Chevrolet Camaro you can buy has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Why didn’t Chevrolet develop a similar 1LE package for that car? “When we were looking at the sixth-generation Camaro and decided we were going to do the 2.0-liter turbo, nobody had one in the segment,” says Oppenheiser. “We understood Ford would be coming out with one, but they hadn’t, and its success or not hadn’t been determined. We got into the pool by having [a four-cylinder Camaro] then started to look at the market’s successes. [Ford has] obviously had a lot of success with their 2.3-liter, so we knew there was demand for a four-cylinder in this segment. We’re actually a year into production, and our four-cylinder has already caught the V-6 in sales. Now that we know that it’s a success in this segment, we can start exploring the bottom rung of our performance branch.” When we ask if a four-cylinder Camaro 1LE would also crib parts from the Camaro SS, Oppenheiser says, “We would definitely use a parts sharing strategy, and the obvious car would be the SS. At SEMA we did an exploratory [Camaro Turbo AutoX] concept to judge feedback from the public. We’re always looking at opportunities to expand the portfolio bandwidth.”

Pleasantly surprised

It’s good that the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE exists. We applaud any thoughtfully executed effort to make track-focused cars more affordable. We’ll see if everyone who said they would buy a V-6 1LE will, or maybe now they’ll say they’re holding out for a four-cylinder model.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 1LE Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $32,895/$35,085 (base/as tested)
Engine:  3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/335 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 284 lb-ft @ 5,300 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA Mileage: 18/27 mpg
L x W x H: 188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in
Wheelbase: 110.7 in
Weight: 3,487 lb
0-60 MPH: 5.2 sec
Top Speed: N/A

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0-60 MPH:

5 SECS

EPA MPG:

20 City / 30 Hwy

Horse Power:

275 @ 5600