Enterprise's finest gets a true makeoverIt’s a fact that the full-sized American car enjoyed in the 50’s and 60’s are now only a distant memory.
It’s a fact that the full-sized American car enjoyed in the 50’s and 60’s are now only a distant memory. This memory has been kept alive by enthusiasts who’ve preserved their ancient land yachts and gather at local cruise nights across the city to relive a time when cars like the Fairline, Bel-Air, Thunderbird, Desoto and of course the Impala ruled the roads. The cars were massive, luxurious, eye-catching and glamorous. It was these full-sized American cars that people would aspire to own. The Impala is one of the very few surviving nameplates from this era, and its gradual fall from the forefront of the the glitz and glamour of the 50’s and 60’s to the back row of the rental car parking lot has been a rather sad affair. That said, with GM’s sort of rebirth over the last couple years, it has recently become clear to me that GM has once again begun building cars with quality and pride and I found the new 2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ to be no exception.
On its introduction in 1958 the Impala was defined by GM’s chief engineer, Ed Cole, as a “prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen”. From this point the nameplate has gone on to mean many different things to many different people over its 56 year history. It’s been the prestigious family hauler, the weekend warrior at the drag strip, the police car patrolling our streets and the rental car carrying our family home safe and sound. Sadly though, through this journey the Impala had become nothing more than a worn out workhorse and that couldn’t be any further from its original vision.
Enter the redesigned 2014 Impala, a car that has received a major overhaul and attitude adjustment. Starting with the exterior, the car is absolutely stunning. It has the kind of glamorous presence that a full-sized American car had hasn’t carried since the 1960’s. The Camaro inspired front with full LED lighting commands attention while the swooping roofline, 20 inch rims and polished accents give it a refined and elegant look. My fully loaded LTZ tester came in a gorgeous blue grey metallic and earned more compliments and looks than anything else I’ve driven this year. In fact, almost everywhere I went, someone would point out the car and compliment on its stunning looks – when was the last time that could be said about an Impala?
The rest of the car is no let down either, GM has finally got their interiors where they need to be and it’s greatly appreciated in this car. While the interior isn’t exactly on par with the likes of Jaguar and Mercedes, mostly due to some cheap plastic woodgrain and annoying chrome dash accents, it is a very nice place to be and has a few interesting little features. For instance with the push of a button the 8” in-dash display screen rises up to reveal a hidden cubby hole and USB port – the perfect place to keep an IPod. On that note, the optional Bose 11 speaker surround sound system is extremely crisp and clear, although lacking a little punch in the low range for my tastes. My only other gripe about the interior would be the gauge cluster, it’s not awful, but it’s very reminiscent of the “old GM” and just not up to par with the rest of the dash. The fully loaded $45,000 LTZ comes equipped with all the bells and whistles including a blind spot warning which I found helpful due to the large blind spots created by the swooping roofline. Other features included a heated steering wheel, panoramic sun-roof, navigation and a backup camera. Despite the features, $45,000 does seem a little steep for the big Chevy, but remove some of the gimmicks and the price does drop into the mid 30’s – much more palatable in my opinion.
What I found most impressive of all is just how comfortable the 2014 Impala is – my girlfriend couldn’t stop raving about how perfectly contoured the front seats were and rear seat passengers loved the huge amounts of head and legroom. Great seats alone are not enough and the Impala delivers an incredibly smooth quiet ride to complement those seats. While the Impala’s comfort makes it a perfect long distance hauler, it’s certainly not the right car for any kind of high performance driving. The soft suspension offers quite a bit of body roll and the light steering feels numb and unresponsive. But then again, the Impala has never been about handling or sporty driving dynamics. Going all the way back to its roots, the new Impala is about getting where you need to be in style and absolute comfort, not necessarily getting there the fastest.
While the handling dynamics may not lend themselves well to spirited driving, the engine certainly does. The 3.6L v6 with direct injection has been around for a few years and now and has proven itself to be a potent and reliable engine. The v6 pushes out 305 horsepower, which is more than enough to get the bulky Impala really moving. What impressed me most about this engine is just how smooth the power delivery is, passing and accelerating feels effortless. I must admit though, the fuel mileage was a little bit of a letdown, I averaged around 10.5L/100km in mixed driving with a relatively light foot. While not a dismal number it is a couple points higher than the Hyundai Santa Fe XL I drove a few weeks ago, which also had a V6 putting out similar power numbers, but it is a larger vehicle with all-wheel drive.
All of this just to say that GM is finally building a proper full-sized sedan again and that is a great way to honor a nameplate, such as the Impala, that has had such a colorful history. By bringing the Impala back to its roots, the designers and engineers at Chevrolet have really built a flagship car they can be proud of. The car truly does everything the typical driver would ask of it very well and while I have no doubt that it will be a hit with its typical market of fleet buyers and travelling salesmen, the challenge the Impala faces now is breaking out of its previous image to attract some more diverse buyers. I personally think that for a single car family who need a car that can handle just about anything or families with teenaged kids needing extra rear seating space, the Impala can be a prefect alternative to the popular crossovers.
2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ Gallery