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2017 Chevrolet Camaro Test Drive Review
Wearing the equivalent of a black leather jacket and making an obnoxious amount of noise, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE might look and sound like a traditional American muscle car, but with one rip-roaring drive, you’ll discover that it is so much more.
Reportedly, “Camaro” is a derivation of camarade, a French word for a friend or companion. Due to space constraints, you’ll be able to bring just one camarade along in the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, and what a fantastically terrifying time he or she will have. Bring a motion-sickness bag.
Look and Feel
Recently, I read that introversion was cool. Upon Googling this, I discovered that it was, for about a minute. Apparently, I completely missed my chance to leverage a shy, quiet social nature into membership in an exclusive club, enjoying acceptance by society for preferring to call it a night early, staying home with a good book, listening rather than bloviating, and generally trying to fade into the background.
Given that in my personal life I exhibit most of the traits of the introvert, you can imagine my horror when this Krypton Green 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE arrived in my driveway. Granted, I requested access to the car. But bright, glowing green? Doesn’t the SS 1LE attract enough attention with its menacing appearance and feral exhaust note?
Clearly, Chevy wanted to see if I could avoid getting a speeding ticket. Notch a win for Wardlaw.
When I was growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, one of the coolest dudes in my high school got a brand-new, 1982 Camaro Z28 to drive. That car was the bomb. Fast-forward 35 years, and Camaros still rule at the local school, as I discovered when I rolled into the pick-up lane to collect my third-grader. Every boy on the playground essentially stopped what he was doing, ran to the chain-link fencing with fingers pointing toward the parking lot, mouths forming the words “Green Camaro” over and over and over.
That was fine. How else would you expect kids to react to a real-life Hot Wheels car? It was the attention from the other parents that made my skin crawl, their judging faces peering from behind the windows of crossovers and SUVs and minivans (oh my!) at the gray-haired fat guy who was obviously suffering a massive midlife crisis.
My daughter finally arrived, classmates in tow, to prove that we did indeed have a green Camaro at home. That’s why I was there in this radioactive Chevy instead of our plain, white, anonymous, decade-old crossover SUV. Because her friends accused her of lying. And I love my kid.
Perhaps in a different color, I would have been more comfortable being seen in this car. Krypton Green is one of four premium paint colors for the 2017 Camaro, each of them resembling hues you’d find inside a package of Skittles. This same car, in Nightfall Gray Metallic? Now that appeals to me.
Camaro pricing starts at a very reasonable $26,900 for a coupe with LS trim and a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. My test vehicle, the Camaro SS coupe with a 6.2-liter V8 engine, requires a minimum outlay of $37,900. Add the paint ($395), the 1LE Track Performance Package ($6,500), and the Performance Data Recorder ($1,300), and the price rises to $46,095.
Included in the 1LE Package, my test car had a matte-finish hood that exists not for looks, as a buddy of mine assumed, but to reduce sun glare for superior outward visibility. That pricey option also installs a black front splitter, black side mirrors, a black rear lip spoiler, and gorgeous Satin Graphite aluminum wheels that are a total pain in the butt to clean.
Needless to say, these visual changes enliven the Camaro’s somewhat conservative styling, getting the performance message across loud and clear. Hand-washing the car in advance of our video shoot, it was obvious to me that the Camaro lacks the surface sensuality of Ford’s Mustang, so the 1LE’s more aggressive detailing is certainly warranted.
Inside, the Camaro is similarly restrained in comparison to its most direct competitor from Ford. With that said, Chevy’s approach is superior, thanks to nicer interior materials, deftly integrated design details, and a clear focus on the task at hand: driving just as hard and as fast as you dare.
What’s important to know about the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is not that its 6.2-liter V8 engine generates 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, making the specifications easy to remember when bragging to buddies after a couple of beers. What’s important to know is that the 1LE Package transforms the Camaro from a confident canyon carver into a track-day terrorist.
For starters, the 1LE Track Performance Package option is available with a Camaro LS or LT equipped with a V6 engine; with a Camaro SS equipped with a V8 engine; and starting in 2018, with a Camaro ZL1 equipped with a supercharged V8 engine. No, you can’t get an automatic transmission, so learn how to use a clutch.
Chevy slides a magnetic ride-control suspension under this version of the car, along with reworked stabilizer bars, springs, and bushings. Heavy-duty cooling systems keep the radiator, engine oil, transmission, and electronic limited-slip rear differential operating at optimum temperature. Staggered-width, Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar performance tires tether the Camaro to terra firma, while the Brembo braking system is upgraded to 2-piece front rotors clamped by 6-piston monoblock front calipers and 4-piston rear calipers.
Translated, you need a closed track of some kind in order to safely explore this car’s capabilities. Actually, that advice is true of any vehicle, but in this Camaro’s case, even under the guidance of a talented driver, the likelihood of making a devastating error exponentially rises, because when the astounding grip finally slips, the SS 1LE is likely to be hurtling along at an unrecoverable velocity.
Exercised on my usual test loop, portions of which I’ve been driving on a regular basis for 20 years, the Camaro essentially shrugged, derisively snorting: “Is that all you’ve got?”
I mean, I know every corner, every decreasing-radius curve, every crack, every bump, every whoop, every dip, and every spot where rocks are likely to have slid down the mountainside and landed on the road, and despite this intimate knowledge of the route, the Camaro SS 1LE seemingly loafed down Mulholland Highway, rarely requiring second or fourth gears.
Most meaningfully, the 1LE Package irrefutably reveals the latest Camaro to be a dynamically superlative automobile, especially in comparison to the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger. If you picture in your head guys with mullets and beer guts and loud mouths when conjuring up images of a modern Camaro driver, banish such stereotypes, because this is a straight-up legit sports car.
Should you buy a Camaro SS 1LE for daily driving, here is what you can expect. Every single time you start the car, the dual-mode exhaust will bark and snap like a deranged Rottweiler. Outward sightlines are terrible in every direction, though it is worth pointing out that the scalloped hood is designed to provide a better view of the pavement ahead. The clutch is heavy and hard to modulate; I stalled the Camaro having spent hours behind its steering wheel.
This car guzzles gas, too. Although I averaged 18.6 mpg on my test loop, after a week of driving and two tanks of gas, the SS 1LE’s trip computer showed an average of 16.5 mpg. That’s well short of the EPA’s apparently wildly optimistic rating of 19 mpg in combined driving.
None of these downsides to the Camaro SS 1LE is surprising. And they represent a fair price to pay for otherworldly performance. My favorite thing about this car, though, is its Active Rev Match function. Engage it using one of the paddles on the steering wheel, and it will automatically and perfectly match revs with every downshift, making you look and sound like a pro driver.
Purists who have mastered heel-and-toe downshifting won’t agree that this is a good thing, but from my perspective this feature keeps the car balanced when you’re about to pitch it into a turn and helps the driver focus on keeping the Camaro rubber-side down.
Form and Function
When I was 15 years old and waiting an agonizingly long summer to obtain my driver’s license, had you predicted that one day Chevrolet would deliver a Camaro SS to my house, with a full tank of gas and the keys for a week, and that I would let the car sit, and sit, and sit, not driven except for work purposes, I would have thought you were insane.
Reality, however, is different from fantasy. I work at home. I have young children. I take them with me when I leave the house. And they don’t like riding in the Camaro. Who can blame them, given the cramped cave that Chevrolet has the gall to call a back seat?
Comfort is definitely not king in the Camaro. Recaro performance seats are included with the 1LE Package, and while they do a phenomenal job of combating the effects of g-force on your body, after a few hours in the saddle, you’re going to be ready for a break. Not that you’ll want to be road-tripping in this car anyway, what with its 9.1 cubic-foot trunk.
Interior quality is decent, a step up from Camaros of the past. And the controls are absolutely brilliant. From the simple MyLink infotainment system to the deftly integrated temperature dials that double as center air-vent surrounds, Chevrolet has made the Camaro both stylish and easy to use with just the right touch of retro to remind drivers of the good old days.
My test car included three pieces of modern technology: a touchscreen infotainment system, a heads-up display, and a Performance Data Recorder.
Chevy’s infotainment system is called MyLink, and in my opinion it is one of the best in the business. The 8-inch touchscreen isn’t particularly large, but it employs appealing graphics and simple menus with large icons, and it's placed where it is easy to see and to use.
Beneath the screen is a stereo power and volume knob flanked by tuning buttons, which themselves are bookended by a Home button and a Back button. This makes it easy for the driver to fiddle with the radio without screwing around with the screen.
Though my test vehicle’s MyLink did not have navigation, it did include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, as well as OnStar subscription services with a short three-month initial trial period. Through OnStar, the Camaro supplies a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot along with automatic crash response, crisis assist, stolen-vehicle assistance, and other useful services.
The heads-up display is included in the 1LE Package, yet another feature that helps the Camaro’s driver focus on driving. And if you want to record your exploits in order to hone your skills or socially share your adventures, the Performance Data Recorder films the view out the windshield, overlays the video with performance metrics, and puts everything on an SD card for uploading to your computer.
Just make sure it’s not turned on when, well, you know.
Given that Camaro drivers are more likely to crash than, say, minivan drivers, how the car performs when the sheet metal and underlying structure get crumpled is important.
Although it fails to earn the top ratings in each individual test, the Camaro does fairly well overall, receiving a 5-star rating from the federal government (4-cylinder and V6 models only). In testing performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Camaro gets dinged for Acceptable, rather than Good, roof strength, keeping it from earning top marks in all collision-related assessments.
If you’re looking for a car that will automatically brake for you or automatically steer you away from danger when you’re not paying attention to your driving, this isn’t the right choice. A reversing camera is standard, and options include blind-spot warning with lane-change assist, a rear cross-traffic alert system, and rear parking-assist sensors.
What the Camaro does include is something called Teen Driver. If you’ve got teenage drivers in your household, and you actually allow them to use your Camaro, you can program specific vehicle attributes that are designed to encourage safe driving. These unique settings are paired to one of the key fobs, and when that fob is used with the car, the Teen Driver settings are activated. The system also spits out a report highlighting how the car was driven while it was away from home. So if your kid decides to try to paint some very expensive black lines on the local pavement using the rear tires, you’ll know about it.
Because the 1LE Package is available for the Camaro LS, you can, in theory, obtain track-ready performance in a 335-horsepower package for as little as $32,895, and it should return 20 mpg in combined driving. That’s impressive and might even leave enough money in your account to afford insurance and new tires.
My more powerful, more expensive, and less efficient test vehicle, on the other hand, certainly chips away at the Camaro 1LE’s value equation. However, perspective is absolutely necessary here. Think about what you can buy at this price that offers a similar level of performance.
Neither a Mustang Performance Package nor a Challenger Super Track Pak represents as serious an upgrade as the Camaro’s 1LE upgrade, though both are quite a bit more affordable.
Since the Camaro’s back seat is useless, you could instead choose a Nissan 370Z, but the NISMO version is gonna run nearly $43,000, and it still makes no more than 350 horsepower. That leaves the Audi TTS, BMW M2, Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400, or Mercedes-AMG C43, all of which start at more than $50,000.
So, in a rather twisted way, the Camaro SS 1LE is a cost-effective solution to going as fast as is possible on as little cash as is necessary. Just be sure to avoid the Krypton Green paint job in favor of a stealthier color, or the pile of speeding tickets could easily erode whatever value this car provides.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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