Test Drive: New Chevy Impala rekindles big sedan magic

Test Drive: New Chevy Impala rekindles big sedan magic

June 1st, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The completely redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Impala has dramatic new sheet metal to appeal to an owner's sense of style. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

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FAST FACTS

Model: 2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ V-6

Exterior color: White Diamond Tri-coat

Interior color: Jet Black

Engine: 3.6-liter, V-6

Horsepower: 305

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 29 mpg highway, 19 mpg city

Dealer: Integrity Chevrolet

Price (as tested): $40,105

The upscale interior of the new Impala would look at home in a Buick or even a Cadillac.

Photo by Mark Kennedy

In the wild, an impala is a medium-sized African antelope. In the car world, the Impala is a full-sized Chevrolet, which has just undergone its most important face-lift in decades.

Interestingly, the most active age for new car purchases today is the 55- to 64-year-old demographic -- basically the center cut of the baby boom generation.

People in that age group -- including me -- remember the Impala of the 1960s, which had a hood as big as a king-size mattress. The car was first introduced in 1958, and has been through 10 redesigns in 55 years.

The Detroit Free Press reported this week that 55- to 64-year-olds are "15 times more likely to buy new vehicles than 18- to 24-year-olds."

Wow.

So much for all that marketing to kids. Turns out they don't have much purchasing power, and fewer and fewer even have a driver's license.

Younger car-buyers with children drift toward SUVs, but there's still a major market segment for full-size cars such as the Impala, the Ford Taurus, the Toyota Avalon and the Chrysler 300.

COMFORT AND STYLING

The common denominator in today's full-size sedans is an emphasis on striking styling, technology and a plush ride. The 2014 Impala taps each of those notes.

Our test vehicle, a top-tier LTZ V-6 from Integrity Chevrolet, has a White Diamond Tricoat paint job, a pearlescent $795 option that shows off the car's dramatic lines. Liberal use of chrome exterior accents, including door handle insets and door strips, give the car a jewel-like appearance. There's a gold Chevy bowtie emblem on the front grille, and galloping Impala badges on the c-pillars.

The lines of the new Impala feature flared rear-wheel panels, a sculpted hood and a high belt-line that ties the front two-thirds of the car together. All things considered, the Impala is a big improvement over the pedestrian design of the previous model, which often showed up in rental fleets. The new Impala is more of a trophy car with enough similarities to the brilliant Cadillac XTS to make it a forehead-slapping value.

Inside, the Impala has GM's familiar double-cockpit design, with flourishes of rich wood trim and a padded dash. An 8-inch LED screen houses GM's MyLink system, a user-friendly phone, navigation and stereo interface. Sound pumps through a Bose head unit and 11 speakers. The premium audio package adds about $700 to the $40,105 bottom line. (Base, four-cylinder models, which will arrived at dealerships this summer, start at about $26,000.)

One of the coolest features of the Impala is a lift button that raises the LED screen to reveal a secret compartment for valuables. Front seats are both heated and ventilated, which comes in handy on with the Jet Black leather option. An oversized sun roof spans the front and back seats, giving the cabin a panoramic sky view.

The Impala has all the whiz-bang safety features that GM showcases these days, including forward collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic sensors, lane-departure warnings and a rear-view camera.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Our Impala test car came equipped with GM's excellent 3.6-liter V-6 engine, which makes 305 horsepower and propels the car 0-60 mph in about 6.8 seconds -- not neck-snapping power but stout. We came away thinking the six-cylinder engine is the right set-up for this car, unless gas mileage is your top priority. The V-6 gets 29 mpg highway and 19 mpg city.

Driving the Impala on Highway 153 in mid-afternoon, we were impressed with the car's ultra-light steering, which is sure to appeal to mature drivers. Sound-deadening materials throughout make this one of the quietest Chevrolets ever made. The transmission is a quiet-shifting six speed.

BOTTOM LINE

When rubbing your chin contemplating the new Impala, the thing that stands out is the cost-vs.-content equation. You can spend $10,000 to $20,000 more for a luxury nameplate with nearly the same features, but why would you?

Shift that money to your grandkids' college fund and everybody wins.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.