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RECENTLY DRIVEN

2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ V6 

 

Chevrolet's new corporate grille, first seen on the Traverse, finds it way onto the front of the new Impala. GM is proud of the very precise hood fit. Bright trim pieces throughout the care are carefully conceived and faultlessly executed  

Car tested 2014 Chevrolet Impala
Body style Four-door sedan
Engine 3.6L-V6 (305 horsepower)
Transmission Six-speed automatic
Least expensive Impala  $28,445
Price as tested  $39,645 (base price of V6 LTZ model)

History
First introduced in 1958 as a trim option on the Bel-Air model, the Impala was in continuous production until 1990, when it was replaced by the Lumina. The Impala name returned from 1994 to 1996 as a high-performance niche model of the whale-like rear-wheel drive Caprice model. 

The Impala, this time based on GM's "W" body cars (Lumina, Grand Prix, Regal et al), returned as a 2000 model and replaced both the front-wheel drive Lumina and the rear-wheel drive Caprice. The 2000 model was rebodied and given a new interior for the 2006 model year and though no longer available to retail customers, will be assembled for fleet customers until the end of the 2014 model year.

The 2014 Impala is based on the Epsilon II architecture that underpins the LeCrosse and Regal from Buick and the Cadillac XTS, and is built alongside them on the same production line in Oshawa, Ontario.  

Competition
The biggest competitor for the previous iteration of the Impala was its showroom mate, the last-generation Malibu. More elegant, at least as roomy and cheaper, the old Malibu was more modern, better value and more attractive to private (non-fleet) buyers than the Impala that offered no tangible benefits but cost money.. 

Chevrolet may have thought the old Impala competed in a class higher than it did, but in reality, the public did not rank it higher than mainstream mid-size cars like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Chevrolet sites the big, mainstream- brand luxury cars like the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon as key competitors. Chevrolet's task is to get buyers to look at the Impala in the same market terms as it does. 

Styling
With deep side scallops and numerous strong accent lines, the Impala's styling could look busy, but its lines manage to convey a feeling of strength and movement, and help to avoid a bland anodyne appearance that could be a factor on a car this massive with unadorned flanks. The bright trim, with varying widths and interesting tapers, is particularly well done and reflects a lot of painstaking attention to detail. The hood, which is set into, not overlapping surrounding panels, is very precisely fitted and the general panel fit is very good, as is the paint work. The Impala is quite aerodynamic, with the four-cylinder models achieving a .296 co-efficient of drag. Chevrolet has referenced the super-clean 1965 Impala when talking about the 2014 model. While the new car lacks the breathtaking visual purity of the 1965 model, it does reflect the serious efforts of an organization that seems to have found its feet and is moving ahead after decades in the wilderness.  

High-end LTZ model has a bright-finished spear inhabiting the deep cove in the body side. The Impala's design is a symphony of lines that convey strength and movement; somehow avoiding looking busy   

Performance
The Impala's direct-injected, twin-cam V6 lays down a strong, flexible stream of power from idle to the redline, accompanied by a soundtrack than runs from near silence to a pleasing melodic snarl when extended.

Like a faithful servant, the Impala's six-speed automatic transmission operates discreetly in background, upshifting seamlessly and downshifting promptly with a gentle prod on the gas pedal, making its presence felt only by the lack of drama its operation conveys.  

The six-speed automatic is standard regardless of which engine powers the Impala. The 3.6L and a 195 horsepower 2.5L four will power the bulk of Impalas in equal numbers. With active noise cancellation measures, the 2.5L is, according to Chevrolet, as refined as the 3.6L V6. With 110 fewer horsepower, it will be interesting to see whether the 2.5L four will furnish the type of acceleration buyers in this segment expect. GM's eAssist hybrid, incapable of running in a pure electric mode, is available, but is priced higher than the stronger 2.5L four. 

Unlike the low effort, feedback-free early electric power steering systems, the electric power assistance in the 2014 Impala is a delight. With reassuring heft, quick, but not nervous responses, excellent highway stability and even some road feel, the steering in the new Impala is just plain good. 

GM's Epsilon II architecture (seen in the Regal and LaCrosse from Buick and the Cadillac XTS), has, with a number of enhancements such as stiffer suspension mounting points, provides a sturdy platform for the new Impala's suspension. With MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear, the Impala's suspension specifications read like those of dozens of other cars. However, with good turn-in, little noticeable lean in corners, unflappable highway stability and an absorbent ride devoid of any trace of wallow, the Impala provides the kind of reassuring steadiness and cosseting ride its intended buyers will find most pleasing.

Various sound-abatement measures, including extra thick glass in the windshield and front windows, triple door seals, various foam-filled body cavities acoustic mats, has resulted in a remarkably serene cabin environment. The clunking rear suspension which cursed various versions of the Epsilon I platform, seems to have been banished from the updated version of the architecture.  

Speaking of sound, the name-brand audio system in the APA's LTZ test car was massively powerful and capable of delivering distortion-free sound, but its lack of adjustability rendered a sound quality too muddy for some drivers to derive any pleasure from.

Impala drivers enjoy good visibility to the front and generally, to the sides. However, a high trunk line and small rear window makes lane changes in close quarters more angst-inducing than they should be and vision for reversing is such that a backup camera borders on necessary equipment. 

Interior
Compared with its predecessor, the Cobalt, the elegant, luxuriously-appointed and carefully constructed cabin of the current Chevrolet Cruze was a revelation when that car debuted as a 2011 model. The interior of the 2014 Impala is, when viewed against that of its predecessor, an upgrade of a similar magnitude. 

The driver faces a wildly-shaped gauge nacelle, which contains the crisply-marked main instruments and crystal-clear trip-computer readouts. This, in turn, is topped by a gently-arced hood under which the fuel and temperature gauges rest.

The dashboard itself is a dramatic piece of sculpture that flows toward the driver but does not intrude upon the space for front passengers. While some controls (like the audio system tone settings) force drivers to consult the navigation screen, most climate and audio functions can be manipulated by straightforward dashboard controls. The navigation screen glides upward electrically to reveal a large storage compartment with a USB port. Chevrolet notes that a "valet" mode in the new Impala locks the storage compartment and also blocks access to information like the navigation history and phone contacts stored in the computer system of the car. 

Aside from the unconvincing fake wood on our LTZ test car, copious soft-touch surfaces, matte finishes, French stitching and lustrous faux-alloy highlights make for a very luxurious cabin. The LTZ's leather upholstery with contrast stitching is very attractive as is the vinyl with mock suede seating combination on the LT variant.

The large, supportive front seats are very comfortable and succeed in properly locating those riding in front without pinching them. Even the tallest front occupants in the Impala should find ample legroom. The proper height seat cushion, comfortably raked backrest, thick padding and generous legroom pamper rear seat passengers.

Despite being a very early production car, the Impala was carefully assembled, with no detectable squeaks, rattles or rustling trim noises. 

In Impala tradition, the trunk of the new car is enormous. It is not only wide and long, it is also very tall inside. While conventional gooseneck hinges are used, they glide in designated channels and will not damage luggage as the trunk is closed.   

Wildly-shaped gauge nacelle, which contains the main instruments and crisp trip-computer readouts, is topped by a gentle arc  under which the fuel and temperature gauges rest  

Big touch-sceen is part of Chevrolet's new MyLink interface system. The screen, which can glide upward electrically, covers a large storage bin that contains a USB port  

Like the exterior, there is a lot going on on the Impala's dashboard but it succeeds in looking dramatic rather than busy  

The new Impala is a big car that delivers big room while taking up little more road space than its less spacious predecessor  

A massive trunk is a traditional Impala virtue, and the long, wide and very tall luggage locker in the new Impala doesn't disappoint 

Pricing
The four-cylinder only 2.5L Impala LS bears a $28,445 MSRP, slightly cheaper than the least expensive (V6) 2013 model, and will, according to Chevrolet, account for 20 percent of total sales. The LT and LTZ will be offered with the 2.5L four and 3.6L V6. Chevrolet expects that 75 percent of buyers will pick the LT trim level, which begins at $31,445 in 2.5L form, with the LTZ enticing only five percent of total sales.

Roughly 1000 of the 8000 odd Impalas delivered in Canada in 2012 were purchased by private buyers, with the balance absorbed by fleet customers. Chevrolet expects similar sales results for the new Impala but predicts fleet sales to decline to 30 percent, and more profitable private sales to increase to 70 percent. Chevrolet promises aggressive finance and lease incentives to make for tempting monthly payment figures for Impala intenders.   

Chevrolet sites the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon as key competitors.   

Reliability
The reliability of the 2014 is unknown. The related Buick LaCrosse is unrated for reliability due to limited sales. The 3.6L V6 suffered from stretched timing chains early in its life and it is uncertain whether the problem has been rectified. GM cars often suffer from steering, suspension and electrical faults as they age. Chevrolet maintains that its new Duralife brake rotors eliminate rotor rusting, lessen brake shudder and will increase rotor durability up to around 120,000 kilometres. The Impala is covered by a three year/60,000 km bumper to bumper warranty, with five years/160,000 km on the powertrain. 

Safety
Passive safety is taken care of by ten airbags, including knee airbags and side airbags for rear outboard riders. A full suite of safety features such as a forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert and full speed adaptive cruise control with active collision mitigation braking, is optional. 

The Impala has not yet been crash tested, but the related Buick LaCrosse was rated Good in the frontal, side, rear and roof strength tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and earned a five-star overall rating in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The rear styling treatment of the Impala is a bit generic but nevertheless tasteful

Named after an African antelope, the Impala has worn a version of this antelope-in-motion logo ever since the model debuted in 1958

Summary
After decades of producing cars that appeared to have been designed for a plethora of reasons other than appealing to private consumers, GM is back in the consumer products game. The appointment of Bob Lutz as GM's style czar in 2001 started a process that brought some beacons of hope, like the Saturn Aura, the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu and the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, to the market, but their execution betrayed a lack of final development that undermined their initial promise. Despite the trauma of its bankruptcy, GM did some of its best work during its fiscal fall from grace and the excellence of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and the wizardry of the Chevrolet Volt showed that GM had turned a corner.  

For decades, reviewers and consumers have been giving GM products qualified praise. The products were generally just good enough, but there was always some residual disappointment that the cars could have been much better had someone in management just said "not good enough" and sent the team shepherding the car through its development back to the drawing board until the car was right. The Cruze and Volt were the first of GM's "no excuses" cars and the Impala continues in that vein as an attractive, roomy, well-built car that is a pleasure to drive.

Chevrolet's biggest hurdle with the new Impala is not convincing those who drive it that it is a great car, but convincing people they should look at it, which will be a profound task given the legacy of mediocrity the Impala name currently represents.