EAGLE LAKE, ON – Perhaps you’re from a generation that remembers the Impala as the pinnacle of the Chevrolet lineup. For many others, however, the Impala is now recognized more as a utilitarian model, typically seeing service as a rental option, taxi, company car or police cruiser.
In fact, 70% of all Impala sales lately have been to fleet buyers, with retail consumers relegated to minority status.
That’s about to change as Chevrolet aims to restore the Impala as the flagship of its lineup. The 2014 Impala, the 10th generation of this iconic nameplate, has been given a total makeover, creating a truly premium model that Chevy hopes will skew the buyer trend heavily – about 70 percent – toward regular folks like you and me.
It had cachet. It was a model Chevy Biscayne and BelAir owners could aspire to as their level of affluence increased.
Time changes things, however, and over the ensuing decades and vehicle redesigns, the Impala lost its prestigious status.
While designers have avoided tapping into retro cues, they have created styling that sets this Impala apart like the original.
The exterior has a beautiful, sweeping shape with a definite athletic flavor. The long, sloping hood has hints, from some angles, of its Camaro stablemate. The sleek shape of the front end sweeps back to a chunky tail, creating a somewhat saucy stance that suggests this is not just another mundane family sedan.
The interior, too, has been given a total makeover with stunning results. The sweeping twin cockpit layout enhances the cabin’s spacious feel, with plenty of soft-touch materials accented with shiny faux wood and metal.
Generous use of contrasting stitching invokes a sense of richness and handcrafted quality. The mid-trim level LT, especially, is pleasantly surprising with a blend of leatherette and Ultrasuede seat coverings, creating a premium look and feel one would normally find in the top-rung model.
Built on the same extended global Epsilon platform as the Cadillac XTS and Buick LaCrosse, Chevy has put the added 30.5 millimetres of wheelbase (2,837mm overall), compared to the 2013 Impala, to good use.
Front legroom has been increased 89 mm to 1,163, while rear legroom is 55.9 mm greater than the current Impala – 1,011 mm overall. Trunk space, too, is a bit greater, with a total of 532 litres – an increase of 5.7 litres.
This new Impala is as quiet as a church. In fact, Chevy engineers say this is the quietest product they’ve ever built.
It has been fitted with noise-reducing acoustic laminated glass in the windshield and front side glass; the doors are triple sealed; acoustic baffles have been installed between the inner and outer quarter panels and body cavities have been filled with acoustic foam.
Improved aerodynamics, with a 14% better coefficient of drag than the previous generation, also contribute to the quietness.
Such features as a new front air dam, wind blockers in front of the tires and side mirrors, tail lamps and rear decklid, all tuned in the wind tunnel for reduced drag, enable this Impala to cut cleanly – and more efficiently – through the air.
Four-cylinder variants also gain underbody panels and a shutter grille up front to boost their aerodynamic effectiveness. An active noise cancellation system has been also installed on all four-cylinder models to eliminate engine noise in the cabin.
Comfort and safety
During a media drive over two days, I found the interior noise level was indeed minimal, with little intrusion from outside sources. Combine that quietness with the spacious, comfy accommodations and you have a premium-grade sedan ideally suited to long hauls with minimal fatigue or discomfort for the occupants.
They also can enjoy those drives with the reassurance this Impala has a full complement of safety features, including 10 airbags and such available technological features as forward collision alert, lane departure and blind-spot alert systems, rear park assist and rearview camera, adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation braking.
Three trim levels
The Impala is available in three trim levels – the LS, mid-trim LT and premium LTZ.
Pricing on the base model starts at $28,445, which is just $145 more than the previous model but includes four more airbags, 18-inch wheels (up from 16-inch rims), premium cloth seats with eight-way power adjustment (versus four-way manual) for the driver, a 4.2-inch colour infotainment display with USB port, satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
A new 195-horsepower, 2.5-litre Ecotec four-cylinder engine is standard and a six-speed Hydra-Matic transmission is the only gearbox offered across the lineup.
That pricing compares favourably with such key competitors as the Ford Taurus SE ($28,799) and Dodge Charger SE ($29,995) and even with the addition of $1,550 for shipping, the new Impala still comes in at a tick below $30k.
The mid-range LT model, which Chevy marketers expect will account for 75% of Impala sales, starts at $31,445 with the 2.5-litre four; opting for the 3.6-litre V-6 bumps the starting price to $32,945.
The LTZ is also available with either the four-cylinder ($36,445) or the six ($39,645) and adds such amenities as heated leather seats with power adjustment for both driver and passenger, keyless access and start, several safety technology upgrades, 19-inch wheels and remote start.
On the road
I had the opportunity to drive only the 3.6-litre direct injection V-6, though I was able to check it out in both the LT and LTZ trimmings.
Its 305 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque – making it the most powerful naturally aspirated V-6 in the segment – put a satisfying degree of perkiness in this Impala’s step.
It accelerated smoothly from a standstill – GM says it’s rated at 6.8 seconds from 0-to-96 km/h – and there was more than enough grunt in reserve when more push was needed to pass.
The MacPherson strut suspension up front and four-link rear setup provided a comfortable ride with a sufficient stiffness to minimize any hint of body roll when pushed at speed through curves.
Although it may not quite approach the dynamics of a true sport sedan, this new Impala certainly was a far cry from the floaty, barge-like feel of initial generations.
While the V6-powered Impala is currently rolling off the GM assembly line in Oshawa, production of the 2.5-litre Impala isn’t slated to start until June.
A 2.4-litre four-cylinder with GM’s eAssist electric boost will be introduced later this year. This engine package combines for a total output of 182 horsepower will consuming fuel at an estimated rate of 5.6 litres/100 km on the highway.
The 2.5-litre four with intake valve lift control is rated at 6.3 L/100 km in highway driving, 9.9 in the city. The V-6 has a consumption rating of 6.9 highway, 11.1 city – in my drive of about 525 km, I noted a combined consumption rate of 8.4 L/100 km.
The 2014 Impala is beautiful step forward, a premium sedan that returns this iconic Chevrolet nameplate to its position as the best of the brand.