2014 Chevy Impala sacrifices head room, visibility for style
If ever there were an Everyman's car, it would be the Chevrolet Impala.
The nameplate started in 1958, attached to a bathtub-like large automobile with curving trunk lines. It lasted only a year, when the styling gave way to the famous finned vehicles of 1959 and a few years beyond.
In 1964, the Impala became America's best-selling automobile with nearly 890,000 sales -- an astounding number that is difficult to imagine today. In 2012, the biggest selling car in the United States was the Toyota Camry, with a total of 404,886.
In recent years, however, the Impala skidded on a combination of a trend away from large toward midsize cars, a troubled auto industry brought on by the recession of 2008 and a general indifference toward the brand by General Motors.
Nevertheless, it retained a reservoir of good will that enabled Chevy dealers to sell 169,351 Impalas in 2012. But the bulk of them, around 70 percent, went to fleet operators like automobile rental companies.
That business is so lucrative that Chevrolet will continue the existing model strictly for fleet sales in 2014, calling it the Impala Limited.
But the public, which buys at retail, gets an all-new Impala that is startlingly different from the fleet car. With it, Chevrolet intends to flip the share to the point where seven out of ten Impalas will be of the all-new car.
As always, the new Impala is, by the government's definition, a large car. It is 16 feet 9 inches long with 105 cubic feet of passenger space and a cavernous, well-finished trunk of nearly 19 cubic feet. There's plenty of space for four people to stretch out in comfort.
However, it's not all good. The sleek styling, which from the side bears a passing resemblance to the Jaguar XJ, results in a sharply raked roofline that limits rear headroom and requires back seat passengers to duck low to get inside. There's also a giant floor hump -- surprising because the Impala is a front-wheel-drive car -- and a hard seat cushion that punishes anybody brave enough to sit in the center rear.
Visibility to the front and sides is fine. But the rear window has the look of a machine gun slot in a World War II bunker in Normandy, which gets even smaller if you raise the rear headrests. Fat pillars on each side -- called C pillars in the industry -- severely restrict vision to the rear quarters, so it's important to adjust the outside mirrors to eliminate blind spots. For those who don't know how or refuse to do that, a blind spot warning system is available.
Overall, however, interior comfort is first cabin. Front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the instruments and controls are easy to read and use. A clever innovation is a "valet" compartment behind the touch screen. It opens at the touch of a button and locks away valuables like a hotel safe, also cloaking any personal information in the Impala's onboard memory.
There are three engines, all of which connect to six-speed automatic transmissions with manual shift modes: 196-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, and an economy oriented 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter mild hybrid four-cylinder that uses a small electric motor to provide a boost of power. The last has an EPA city/highway fuel consumption rating of 25/35 mpg while the other four-cylinder version checks in at 21/31 mpg.
Only the V6 model, with a 19/29 rating, was available for testing at the introduction, obviously a case of putting your best performer forward.
On the road, the tested Impala is a spirited runner with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time of 6.8 seconds, according to Chevrolet. It gives up some ride comfort for improved handling, although the ride would only bother people who like pillow-soft comfort.
Though short of sports sedan capabilities, the Impala takes a solid set through curves, abetted by the relatively stiff suspension system. The electric power steering has a firm straight-line feel, though it gets a trifle lazy in turning maneuvers.
The test car was an LT model with a starting price of $30,760. Options included Chevrolet's MyLink navigation, communications and entertainment systems; rear cross traffic, lane departure and blind spot warning systems; 19-inch alloy wheels; ultra-suede cloth upholstery; rearview camera, and remote starting. That elevated the price to $35,770.
A loaded LTZ model with adaptive cruise control, leather upholstery, 20-inch wheels and a Bose audio system had a bottom line sticker of $39,510.
Model: 2014 Chevrolet Impala LT four-door sedan.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 305 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 105/19 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,800 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 19/29 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $30,760.
Price as tested: $35,770.