• BY DON SHERMAN

    The 2014 Impala is like a scarred and once-proud prizefighter that has been down on his luck but now re-enters the ring eyeing a big comeback, and it’s Chevy’s newest attraction. This 10th-generation edition of the bow-tie brand’s most enduring nameplate is born with effective fixes for its eight-year-old predecessor’s terminal character flaws. The new Impala’s mission is to rouse the snoozing large-car segment with its combination of envy-me exterior styling, modern underpinnings, and contemporary furnishings, while also honoring Chevy’s traditional value equation.

    The new Impala starts below $30,000 and ranges over $40,000 to challenge its two longstanding domestic rivals—the Dodge Charger and Ford Taurus—as well as three imports—the Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza (due later this year), and Toyota Avalon—vying for a share of this half-million-cars-per-year segment. There are three Impala trim levels, wheel sizes, and engines to choose from plus a few options arranged in a logical staircase. (Impala pricing info here.)

    To make the Impala a credible flagship, Chevy replaced the 20-plus-year-old W-platform with the long version of the Opel-designed Global Epsilon chassis. Designer John Cafaro led the team that blessed the exterior with evocative creases and folds, giving the Impala a large street presence in spite of only modest increases over the previous Impala’s basic dimensions. The goal was a shape as classic as that of the seminal ’58 Impala without plagiarizing ancient retro cues.

    Trumping the outgoing Impala’s anodyne looks was a snap. The tougher challenge was to bring contemporary vitality into this two-ton four-door sedan without snubbing essential creature comfort, composure, and entertainment necessities. After driving several early-production 3.6-liter V-6 Impalas over southern California hill and dale, we’re convinced that chief engineer Todd Pawlik’s team has largely succeeded. Agile turn-in, competent dynamics, smart steering, and poise are character traits new to the Impala.

    What’s more interesting is that, post-bankruptcy, GM engineers crafted a roadworthy Impala without expensive solutions to the usual ride, handling, roominess, and comfort challenges. Chevrolet didn’t use the special HiPer-strut front suspension employed in the Buick Regal GS, Buick LaCrosse, and Cadillac XTS. Instead of resorting to costly adaptive dampers, the front shocks are carefully tuned conventional twin-tube components. The multilink rear suspension bolts directly to the 111.7-inch-wheelbase (1.2 inches longer than before) unibody.

    Shrewdly tuned urethane jounce bumpers and rebound springs supplement relatively soft front coils to provide a plush ride while keeping body motion under control during aggressive maneuvers—at least on the smooth roads we drove in California. Hydraulic suspension bushings in key locations and anti-roll-bar rubbers fortified with metal inserts soften impact strikes without compromising the high lateral stiffness needed for capable cornering. Electrically assisted power steering helps fuel efficiency and provides quick and linear response with appropriate effort build-up but, alas, no real road feel.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

    PRICE AS TESTED: LS, $27,535; LT, $29,785; LTZ, $34,555

    ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve 2.4-liter inline-4, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft with AC induction electric motor, 15 hp, 79 lb-ft (combined peak output: 182 hp); DOHC 16-valve 2.5 inline-4, 196 hp, 186 lb-ft; DOHC 24-valve 3.6-liter V-6, 305 hp, 264 lb-ft

    TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 111.7 in

    Length: 201.3 in
    Width: 73.0 in Height: 58.9 in
    Curb weight (C/D est): 3600–3800 lb

    PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
    Zero to 60 mph: 6.6–8.7 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 15.2–16.7
    Top speed: 115–135 mph

    FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
    EPA city/highway driving: 19–25/29–35 mpg

    Continued…

  • BY DON SHERMAN

    The optional 3.6-liter aluminum V-6 makes an adequate 305 horsepower at 6800 rpm, winds to 7300 rpm when the six-speed automatic is locked in manual mode, and is expected to deliver an EPA-estimated 29 mpg in highway driving. (A missing essential: a redline on the tach.) Later this year, two four-cylinder engines—a 2.4-liter with eAssist mild hybridization and a base, 196-hp 2.5 four-banger (shared with Malibu) join the team to jump highway mileage over the 30-mpg hurdle and degrade accelerative might.

    To keep commotion at bay—more important for the four-cylinder versions, surely—there’s a generous allotment of acoustic laminated glass, triple door seals, and cavity baffles. We suspect this Impala is the quietest Chevy in history. The suite of safety gear is unmatched by current competitors. In addition to four-direction alerts, the options list offers full-range adaptive cruise control, automatic collision-avoiding brakes, a lane-departure warning, and a backup camera. A cabin loaded with 10 airbags is standard, as is a domed hood to protect hapless pedestrians.

    The long roof sweep, extended seat travel, and carved out front-bucket backrests yield limo-like legroom: a net gain of 5.7 inches over the 2013 Impala’s combined front and rear leg space. The front cabin has a proper dead pedal, well-sculpted three- and nine-o’clock wheel grip positions, and seats with ample lateral support. The back seat is geared more for quick adult trips to lunch or the links than to accommodate kids, so there’s no climate or entertainment controls back there and the hinged armrest doesn’t double as a storage bin. The backrests fold in 40/60 sections, but with an 18.8-cubic-foot trunk under the Impala’s high decklid, that configuration probably will be reserved for ski trips or Home Depot excursions. One item remaining on the engineers’ to-do list is to cover the unsightly front seat tracks that diminish rear-cabin ambiance.

    Learning from Ford’s MyFord Touch infotainment fiasco, Chevy proceeded cautiously with the first MyLink system it’s installed in the new Impala. The second generation of MyLink, its optional eight-inch touch screen provides a wealth of features, such as capacity for 10 Bluetooth devices and 1000 contacts; “natural” voice recognition; response to swipe, flick, click, and drag input gestures; and static movie-play capability. There are redundant knobs and steering-wheel buttons for entertainment and climate controls, high-res 3-D navigation mapping, and four distinct menu screen choices. Plus this wow feature: The screen rises out of the dash at the touch of a button to open a secret storage bin that can be locked shut and disabled by typing in a four-digit code.

    While the new Impala falls short of legitimate sports-sedan status—on purpose, because that’s the Chevy SS’s mission—it makes perfect sense for mature driving enthusiasts years from cashing in their cars for walkers. The logic of such shoppers may go something like this: Why splurge $70K on an Audi, Benz, or Lexus to impress the neighbors when the same money will buy an Impala and a second ride to keep the spouse mobile during his/her leisure years?

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

    PRICE AS TESTED: LS, $27,535; LT, $29,785; LTZ, $34,555

    ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve 2.4-liter inline-4, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft with AC induction electric motor, 15 hp, 79 lb-ft (combined peak output: 182 hp); DOHC 16-valve 2.5 inline-4, 196 hp, 186 lb-ft; DOHC 24-valve 3.6-liter V-6, 305 hp, 264 lb-ft

    TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 111.7 in

    Length: 201.3 in
    Width: 73.0 in Height: 58.9 in
    Curb weight (C/D est): 3600–3800 lb

    PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
    Zero to 60 mph: 6.6–8.7 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 15.2–16.7
    Top speed: 115–135 mph

    FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
    EPA city/highway driving: 19–25/29–35 mpg

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    By DON SHERMAN