SAN DIEGO - My brother called me a few years ago from a rental car counter. He, along with four co-workers, was trying to figure out which car would hold them all, along with their luggage. Among the candidates offered, only one was a full-size car: a Chevrolet Impala.
I told him to go for it.
They were amazed that this unassuming, drab gray sedan swallowed them and their luggage so easily. What it lacked in glamour, it made up for in utility. But it never garnered their respect.
This might explain why 70 percent of all 2012 Impalas were sold to fleets, not consumers. If you don't find an Impala waiting at the rental car counter, most likely you'll see one with a business logo on its door.
With the 2014 model on sale this month, Chevrolet is hoping to change that. The tenth-generation Impala has a new design, and its engineers worked to ensure that it was worthy of being Chevrolet's flagship sedan.
First, company planners decided that the Impala would be offered only with front-wheel drive. This saved weight, which was used in other parts of the vehicle to enhance performance. Next, designers and engineers went to work on the sort of details you may never notice. The doors, for example, use laminated side glass and triple door seals to reduce noise.
For 2014, there's a greater attention to detail, such as the stitching that accents the seats or the optional ambient lighting. Interior ambience does vary somewhat depending on model. The front seats are wide and flat, but prove comfortably supportive, even on long hauls. The sizable cabin is more spacious than last year's; so, too, is the trunk.
While most of the Impala's instrument panel is recessed to enhance cabin space, the center stack thrusts rearward toward the driver, making it easier to reach. It's anchored by a standard 4.5-inch screen for audio functions. Many buyers, however, are expected to choose the optional Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system, which controls navigation and Bluetooth audio streaming, among other features. It comes with an 8-inch touch screen.
Initially, all Impalas will come with a 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 provides strong performance, with GM estimating a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds. Like on many recent new GM vehicles, the interior was impressively quiet, even at high speed.
In the final analysis, it's hard not to be impressed by the 2014 Impala, a car that does everything a full-size car should.
2014 CHEVROLET IMPALA
BASE PRICE: $26,725
PRICE AS TESTED: Not available
ENGINE: 3.6-liter DOHC V-6
POWER: 305 horsepower
WHEELBASE: 111.7 inches
LENGTH: 201.3 inches
WEIGHT: 3,800 pounds
CARGO SPACE: 18.8 cubic feet
0-60 MPH: 6.8 seconds
BOTTOM LINE: A major upgrade for Chevy's flagship car.