Gutsy engines, aggressive sheetmetal, and rear-wheel drive are essential for any muscle car, but the Camaro stirs in excellent handling and great steering, too. Available as a coupe or convertible, the base engine is a 275-hp 2.0-liter turbo four; a 335-hp 3.6-liter V-6 and a 455-hp 6.2-liter V-8 are optional. All offer either a six-speed manual or optional eight-speed automatic. The interior, though, is tight and offers limited visibility. The V-6 and V-8 Camaros are 10Best winners for 2016.
Let’s cut right to the hyperbole: The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is a rolling manifestation of Bruce Springsteen’s most celebratory lyrical fairy tale, the “all-American boy with a nose for trouble finds his way by means of a pushrod-V-8–powered muscle car with a weary but naturally beautiful girl in the passenger seat.” Born from the same humble two-door-coupe blueprint that launched the Camaro 50 years ago, it’s the everyman’s super-Camaro: a 455-hp, apex-craving monster that rings in with a $44,400 base price ($6500 for the SS 1LE Performance package on top of $37,900 for the 1SS coupe). That’s $16,435 less dear than the expected $62,135 sticker for the 2017 Camaro ZL1, and it will likely undercut the price of the upcoming 2018 Camaro Z/28 by even more. While we’re talking matters of finance, the only other option on our test car was a performance data recorder for $1300, which brought the as-tested price to $45,700. It may not be free, but it’s at least attainable for most aspiring part-time track rats.
Regular readers may recall that, over some 15,000 miles, our long-term 2016 Camaro SS has proved itself to be a comfortable cruiser as well as an extroverted destroyer of tires. Although it’s otherwise similar, the 2017 Camaro SS tested here is further equipped with the vaunted 1LE package, a collection of performance and cosmetic upgrades aimed at putting a sharper edge on all the attributes that make our long-term SS such a blast to drive. (For 2017, the 1LE package is also available on 1LT and 2LT V-6 models, but this review focuses on the V-8–powered SS.)
The $6500 1LE package includes a comprehensive list of hardware. Key items include an FE4 performance suspension with specific tuning for the springs, anti-roll bars, and magnetorheological dampers (GM’s Magnetic Ride Control); Brembo six-piston front monoblock calipers and four-piston rear calipers (painted red); aluminum-hat and iron-friction-surface rotors; an electronically controlled limited-slip, 3.73:1 differential; a six-speed manual transmission; a dual-mode performance exhaust system; and a track cooling package with engine, transmission, and differential coolers. Tasked with keeping the car in contact with the pavement are Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 tires constructed with a rubber compound developed specifically for the Camaro. Sized 285/30ZR-20 in front and 305/30ZR-20 at the rear, the imposing tires wrap 20-inch Satin Graphite forged-aluminum wheels (10 inches wide up front, 11 inches at the rear).
Telltale cosmetic items include an aggressive-looking fascia and grille with a larger splitter plus a rear blade spoiler; the aero aids are rendered in the same satin black as the hood wrap. The interior features a head-up display and Recaro front buckets, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel and the shift knob are both wrapped with a soothing synthetic-suede material that feels great under your fingers.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of how this hit parade of Chevrolet performance parts translates into test results, let us remind you of how well this sub-$50K Camaro SS 1LE performed at this year’s Lightning Lap competition at Virginia International Raceway. In Turn One, its 1.11 g of grip matched that of the Ferrari 488GTB, and in the uphill esses it managed a higher average speed (121.6 mph) than the McLaren 570S. Do we really need to tell you how many 1LE Camaros you could buy for the price of either of these exotics? Ultimately, the Camaro posted a lap time of 2:54.8, earning it a second-place ranking in the hotly contested LL2 class ($35,000 to $64,999). Only the 526-hp 2016 Ford Mustang GT350R lapped the circuit faster, shaving an even three seconds off the 1LE’s time. With a base price of $63,495, the Stang cost $6365 extra for each of those three seconds. (It’s worth noting that the V-6 Camaro 1LE took first place in the sub-$35K, LL1 class.)
With all those racetrack heroics in mind, let’s take a look at how the 1LE fared in our standard round of tests: The zero-to-60-mph run consumed 4.1 seconds, and the quarter-mile arrived in 12.4 seconds with the car clearing the traps at 116 mph. Although the Camaro was equipped with launch control, our drivers beat it by utilizing old-fashioned reflexes, launching the car with the engine spinning around 2000 rpm for the best results. Braking and roadholding prowess, the primary focus of the 1LE tweaks, catapult the Camaro beyond the sub-$50K pack. Once warmed up, the brakes consistently hauled the 3747-pound 1LE to a stop from 70 mph in just 141 feet with no fade, and a lap of our 300-foot skidpad revealed 1.05 g of grip. Those figures meet or beat those posted by the significantly more expensive 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 (149 feet, 1.05 g) and the only mildly more expensive 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 (171 feet, 1.00 g) as measured in a recent comparison test.
While the numbers are impressive, they don’t relay how innocuous the SS 1LE can be in day-to-day driving. Sure, the Recaros are snug, but they leave enough room for your limbs to move about and take care of business. The compromised outward visibility makes it somewhat difficult to place the car on the road, but most staffers eventually acclimated to the environs. Mountains of torque available all over the rev band—the peak of 455 lb-ft comes at 4400 rpm—ensure there’s no need to blip the throttle when letting out the clutch pedal to move away from a stop, which is handy in stop-and-go traffic jams. The magnetorheological dampers manage to soften the impacts transmitted by those massive tires. Hard as it may be to believe, highway slogs are not only possible, they’re pleasant; the 1LE even measured an acceptable interior noise level of 72 decibels at a steady 70 mph.
But when the urge to cut and run arises, the full might of the 1LE package is at your service. The steering is direct and precise, the shifter feels instantly familiar, and the brake pedal is firm and linear in operation. Together, they conspire with the chassis to transform a meat cleaver into a scalpel, a vehicle that immediately responds to and rewards the slightest inputs. The Camaro is endowed with so much grip and stopping power that it’s nearly impossible to find public roads to explore anything more than a fraction of its capabilities. Stable and confident, it inspired even novice drivers to push a little harder on our 10Best Cars test loop, so clearly does the chassis telegraph its behavior. At the risk of drawing major-league hate from both camps, one driver likened its reassuring demeanor to that of a “big, fat Miata.” Let us assure you this was meant as a compliment of the highest order.
There are caveats: Like all Camaros, outward visibility is poor, the rear seats are all but pointless, the interior lacks any substantial provisions for stowage, and the trunk opening is barely large enough to swallow a gym bag. But there are plenty of staid, sensible vehicles that excel at those tasks. This one is fast, brash, and wears its underdog legacy as a badge of pride. You’ve gotta respect that, even if you hate Bruce Springsteen.