The 2019 Camaro 2.0T 1LE is a Dream at Autocross

What is it?

Take the massively capable Camaro SS, and squeeze out almost 400 pounds of weight by replacing the 6.2-liter LT1 V8 with a 2.0-liter turbocharged LTG 4-cylinder. A car with already best-in-class handling, but over 10% lighter. Now set it loose on an autocross course, where acceleration and top speed bow to lateral G-force capacity.

The Camaro 2.0T 1LE combines the base model LT-trim features with suspension and cooling components from the Camaro SS. This includes the heavy-duty cooling package, inclusive of an external engine oil cooler, transmission cooler, and a rear differential cooler. That’s right, a 4-cylinder Camaro with a diff cooler from the factory.

The 2.0T 1LE rolls on staggered 20×8.5” and 20×9.5” wheels, with 245/40R20 and 275/35R20 tires. Identical in spec to the Camaro SS, this wheel & tire package gives the car purposeful stance that the non-1LE Camaro 2.0T’s 18” rims just don’t deliver.

With the 1LE Track Performance Package comes an additional benefit beyond just strong track hardware and improved looks. 1LE Camaros driven on the track retain warranty coverage if they are maintained and driven within the specs outlined in the “High Performance Owner’s Manual Supplement” provided with the car. The peace of mind from having a track-day warranty is extremely compelling.

What Works Great

Before I mention the visibility-impairing elephant in the room, some quick words on the Camaro’s interior from a driver’s perspective.

The 1LE Track Performance Package includes a microsuede-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, as well as microsuede on the gear shifter and the top sections of the seat belt receivers. These are the main touch points while driving, and the microsuede finish makes the Camaro feel more special and track-focused than its base-model pricing would suggest.

Look through the steering wheel, and a straightforward instrument panel gives you both speed and revs on analog gauges, with a small screen in the middle for various telemetry options.

Activating track settings is unbelievably simple. Simply use the rocker switch below the gear shifter to set the car to “Track” mode, and press the adjacent traction control button to switch off the electronic driving aids. No excessive menu navigation here. Props to the Camaro team for making the most important settings so easy to toggle.

Another notable benefit, especially at autocross, is the 4-wheel tire pressure screen. Adjusting tire pressures can yield notable improvements between autocross runs, and the Camaro puts accurate tire data front-and-center.

On the autocross course, the 1LE Camaro handles extremely well. Like, this-is-a-big-Miata well. The 50/50 weight distribution and high-feedback steering result in neutral handling and easy control. The Camaro feels extremely competent, professional, and planted.

This is a car that rewards driver skill in a linear way. The better you drive it, the faster it goes. It will oversteer on too much power, and understeer if you carry too much speed into a corner. That said, it takes fairly ham-fisted driving to induce either of those. The Camaro is willing to dance, and it’ll match the driver’s footwork with equal enthusiasm and skill.

On Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R tires, the 2.0T 1LE’s limits are extremely high. It still feels very old-school to drive, a classic and balanced experience. The Camaro is far more powerful than the precise, surgical Subaru BRZ that it competes with, but it’s also far more sophisticated than the Thor’s-hammer WRX STI. Among D-Street cars in SCCA autocross, the Camaro is the perfectly balanced katana of the arsenal.

Speaking of Japanese import car vibes, the Camaro 2.0T 1LE has turbo lag straight out of a 1990s-era drift anime. The 2.0T LTG engine just can’t with how fast you’re asking for boost. There’s lag upon flooring the gas and even noticeable lag when shifting gears. Again, planning throttle inputs, just like planning corners ahead, is essential in the Camaro. Start rolling into the throttle even before the apex of some corners, because the turbo motor’s power delivery is anything but linear.

A driver that knows to get on the throttle early and manage boost effectively will find the Camaro Turbo 1LE a joy to drive. Good drivers might just find a class win at autocross, too.

What Needs Work

Aside from the turbo lag, which I contend isn’t a deal breaker, the 2.0T engine in this Camaro is rated for 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, but only on 93 octane. For drivers in California, who only get a weaker 91-octane premium, this car makes fewer horsepower. Expect a future comparison test to see what that difference looks like.

For two generations of Camaro, “outward visibility” has been the chief complaint and meme of the car. The beltline is extremely high, and downward sight lines are dismal. Basically, anything near the car that’s less than three feet tall might as well not exist.

Yes, that means turning to the right on an autocross course might lead one to run over a cone at the apex of a corner. At my first autocross in the Camaro, I got this big green cone stuck under the exhaust. It smoked and melted pretty badly, but the Camaro was unscathed.

Even more so than usual, make sure to look ahead at autocross in any Camaro. That’s basic motorsport technique, to set up for the next corner, and being unable to see nearby cones actually reinforces that good habit. Maybe that’s why the beltline is so high? Who knows. If you seriously wish to buy a fast autocross and track car, the Camaro’s sight lines are just fine.

A final word of caution: the first notable impression at autocross is that most people mistake the 2.0T 1LE for a Camaro SS. The big 20” wheels make it hard to distinguish from the higher-power Camaros. That is, until people see the 4-banger Camaro move without any V8 noises. “Whoa, how is it moving without the engine on?” If your ego will be damaged by the lack of displacement and noise, this is not the Camaro for you.

Value

The Camaro 2.0T 1LE competes in SCCA Solo Autocross in the D-Street class, against other “Sport Compact” vehicles. Notable competition still on sale today includes the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, Ford Mustang EcoBoost, and base-model Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 models.

The 4-cylinder 1LE Camaro sits mid-pack at around $31,000. While the Subaru BRZ and Hyundai Veloster N are cheaper and lighter (around $28,000 each) the former has only half the peak torque of the Camaro, and the latter is front-wheel-drive only.

Moving to the higher end of the D-Street market, and we see that the Civic Type R and the Mustang Ecoboost with the High Performance and Handling packages cost just over $36,000 each. Both make more power than the Camaro, but also pack a higher entry price, and in the case of the Ford, significantly more weight as well.

Verdict

The 2.0T 1LE is a worthy competitor in the stock autocross class, without a doubt. For drivers who prefer (or demand) a RWD vehicle for autocross, this Camaro is one of the best “driver’s cars” on the market today, especially at autocross and on shorter race tracks.

Between the 50/50 weight distribution, extra cooling capacity, and responsive handling, the Camaro 2.0 Turbo 1LE makes a case for itself that outweighs its visibility-related drawbacks.

Additional Thoughts on Modified Classes

Sharing the same suspension and wheel/tire specs as the Camaro SS, the Camaro 2.0T 1LE can fit significantly wider wheels and tires with sufficient camber adjustment. Like, 11″ wide front wheels and 12″ wide rear wheels, which is staggering. Pun intended.

Knowing the Alpha-chassis Camaro supports the 650-horsepower Camaro ZL1’s output from the factory, it’s obvious that the 2.0T deserves some power upgrades too. Plenty of tuning options already exist. Being the lightest Camaro, yet also having arguably the most easily-tuned engine of the family, makes the 2.0T 1LE an excellent option for more aggressive track builds.

Which Camaro is your go-to for track duty? If you have looked at Camaros as a track and autocross option, what other cars are you cross-shopping? Head over to @revupdate on instagram and comment to let us know!

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