SAN DIEGO, CA – Funny thing about the Chevrolet Impala.
As reverently as the folks at General Motors speak about the 45-year-old nameplate, it sure got short shrift for a lot of years, relegated to sun-baked rental-car lots and dusty corporate parking garages.
Hardly the romantic days of the 1960s, when the Impala genuinely was a flagship Chevrolet and the best-selling car in the U.S.
Well, forgive and forget, because the auto maker now brings to dealers a 10th-generation model with the sort of styling, technology and performance worthy of once again exhaling deeply while saying its name.
But to call the ’14 Impala a generational change from the current model sold mostly to fleet and commercial customers would be an understatement. It is instead a transformational change.
The ’14 Impala sheds a GM car architecture dating back to the first term of the Reagan Admin. in favor of a technologically sophisticated platform also underpinning flagship luxury sedans at the auto maker’s Cadillac and Buick divisions.
In other words, out with the leisure suit and in with the pinstripes.
During testing here of a top-of-the-line Impala with GM’s award-winning 3.6L gasoline direct injection V-6 engine and one of the auto maker’s latest infotainment systems, Chevy’s new flagship car feels comfortable, plenty powerful, chock full of easy-to-use gadgetry and, against the spotless blue skies of Southwest California, one of the most freshly styled automobiles on the road.
The high-output V-6 feels perfectly matched to the Impala. Mated to one of GM’s latest 6-speed transmissions, it provides a throaty dose of acceleration under a heavy foot, and we averaged between 19.9 mpg and 25.5 mpg (11.8-9.2 L/100 km) over a 170-mile (274-km) route of mixed driving conditions.
GM also will offer in the new Impala a pair of 4-cyl. engines, a 2.5L GDI arriving soon and a 2.4L GDI using the auto maker’s eAssist light-hybrid stop/start system by the end of the year.
GM made only V-6 models available for testing at this preview, and for good reason: The auto maker expects mid-level-trim models with the engine will account for the lion’s share of sales. That’s not surprising in this large-car segment.
The new Impala will not offer all-wheel drive, although other models sharing its platform do, because front-wheel drive dominates the segment.
But because large-car buyers want some degree of performance, the auto maker adds a rebound spring to the front struts to mitigate torque steer and a reinforced strut tower to stiffen the ride. Both the available 19-in. and 20-in. wheels and tires (18-in. come standard) rolled smoothly, and despite a bootful of throttle out of the corners torque steer never reared its ugly head.
The steering itself, a TRW-sourced belt-drive electronic power-steering system, leaves no particular impression. The system is designed to save fuel by drawing energy only when it’s being turned. While that’s good news, it’s also a bit light.
Overall, the Impala’s handling feels smaller and more light-footed than its 112-in. (284.5 cm) wheelbase and 3,800 lbs. (1,655 kg) might suggest.
A roomy, comfortable interior complements the Impala’s composed chassis. We tested a pair of well-equipped models: a volume LT-trim copy costing $36,125 and an LTZ range-topper stickering for $38,315. So, no, the Impala is not an inexpensive car.
But at these trim levels it receives some provocative standard equipment, such as Chevy’s latest MyLink Radio infotainment system with an 8-in. (20-cm) touchscreen, 10 airbags certain to make it a top performer in crash tests, and a nifty storage compartment concealed in the center stack.
The hidden storage area, located behind the touchscreen’s retractable faceplate, can be locked into what GM calls “Valet Mode,” an optional PIN-secured safety feature that also blocks access to contacts and other personal information in the MyLink system.
Drivers also can personalize the position of their MyLink touchscreen icons as well, much like a smartphone tablet, and choose from a variety of “skins” best matching their personality. Natural-voice recognition also comes to the unit for the first time, which basically understands commands no matter how garbled. It’s a difficult system to fool.
Other useful optional equipment includes full-speed-range cruise control, which worked spotlessly during our test drives, and a suite of safety systems including forward-collision, rear cross-traffic, lane-departure and side blindspot alerts.
The 8-way power seats with 4-way adjustable lumbar support were supportive and cushy enough for a nearly 4-hour stint behind the wheel. The Impala boasts generous shoulder and hip room, while rear legroom was ample enough for a rear passenger to kick his feet up on the B-pillar.
The interior styling ranks among the more expressive in the segment. It features flowing lines, as well as Chevy’s trademark cockpit feel, and thoughtful nuances such as armrests in the front doors turned slightly inward for better ergonomics. The new steering wheel is an absolute triumph.
Deeply contrasting dashboard and instrument-panel overlays seem a bit overdone, however, while IP gauges appear dated and the drab center console with its parts-bin shifter smacks of penny pinching.
Noise, vibration and harshness mitigation is outstanding, thanks to features such as an acoustically laminated windshield and side glass and generous applications of liquid sound-deadening materials throughout.
Exterior styling gets a thumbs-up. The grille treatment recalls the Chevy Camaro, a bit sinister with a loud and proud gold bowtie badge. Light-emitting-diode daytime running lamps give the Impala a dash of luxury. It was difficult to not grin with approval watching other Impalas in the rearview mirror.
Designers thankfully resisted nostalgia and instead played up the car’s long, low proportions. They do say sweeping curves in the rear fenders recall classic Impalas, but the ’14 model also closely resembles lines of the platform-sharing Buick LaCrosse.
Rear dual exhausts are framed in chrome and fully, cleanly integrated into the rear diffuser, while chrome attractively encloses the greenhouse and a strip of brightwork along the rocker panels underscores chrome Impala script.
A redesigned leaping Impala badge shines brightly on the C-pillar. Add optional 20-in., 15-spoke ultra-bright machined alloy wheels and the Impala glitters like a mirror ball under the California sun.
Final impressions of the Impala are of an attractive, quiet, comfortable car with a healthy dose of performance and enough luxury-like touches to make buyers feel like the smartest guy on the block. GM comes out looking good, too, giving one of Chevrolet’s most treasured but recently maligned nameplates the attention it deserves.
|Vehicle type||Front engine, FWD large car|
|Engine||3.6L gasoline direct-injection V-6|
|Power (SAE net)||305 @ 6,800 rpm|
|Torque||264 lb.-ft. (358 Nm) @ 5,300|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||3.7 X 3.37 in. (94 X 85.6 mm)|
|Wheelbase||111.7 in. (283.7 cm)|
|Overall length||201.3 in. (511.3 cm)|
|Overall width||73 in. (185.4 cm)|
|Overall height||58.9 in. (149.6 cm)|
|Curb weight||3,800 lbs. (1,724 kg)|
|Base price||$36,580 (LTZ)|
|Fuel economy||19-29 mpg city/hwy est. (12.4-8.1 L/100 km)|
|Competition||Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon, Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza|
|Powerful, efficient V-6||Overly light steering|
|Gobs of gadgetry, safety||It doesn’t come cheaply|
|Expressive exterior styling||Penny-pinched interior pieces|