Forget what you know about the Chevrolet Impala. Originally launched as a 1958 model, the Impala name boasts a long, storied history. Though of late it was often dismissed as a mediocre rental car, the Impala is back with a vengeance, sporting a sophisticated design, high-quality interior and spot-on driving dynamics.
Chevrolet is now calling the five-passenger Impala a full-size sedan, though it was previously classified as a midsize. Surprisingly stylish looks grab you from the first glance, and a high-quality interior with many thoughtful touches keep driver and passengers happy in the cabin.
The 2014 Chevrolet Impala is bigger, quieter and more efficient than before. Its wheelbase has been stretched by a little more than an inch, yet it offers nearly six more inches in combined front and rear legroom. The 2014 Impala is front-wheel drive and shares GM's Epsilon platform with the Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Malibu.
Three engine choices range from powerful to practical. General Motors' familiar direct injection 3.6-liter V6 is the beefiest of the bunch, with 305 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. A 2.5-liter Ecotec inline-4 makes 196 hp and 145 lb.-ft., while a 2.4-liter inline-4 with GM's eAssist mild hybrid system is good for 182 hp and 172 lb.-ft. All variants use GM's 6-speed Hydra-Matic transmission. The V6 will roll off the assembly line first, followed 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, with the eAssist version expected a few months after that.
EPA fuel economy ratings for the V6 are 19/29 mpg City/Highway. EPA fuel economy estimates for the four-cylinders were unofficial at press time, but Chevrolet expected the 2.5-liter to achieve 21/31 mpg city/highway, and the 2.4-liter with eAssist to yield 25/35 mpg. By way of comparison, the old Impala got an EPA-estimated 18/29 mpg with its standard 3.5-liter V6 and 17/27 mpg with the bigger, 3.9-liter V6.
Better aerodynamics help the 2014 Impala with fuel economy, in part aided by new wind blockers positioned in front of the tires, which look like mud flaps put on the wrong way. Four-cylinder models get active aero shutter grille and underbody aero panels to make the 2014 Impala even more slippery. Efficiency is aided by new electric power steering that draws energy only when the steering wheel is turned.
A quiet ride is one of the 2014 Impala's strong suits. Acoustic glass in the front side windows, extra foam in the body, and additional sound deadening material in the floor pan and trunk help to keep occupants feeling like they're in their own little bubble.
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and brake assist come standard on all models, and rotors have a special coating that resist rust, which not only keep them shiny, but also reduce shudder under braking and, according to Chevrolet, doubles the life expectancy of the rotor to 80,000 miles.
Several electronic safety systems are optional on mid-range Impala LT models and standard on Impala LTZ trims, including forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert and rear park assist. Top-of-the-line Impala LTZ trims with the V6 engine can also be equipped with full-range adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation braking and brake pre-fill. With this technology, the Impala will automatically keep a safe distance from the car in front while cruising, and will slow down or even stop itself if a collision is imminent.
Chevrolet hopes the Impala will end up in more driveways, not just in rental car lots. Nearly 75 percent of last-generation Impalas were attributed to fleet (mostly rental car) sales.
Although competitors to the outgoing iteration of the Impala were midsize sedans such as the Toyota Camry, the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala competes with full-size flagship sedans including the Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera.
Chevrolet Impala LS 2.5L ($27,535); Impala LT 2.5L ($29,785); Impala LT V6 ($30,760); LTZ 2.5L ($34,555); LTZ V6 ($36,580); Impala 2.4 eAssist
The design of the 2014 Impala is nothing like Chevrolet's done before. It oozes sophistication and quality, attributes that don't easily come to mind with the outgoing generation. The front grille is stretched horizontally, giving it a broad, unique look while keeping Chevrolet's signature dual-port look. Round headlamp bezels are evocative of German luxury cars. Fog lamp housings are short and wide, nearly mimicking the shape of the headlamp housings above.
From the side, a high, deep belt line cuts straight across from the top of the wraparound headlamp housing to the rear door handle. A sharp arcing character line starts in the rear door, flows high over the rear fender, and straight into the top of the rear tail lamp lens. Bright trim around windows and across rocker panels on the LTZ model add class, and optional 20-inch wheels give the Impala an almost show car-like quality. Standard 18-inch wheels on LT models and 19-inch alloys on LTZs still look good, if not quite as impressive.
The wide, horizontal theme continues in back. Tail lamps start tall on the outer edges and narrow as they point inward. They have a raised detail that are not only visually interesting, but serve as aerodynamic aids to keep air flowing off the vehicle, rather than around it. Small touches like these help with fuel economy and with reducing wind noise in the cabin. The rear bumper is big and beefy, and exposed exhaust tips on LTZ models have a chrome-like finish with an almost rectangular shape.
The cabin of the 2014 Impala is attractive and comfortable, with very good fit and finish and materials quality.
The center stack is well laid out and has many controls without using an overwhelming number of buttons. Climate control knobs are large and easy to see, with the temperature digitally displayed inside the large circular dials.
There's lots of storage space for drinks, accessories and snacks. A little cubby in front of the center console storage fits a mobile phone. Door pockets will fit an average-sized water bottle perfectly.
Seats are roomy, supportive and comfortable. Front passengers have lots of knee and legroom thanks to a pushed-back glove compartment and instrument panel. Front legroom is 45.8 inches, a 3.5-inch increase over the old Impala. Concave doors give more space, sometimes too much depending on the size of the driver or passenger. Smaller drivers might not be able to reach the armrests with their hands properly on the steering wheel.
Rear passengers have plenty of space, too. Our 6-foot, 2-inch passenger was comfortable in back, and had a couple of inches of headroom to spare. Concave seatbacks reduce cramping around the knee and leg area, and foot room was adequate. Legroom measures 39.8 inches, 2.2 inches more than the old car.
Although there's more head- and legroom in the 2014 Impala, hip room has been reduced by a couple of inches in the front, and more than three inches in the rear. Still, our tall passengers didn't complain.
The trunk of the Impala is quite large, measuring 18.8 cubic feet, only a smidge more than the previous Impala. The deck sits quite high, which makes for a shallower opening, but also makes it easier to load and unload items.
Impala LTZ models can be equipped with an optional sunroof. We like that the sunroof cover is opaque, unlike the translucent, perforated covers used in the Cadillac models that let in a lot of light. This kept us cool and shady, without having to worry about glare on the instrument panel.
Chevrolet's MyLink infortainment system is optional on the Impala and uses an 8-inch color touch screen with natural voice recognition, the latter of which is similar to the system used the Cadillac CUE interface. Unlike CUE, we like that the Impala's touch screen has a matte finish, unlike the glossy screen found on Cadillac's CUE, which shows fingerprints far too easily.
MyLink is versatile and relatively customizable. Apps like Pandora come pre-loaded, and up to 10 devices can be paired to the system using Bluetooth. Users can drag application icons around to put their favorites first. You can also listen to music or watch movies from a USB drive. A choice of four different ?skins? allow users to change the look of the screen, although we found most of them rather cartoon-like and wonder whether Impala drivers will want to deviate from the standard setup.
Perhaps one of the coolest features is MyLink's Valet Mode. Valuables can be locked away in the storage compartment behind the touchscreen using a four-digit pin that the user selects each time, much like an in-room safe. Not only will Valet Mode secure the storage area, it will also lock out all electronic information on the car such as navigation destinations, contacts, radio presets and other personal settings.
For cars not equipped with navigation, OnStar offers Turn-by-Turn directions that are sent to the vehicle and displayed in the center display screen. They can be played back or paused anywhere from start to destination and is less expensive, according to Chevrolet, than a GPS navigation system.
Exceptional road manners are the hallmark of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. The car is smooth, even around corners, not just in a straight line. Unlike some full-size sedans, the car doesn't feel like it's fighting you.
At the time of this writing, the only engine available on the 2014 Impala is GM's familiar direct injection 3.6-liter V6, good for 305 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. It's EPA rated at 19/29 mpg city/highway. By comparison, the previous Impala's 3.9-liter V6 makes 230 hp and 238 lb.-ft. with an EPA-rated 17/27 mpg city/highway on regular gasoline.
Acceleration from the V6 is powerful and seamless. Shifts are smooth, courtesy of GM's 6-speed Hydromatic transmission, which replaces the old Impala's 4-speed automatic. All-electric power steering is effortless without feeling overly numb.
The 2.5-liter inline-4 will be rolled out later in 2013, followed by the 2.4-liter eAssist version a few months after that.
The Impala is extremely quiet, and engineers took great care to make it that way. Acoustic glass is used in the front side windows as well as in the windshield, which is an unusual move for a non-luxury vehicle. Door are triple-sealed and many areas of the Impala's body are filled with foam. The floor pan and trunk are treated with sound-deadening material, and four-cylinder models use active noise cancellation to reduce engine noise in the cabin.
Ride quality is firmer than one might expect from a full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan. Its front-strut and rear multilink suspension uses rebound springs to reduce body roll around corners, and unique front strut towers help to minimize chassis flex. The result is a ride that's more dialed-in than floaty. We much prefer the 18-and 19-inch wheels over the optional 20s, which make the Impala's ride harsher and noisier.
Four-disc brakes with brake assist are standard on all 2014 Impala variants. For the most part braking was smooth and confident. A few times we did notice a grabby feeling when braking downhill, which engineers say may have been attributed to the heavy weight of the car (we were carrying four adults).
Full-range adaptive cruise control is optional on top-of-the-line LTZ models. This system not only maintains a set speed and distance from the car in front while cruising, it can also slow in traffic or even bring it to a full stop if a collision is imminent.
Forward and side visibility is good thanks to relatively narrow A-pillars; many new cars these days are wider in this area, and it can hinder visibility. Rearward visibility is hampered with the rear headrests up, but on most trim levels these can be folded down when not carrying backseat passengers.
It's a new era for the Chevrolet Impala with sharp looks, roomy dimensions and impeccable road manners.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein filed this report from San Diego after her test drive of the Chevrolet Impala.