It has been years in the making, but General Motors finally pushed the reset button on one of its most endearing brands. But will car shoppers warm to the Impala, or is all the attention on smaller mid-sized cars?
When it debuted for 1958, the Impala became synonymous with affordable luxury that conferred a measure of success and social status upon its owners. This at a time when premium-class cars were mostly homegrown and hierarchical branding was the rule; doctors and dentists drove Buicks; industry captains steered Cadillacs and nearly everyone else scraped together their monthly payments for one of the "low-priced three," as basic Fords, Chevys and Plymouths were called.
As the dinosaurs disappeared and the ice age receded, the Impala's role became less clearly defined, other than becoming the quintessential fleet-mobile. However the all-new 10th-generation Impala that's due to arrive this spring will have new purpose.
Chevrolet's enhanced flagship now shares the same platform with Cadillac's top-positioned XTS, but its appearance is far more broad-shouldered and defined than the Caddy. The grille makes a dramatic statement, with delicate horizontal bars extending across the upper and lower air intakes. The new Impala is similar in size to the outgoing version, but embodies Chevrolet's latest design "language" first viewed on the latest Traverse wagon.
There's more to admire inside with an impressive-looking gauge layout and control panel. The smaller fuel and temperature readouts are flanked by a clearly legible rev counter and speedometer. An available eight-inch (diagonal) touch-screen above the audio and ventilation provides access to the Impala's navigation, phone and infotainment systems. It also flips up to reveal a secret compartment for those items you wish concealed from prying eyes.
Borrowing from Cadillac's luxury playbook, the Impala features some serious cabin noise abatement, including active noise cancellation for four-cylinder Impalas. The system uses hidden microphones and a special control module to create opposing sound waves sent through the car's speakers that cancel out low-engine-speed droning. Special sound-absorbing glass and carpeting plus an engine "cradle" that's isolated from the passenger area also help keep things quiet.
The four-cylinder reference might shock diehard Impala fans that could have never imagined such an engine in a full-size sedan. Fact is there are two available: a base 195-horsepower 2.5-liter; and a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter "eAssist" powerplant. The latter works in tandem with a belt-driven, liquid-cooled 15-horsepower electric motor/generator (replacing the traditional alternator) that feeds off of a lithium-ion battery pack located behind the rear seat. There's also a stop/start system that kills the engine when the vehicle is stationary and then refires it when the brake is released.
Regenerative braking creates electricity while slowing down, which helps recharge the batteries. eAssist, which is offered in other GM sedans, gives the Impala a fuel-economy rating of 25 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway, compared to a 21/31 estimate for the base 2.5.
For maximum potency, a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 (which was the sole engine choice on the previous Impala) becomes optional for 2014.
A six-speed automatic transmission connects all three powerplants.
The base Impala LS, with an expected on-the-road list price in the vicinity of $27,000, includes the air/cruise/tilt basics plus 10 standard airbags, with the mid-grade LT significantly upping content levels. The LTZ will provide a full-on luxury experience with leather seats, power sunroof, navigation and other goodies. Impala buyers will also be offered a plethora of electronic safety systems designed to keep the car and its occupants out of harm's way.
Honestly, for Chevrolet, keeping the Impala in stock could prove challenging. GM's sculptors have fashioned an enticingly spacious family sedan, while the technical types have succeeded in reigning in fuel consumption. It's a far cry from 1958, but the idea of a big, comfortable road car really gets back to Impala's roots, without the thirst for fuel.
What you should know: 2014 Chevrolet Impala
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive full-size sedan
Engines (hp): 2.5-liter DOHC I4 (195); 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (182); 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (305)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: With the popularity of mid-size sedans, the full-size four-door market has become much thinner over the past decade. Still, cars such as the Impala are ideal for those requiring generous adult passenger space.
Points: All new model looks great; Engine options allow buyers to focus on fuel economy or performance; Interior styling and accommodations are top notch; Partial hybrid powertrain option not to be confused with more powerful tech from Toyota and Ford; No AWD option available; The promise of a quiet, comfortable ride will lure plenty of buyers.
Safety: Front airbags; front- /rear-side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags;
front-knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 21/31 (2.5);
Base price (incl. destination): $27,000 (est.)
Base price: $27,500
Looks good and a strong alternative to Impala. SHO version really flies.
Base price: $31,800
New-for-2013 model puts emphasis on power and luxury. Hybrid optional.
Base price: $31,000
Rear-, or all-wheel-drive and V6 or V8 choices provide plenty of versatility.