We weren’t going to review the 1LE version of Chevrolet’s Camaro SS. An issue with the scheduling meant we couldn’t get in one before the snow started falling in Detroit. 426-horsepower muscle cars don’t get along well with the white stuff. The arrival of the reborn Z/28 in New York made it seem even less likely that we’d get to test the 1LE, as it would largely become obsolete once the Z/28 went on sale.
So, really, we’d accepted the fact that we wouldn’t get to drive Chevy’s black-hooded 1LE. That is, until our schedule went completely haywire, and we were offered a 1LE, complete with a massive set of Pirelli Sottozero snow tires, as a last-minute replacement for a canceled loan. So, our Victory Red Camaro arrived, sporting the aforementioned tires and hood, and with that, a special dose of attitude.
Ford’s Boss 302, a car the 1LE desperately wants to best, features styling that harkens back to classic models, and features a design that isn’t overdone. The Boss graphics package is enough to point out that it’s a special car, and that’s all that’s needed. The Camaro SS 1LE takes the opposite approach. The huge, 20-inch black wheels borrowed from the Camaro ZL1, and a matte black hood and aero treatments give the 1LE a tough, focused look.
That vibe translates well in the cabin. The 1LE borrows a couple more key features from the ZL1, like the excellent, flat-bottomed, Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and Alcantara shifter and boot. Wrapping these two touch points in such a material is certain to get one in the mood for driving. The seats, though, are carryovers from the standard SS. It’s not that they’re uncomfortable or unsupportive, but if you’ve sat in a ZL1, or especially a Boss 302, you’ll be left yearning for the thrones of those cars.
The only powertrain difference between the 1LE and standard SS is the gear set used in the Tremec six-speed manual, which now features a shorter, crisper throw. A 3.91 rear end sits in place of the 3.45 found on the SS, which gave our tester a bit more pep off the line. Unless you drive the two back to back, it’s not an especially big standout, though. The 1LE pulls, but it doesn’t seem to have much more authority than a normal SS.
Our tester did provide better aural entertainment, thanks to the $895 dual-mode performance exhaust that was fitted to it. It doesn’t seem to provide any additional power, but the new exhaust gives the Camaro a more assertive exhaust note, especially under heavy throttle. In fact, execute a fast, one-two shift at wide-open throttle, and the $895 premium will seem inconsequential.
Where the 1LE comes into its own, and indeed its entire reason for being, is when you come upon a corner. The 1LE sports a significantly retuned suspension compared to the standard SS. The rear dampers have gone from twin-tubes to monotubes, while larger sway bars have been fitted both front and rear. A brawny strut tower brace sits under the hood, tying the whole arrangement together. Were it not 45 degrees when we tested the car, it would have been wearing the same Goodyear Eagle Supercar G:2 tires found on the ZL1.
We wouldn’t go so far as to call the 1LE a slower ZL1, though. It lacks the Performance Traction Management system, for one. Perhaps a bigger issue is that the 1LE doesn’t offer the excellent Magnetic Ride Control system. These variable dampers are a transformative feature and are a hallmark of many modern performance cars.
In practice, the SS 1LE feels more composed through the bends, leaning less while being more progressive in its general body motions. The handling feels fairly neutral, although a dab of gas will happily cause the car to wag its tail. In all honesty, the 1LE feels more dedicated to sporty handling than the best-of-both-worlds ZL1.
That dedication comes at the sacrifice of ride comfort. There’s just too much vertical motion over rough stretches of road, and on undulating surfaces, it had a tendency to feel floaty. We had expected something more pinned down, akin to the hardcore Boss 302. Instead, it comes across as something we wouldn’t want to drive every day. It’s interesting that with the MRC, we didn’t have nearly the same feelings about the ZL1. GM’s trick damper system is just that good.
Like we said at the beginning of this story, it’s very likely the 1LE will be obsolete by next year. The Z/28 will take up the mantle as the track-ready car, and in a world where the Boss 302 isn’t built, it’s likely to dominate. That leaves the 1LE in an interesting place. Taking a gaze into our crystal ball, we can see the arrival of the Z/28 having a big effect on the 1LE’s resale. It’s entirely possible that this slightly compromised Camaro could become the next big performance bargain.
Issues aside, the 1LE, like most V-8 muscle cars, has a very likeable personality. No, it isn’t as good as a Boss 302, and it’s especially not as good as the ZL1. It does elevate the standard Camaro SS to a more desirable place in the automotive world. If you’re looking for something beyond the SS, but aren’t ready for the extra power of the ZL1 or the raw Z/28, then a used 1LE might just be the Camaro for you.