The golden era of American muscle is officially upon us folks, and dammit if we aren’t basking in its glow. Virtually all of the issues that once plagued domestic sports cars have been eliminated, with vehicles like the Camaro 1SS 1LE serving as a prime example of the breed’s evolution.
No longer are muscle cars these hulking, cumbersome, inefficient animals that are only good in a straight line. Today’s rear-wheel-drive sports coupes have evolved into machines that offer both power and performance, all while retaining enough refinement, safety, and fuel smarts to make them practical daily beaters. Nowhere is this balance more acutely notable, than in the red-hot rocket ship pictured here.
The Chevrolet Camaro 1SS 1LE is a high-performance firecracker on methamphetamines, featuring near flawless driving characteristics, and as you shall soon discover, damn near perfect driving habits.
But before we get to the performance portion of today’s diatribe, let’s admire the latest Camaro for one of its greatest assets: It’s dashing good looks. For years this iconic muscle car has struggled to keep up with the sleeker looks of the Mustang and the classic lines of the Challenger, instead favoring an appearance that resided somewhere in between retro and modern. Fortunately, Chevy has done away with straddling the center line and made this latest generation both slick and sinister, with the 1LE upgrade offering buyers a hefty handful of tasteful aesthetic upgrades.
Those who are willing to spring for the $7,000 package will receive a satin black blade spoiler that matches the jutting front splitter, and vinyl wrapped hood. There’s also a staggered set of forged 20-inch alloy wheels in 10 and 11-inch widths, 1LE-branded Brembo brakes, and an exhaust that looks just as good as it sounds. Factor in the Camaro’s glaring fascia, unique LED piping, and perfect proportions, and you have a road presence that looks menacing even at a standstill.
Looking pretty while parked may be one thing, but driving with your foot to the floor is why this car exists in the first place. Calibrations within the Camaro’s computers and the dexterity of the car’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension is downright applaudable. Jumping from Tour to Sport mode, and onward to Track, you feel the car begin to tighten-up, like an agile predator preparing to pounce. Feedback and increased control in the suspension, throttle, and steering departments all get tweaked, with the result being an extremely sharp driving experience.
As with most modern rear-wheel drive machines, there is also a Snow/Ice mode for increased traction and throttle control. Although I had zero need for this setting throughout the loan, the Camaro 1SS 1LE’s Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 tires are not known for their grip in rainy conditions so I can foresee this drive mode being of great use to certain buyers.
Stopping on upgraded 6-pot piston front calipers, with 4-pot bright red clamps gripping the rear rotors, the Camaro 1SS 1LE hits all the right notes in the Brembo braking department, with little to no fade being detected, even after prolonged testing. That said, there is still a bit of nosedive and body roll to be had here, even with the adaptive suspension firmed-up in Sport or Track mode. While the vehicle’s 3,685-pound curb weight has much to do with this, I can foresee some buyers opting for larger aftermarket roll bars and a shock tower brace for increased rigidity.
But for the majority of Camaro shoppers, the stock setup on the 1LE should be more than enough for whatever their weekday commute or weekend track day entails. Sloppy handling and gratuitous amounts of oversteer are officially extinct in this one folks. In their place, you now get crisp cornering and refined on-road driving mannerisms, and thanks to the thunderous V8 stuffed in the SS, a crankcase load of ferocious noises and tire smoke to boot.
Specs on the 6.2-liter V8 include 455-horsepower with the same amount of torque. Thanks to cylinder deactivation, those with some form of self-control might even be able to see an EPA estimated 16 mile-per-gallon average in the city, and 25 on the interstate. Helping you hit these numbers is a sharp six-speed manual gearbox with active rev-matching on tap, along with a free-flowing dual-mode exhaust for additional grunt and efficiency. Popping, snapping, and snarling, with an unmistakable roar coming from up front, it’s the sort of sound that makes a muscle car fanatic’s underpants tingle, and here’s why.
While hitting the old heel-toe around a bend is easily doable in the Camaro 1SS 1LE thanks to its perfectly positioned pedals, the ease of use one gets from the rev-matching setup in this car is what makes on-road driving so enjoyable. Merely pull back on a paddle shifter, and let the Camaro’s computer read your throttle inputs and shift patterns like a well-trained private eye. Throwing revs around only as necessary, yet making sure that they always remain high enough to make some new racket, this feature is sure to be a favorite for those who prefer a “point-and-shoot” solution.
Another performance feature I found to be incredibly enjoyable was GM’s use of “zero lift” throttle technology, which allows you to keep your right foot mashed to the floor when accelerating, alleviating driver fatigue and bumping my zero to sixty times into low 4-second territory. Shifting is a blast in the 1LE as well thanks to the tight shifter and its shorter throws. The electronic limited-slip differential in the rear also proved to be quite the rockstar, consistently providing grip while stomping a straight line and tackling tight hairpins.
However, raw power and performance isn’t the only asset the Camaro 1SS 1LE packs in abundance. Fans of GM’s intuitive driver instrument cluster are sure to love all of the animated specs and performance monitoring options. This vehicle holds, as well as its color head-up display. Chevy’s latest round of MyLink touchscreen infotainment also comes standard, packed neatly into an 8-inch screen that supports Apple, Android, and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a SiriusXM subscription. Integrated 4G LTE WiFi hotspot remains a staple here as well, and for an additional $1,300 you can track your best laps with an integrated performance data and video recorder.
While we’re on the topic of interior options, it is essential to stress the significance of those 1LE upgraded seats and synthetic suede touches. Those Recaro seats may look a bit bland, and they certainly aren’t the most heavily bolstered option out there, but holy crap are they a million times better than the Camaro’s stock buckets! Featuring 8- and 6-way power adjustability, engraved metal backing inserts, tight stitching, and materials that are pleasant to the touch, it’s incredible how modest upgrades like these can make for a much more enjoyable driving experience. I also found the wrapped steering wheel and shift knob to be a nice touch (no pun intended), especially when thinking about scorching hot temps or sub-zero morning commutes.
Some other notables include power express windows, sleek brushed metallic accents, and a D-cut steering wheel that is the epitome of grippy and perfectly proportioned. Speaking of its steering, the electronic rack on all Camaro’s nowadays is about as spot-on as it gets, making the 1LE all the more enjoyable to drive. Heavy enough to provide dead-center reliability and driving confidence when in Sport or Track mode, but light and responsive when at low speeds, it’s a beautifully calibrated setup no matter what your driving style requires.
Chevrolet may have hit a home-run in the performance and external styling departments with this round of the Camaro, along with some nice interior touches, but that’s not to say that the car doesn’t have its faults, even when in 1SS 1LE trim. For starters, cabin-feel remains cramped in the Camaro, with the front bordering on being labeled as constrictive, and the back being downright claustrophobia-inducing.
And although the layers of cheap looking plastics coating the dash, center stack, and console didn’t earn the Camaro 1SS 1LE any praise either, it was packaging misses inside that lost it the most significant percentage of points. For instance, not having useful storage slots for cell phones is frustrating, and not finding a single USB port in the car is just bizarre in this day and age.
Other issues include the tilted touchscreen, which somehow still manages to grab loads of glare, not having sport pedals increases the risk of slippage, and those Recaro seats don’t recline very far, making passenger comfort a concern. I also found the Camaro’s auto windows to be overly sensitive and infuriating to use when just a crack of fresh air was needed, and all-around visibility made me feel like I was peering out of Boba Fett’s helmet. This last gripe is perhaps the most concerning, for the 1SS 1LE does not have blind spot monitoring nor surround cameras or sensors. Simply put, it’s like driving while squinting.
Mechanically, the 1SS 1LE remains a champ save for the shifter unit, which may feel a bit light and too closely gated for some. Being that this particular configuration is only offered in a manual, you will likely find yourself closing the center stack vents to keep your right hand from freezing or burning during extreme temps. Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, that matte black vinyl hood collects watermarks with wild abandon and refuses to let them go.
Even with all of these annoyances, the Camaro 1SS 1LE is still one of the most enjoyable sports cars on the market today. While the new Mustang GT Performance Package 2 may score higher points for cabin quality, and its revised manual may be more balanced, the Camaro feels far more aggressive and focused. With a top speed of over 165 mph and a gearbox with more range than a surface-to-air missile, spinning the 11-inch-wide rear wheels and turning the 305/30-series Goodyear tires into a molten mess is what makes this car tick.
Harboring zero form of brand allegiance, my comparison between the 2018 Camaro 1SS 1LE and the 2018 Mustang GT Performance Package 2 have left me at an impasse. Having driven both vehicles for a week at a time almost back-to-back, I can say that I would sooner commute in the Mustang due to its interior and more refined driving feel, but I favor the looks and unprecedented agility of the Camaro 1SS 1LE.
The latter of the two also packs a $46,295 price tag once the 1LE package and optional performance data and video recorder are attached. To meet this price mark in the Mustang PP2, you would need to dump many of the add-on amenities that make it such an excellent daily driver. Simply put, the Camaro and Mustang race has never felt more heated, and we are the ones who will continue to reap the rewards until fuel prices render both obsolete.
2018 Chevrolet Camaro 1SS 1LE
- Vehicle Type: Four passenger sports car, rear-wheel drive
- Base Price: $37,000 Price as Tested: $46,295
- Engine: 6.2-liter V8, 455-horsepower, 455- lb.-ft of torque
- Transmission: 6-speed manual with active rev-matching
- Overall Length/Width/Height: 188.3 L x 74.7 W x 53.1 H
- Curb Weight: 3,747 lbs
- Tire Size: 285/30ZR-20 F x 305/30ZR-20 R
- EPA Mileage Estimates: 16 city / 25 highway / 19 combined
- Assembled In: Lansing, Michigan