Chevrolet Impala — Return to glory

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Chevrolet Impala has been a star of the rental car fleets over the past decade, but that's not the way it was in 1958 when the Impala was first introduced as the Chevrolet "luxury" nameplate bringing a bit of Cadillac panache to the working man. Now Chevrolet returns to those glorious days of yesteryear with the all-new 2014 Impala, once again sharing a platform with the Cadillac – this time with the XTS.

It's noteworthy that Chevrolet has finally done a complete 180 degree turn in revitalizing the Impala with a head-turning contemporary design, a finely crafted interior, performance commensurate with a full-sized upscale sedan, and a myriad of available features.

The new Impala has rather stylish creases and folds including a character line that flows downward front to back and then rises over the rear wheels imparting a new and agreeable personality. Our well-outfitted 2LZ test car was stunningly set off with classy 19-inch aluminum wheels. The "new look" Chevy face with a large gold bowtie works well as does the rather traditional rear treatment set off in the V-6 model with a spoiler lip and two large exhaust ports.

The interior dual-cowl dashboard design and the scads of space available for passengers is as impressive as the exterior design. Chevrolet has designed an impressive amount of space for four adults, five in a pinch. Front seat room is generous, but the real eye opener is the rear-seat stretch out room. And head room, sacrificed in some new models by exotic designs, is in adequate supply in the Impala.

After one 120-mile non-stop jaunt, we found the front seats remained comfortable, no fidgeting necessary. Rear seat passengers, likewise, had no complaints. You might conclude that a car this large would offer a rear center-seat that is tolerably comfortable, but an unusually large center hump detracts from its usefulness.

Plenty of space has also been provide for cargo. The trunk measures a large 18.8 cubic feet and the rear seatbacks can be folded forward to increase storage space.

The acres of plastic that adorned the outgoing Impala are mostly — but not entirely — gone replaced by soft-touch materials and nice-looking and feeling cloth/suede, vinyl/suede or leather seats on a par with competing vehicles. The dashboard layout is attractive, gauges are easy to read and Chevrolet has provided numerous physical buttons and knobs for controlling audio and climate functions without going into the touchscreen, which measures a very useable eight inches.

Chevrolet's new MyLink infotainment menus are generally intuitive, especially for people who have previously used touchscreen controls, but may take a bit of book learning for others. One thing that dismayed us was how difficult it was to set radio presets.

Chevy not only has dialed traditional comfort into the interior, it has insured that ride is compliment and that returning Impala owners won't be turned off by a suspension that might be too stiff. The cabin remains composed — and remarkably quiet — even over broken and uneven pavement. Don't let the commendably soft ride fool you. We found the big sedan composed and under control on the stretch of winding rural blacktop we use for testing and comparison purposes. But this is no sports sedan, that's not its job. And steering remains big-sedan light relaying little information to the driver.

Impala is powered by a choice of two engines both mated to a six-speed automatic. The base is 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 195 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque. The up-level engine is a 3.6-liter 305-horsepower V-6. We did not drive the 4-cylinder. A mild hybrid version is planned for later this year.

We found the V-6 to be a stellar performer, capable of quickly moving the Impala to highway speeds. Reported 0 to 60 time is 6.2 seconds and 14.8 seconds at 96.2 mph in a quarter mile. Equally impressive, the Impala will panic stop from 60 mph in just 115 feet.

Both engines are relatively fuel efficient — the 4-cylinder is EPA rated at 21 mpg city and 31 highway and the V-6 at 19/29 on regular gas.

The Impala starts at a competitive $27,535 for the base LS. Mid-trim LT models begin at $29,785, meaning the Impala can be purchased relatively well equipped for less than 30 grand. The top trim LTZ, loaded up with many of the available features, starts at $34,555 and can be pushed into 40 grand territory if you enjoy checking off option blocks. Our well-outfitted 2LZ came in at $39,505 including $810 destination charge.

The outgoing Impala will continue to be sold to rental car fleets at least through the 2014 model year.

Base price: $27,535; as driven, $39,505
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 305 @ 6,800 rpm
Torque: 264 foot-pounds @ 5,200 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.7 inches
Length: 201.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,855 pounds
Turning circle: 38.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 18.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 highway, 19 city
0-60: 6.2 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Toyota Avalon

The Good
• Cutting-edge styling
• First-class interior
• Large passenger compartment
• Refined ride

The Bad
• MyLink can be distracting, hard to use

The Ugly
• Lacks steering feel