Chevrolet's full-size sedan is relevant again for the first time in recent memory. But can it take on class heavyweights? We find out.Now in its tenth generation, the 2014 Chevrolet Impala will seek to put its most recent past - the darling of insurance adjusters and rental fleets - behind it and instead take its rightful place as the flagship of the Bowtie brand.
Fifty-six years young, the nameplate has been seen on everything from a sports cruiser (Impala SS) to full-sized rear-drive hot rods with Corvette-derived engines. Sadly, the current models ply their trade from the parking lots of Hertz and Avis. (Incidentally, the old Impala will live on for a while as the fleet-only Impala Limited).
But let's put the past aside and check out the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala.
It's all Greek to us
The Impala is built on General Motors' Epsilon II platform, which supports the Buick Lacrosse, Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XTS. And that's just counting GM vehicles for purchase in North America. With this global platform GM has the incentive to spread it out for as much return-on-investment as possible.
In many ways, the 2014 is the best looking Impala to date, although its lines aren't that different from rivals like the Toyota Avalon and Ford Taurus. Do designers from different manufacturers vacation together?
Sculpted sides with crisp character lines help to define the Impala in a much better fashion than just a slab-sided panel would. Additionally, the tire and wheel combinations look more proportional than the Impala's competition. Attention to detail is seen in the chromed hockey-stick device that surrounds the window glass in the D-pillar.
The details continue inside with the use of soft touch materials throughout. Our LTZ featured the full leather package with heated and ventilated seats, and enough cupholders to hold the biggest of Super Big Gulp cups, whether or not Mayor Bloomberg approves. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is festooned with buttons on both its face and backside.
Tasked with being the flagship for the brand (the Corvette is rightfully Chevrolet's halo car) entitles the bearer to certain privileges: Technology and bling. To that end, our LTZ tester featured adaptive cruise control, which can slow down or speed up to maintain proper distance, pre-charge the brakes for panic stops, and even bring the car to a complete stop. Sensors are located behind a cover that adds a touch of aero, as well as safety, to the Impala, which includes Duralife brake rotors that offer twice the life of standard rotors. Other touches for the high-zoot model included HID headlamps and LED daytime running lights, blind spot intervention and lane departure warning systems.
The Impala LTZ comes standard with Chevy's MyLink, infotainment, a generally easy-to-use system with less of a learning curve than that seen in many rivals.
In a nod to the typical Impala customer, the front seats offered good support but not much in the way of side bolstering (a bench seat is not offered). The rear seating area verges on cavernous with 39.8 inches of rear legroom, and can easily accommodate three adults. The center console is also equipped with a 110 volt AC outlet, which should be standard in all vehicles considering how connected society has become.
The latest Impala's crisper looks and full complement of features should go a long way toward flipping the current car's 70/30 fleet/consumer split.
The front-wheel-drive Impala will eventually be offered with three drivetrains, including a 2.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder base engine and an optional 2.4-liter four-cylinder with eAssist mild hybrid technology for added power and fuel savings. For now, GM has only let us behind the range-topping 3.6-liter V6-powered unit. Rated at 305 horsepower and 264 lb-ft. of torque, it hits 60 mph in a tick under 7 seconds while achieving an admirable 19/29 mpg on the EPA test.
Regardless of engine, all Impalas use a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Among the latest technologies is added soundproofing. The use of an acoustically laminated windshield, sound deadener, quiet carpet and isolated engine mounts all help make this Impala the quietest ever. Four-cylinder models will be outfitted with active noise cancellation in the Impala's cabin.
Power from our 3.6-liter equipped Impala impressed us during highway on ramp exercises when we really squeezed the accelerator. During normal, about town excursions, taller gears held sway making for slower, more moderated starts. There is a manual mode that is operated by putting the shift lever into the M position and then operating the gears by the toggle switch on the top of the shifter. It's awkward to use, but it's not something most drivers are likely to try out.
Our Impala LTZ proved well sorted on highways and back roads alike. The only time any noise intruded into the cockpit was on coarse road surfaces in the San Diego area.
We found steering had a fair amount of play on both sides of center, but GM engineers state this is what the intended customers will expect. We would like it tightened just a bit, but would not call it a deal-breaker. The twisties were handled very well.
Leftlane's bottom line
Chevrolet restores a proud name to a car that finally deserves to wear the Impala badge again.
It's not perfect, and can get a little cheeky price-wise when all the option boxes are checked. Still, it offers great functionality and comfort in a full-sized car. Our money would be on the sportier Dodge Charger, but if big car comfort is your goal, Impala is worth a serious look once again.
2014 Chevrolet Impala base price range $27,535 to $36,580.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.