Friday, April 11, 2014


The 2014 Chevy Impala was completely reinvented. Epsilon bones shared with Buick’s LaCrosse replace the outgoing car’s so-called W-platform, and creased, scalloped, and chromed surfaces stand in for the W-car’s innocuous sheetmetal. The new look doesn’t have the bat-wing audacity of the second-gen 1959 model, but it at least taps into some of its excitement. A new powertrain portfolio includes two inline-fours (one of them with help from GM’s eAssist mild-hybrid setup) and the 3.6-liter V-6 tested here.
Classicists and other romantics will appreciate the enormity of this latest Impala’s interior. Since its resurrection in 2000, the Impala seemed like a bad optical illusion that got smaller when you opened the doors, but no more. It’s mammoth inside, and between the front and rear seats, there is a combined 5.7-inch increase in legroom over that in the last Impala—this within a wheelbase that is 1.2 inches longer. 

The front seat’s 45.8 inches of legroom are perhaps the most telling. With the driver’s seat all the way back, this six-foot, seven-inch author could barely reach the pedals, the first time that’s happened in hundreds of test cars. Even at that extreme, the rear seat remains perfectly livable for average-size adults. With the front seat adjusted for real people, even the abnormal can get comfortable in the back. As does Chevrolet’s Malibu, though, the Impala feels narrow, an impression only exacerbated by its obvious length. It actually is slightly narrower inside than its predecessor, and amorous teenagers will be disheartened to hear that a bench front seat is no longer available.

The driver’s bucket is nevertheless comfortable and is a far more appropriate perch from which to pilot the 2014 Impala. The car’s structure feels rock solid and imparts an unflappable feeling reinforced by surprisingly deft suspension tuning. Recent history had convinced us that Impalas are appliances, a conclusion that is no longer accurate. A 0.82-g lateral-acceleration number on the skidpad is pretty standard grip in this unexciting class, but that number doesn’t do justice to the way the Impala feels on its way there—or on a winding road. Wheel and body motions are controlled and disciplined but not abusive. The quick, progressive steering sets the standard for this segment without being disruptively twitchy or otherwise falling out of step with a mission that still includes serenity—but no longer tempts you to fall asleep. There’s an enthusiasm in this car that’s been missing from Impalas ever since the short-lived rear-drive SS bit it in 1996.There’s a bit of verve under the hood as well. 
Chevrolet claims it has the most powerful naturally aspirated six in the segment, and its 305 horsepower tops the 260 horses of that old Impala SS’s 5.7-liter V-8. The 3.6’s 264 lb-ft (predictably) lag behind the eight’s 330 lb-ft of grunt, but the V-6’s soundtrack barely does. This engine is also employed in rear-drive Cadillacs and Chevrolets, but engineering teams for those cars might think about adopting the different induction and exhaust setups of the transverse-mounted unit. The Impala has one of the best V-6 soundtracks anywhere in the business: deep and growly, with none of the discordant hum or harsh vibrations that afflict so many sixes. 

The V-6’s torque peak is high, but there’s enough power at lower revs and the engine is so linear that we hardly noticed. This segment doesn’t get too caught up in numbers, but the Impala’s 6.0-second 0-to-60 and 14.8-second quarter-mile times are among the leaders. The six-speed auto is quick and assertive with pleasantly punctuated shifts, but we can’t imagine who finds a rocker switch atop a shifter an enticing way to manually shift gears. Still, we were pleased to find anything at all in the Impala that enticed us. And we found plenty.

We are, however, divided on the new look. It has its good angles—we love the nose—and its overwrought lines. The Impala and the Malibu are adventurous designs, but they give the impression of having been shaped by people who might not even consider themselves artists. There’s no coherent aesthetic, just a mash-up of various cues and ideas without anything tying them together. Inside, the design is pleasing, but the fit and finish falls short of the standard of some competitors.

The 2014 Impala makes up for that with a comprehensive list of available equipment. Our 2LT (code for “mid-level with the big engine”) model was fitted with the LT Convenience package (a rearview camera with proximity sensors and remote start, $940), navigation ($1095), the Advanced Safety pack (a hyperactive forward-collision-warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitors, $890), the Premium Audio and Sport Wheels pack (an 11-speaker Bose stereo and aluminum 19-inchers, $1140), and premium seating (heated eight-way power fronts, $945). Its total of $35,770 is on par with the cost of similarly equipped competitors.

A brand’s faithful decrying new models as undeserving of storied names has become commonplace. The latest Impala turns that idea upside down. It’s not undeserving because it sucks the excitement out of an iconic nameplate. It’s undeserving because a car this good shouldn’t be saddled with the baggage of its immediate forebear.

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