Several upgrades and refinements for 2007 make for a better car: The available 3.9-liter V6 gets GM's Active Fuel Management system, which idles cylinders at certain times for improved fuel economy. A tire-pressure monitor comes standard. OnStar comes standard and has been upgraded for 2007, offering the new Turn-by-Turn navigation service. And OnStar will automatically communicate the nature and severity of a crash as well as its location to the 911 centers.
The Impala is a big car. It's generally classified as a mid-size sedan, though it's large for that class, and nearly a full-size. The front and back seats are roomy, though not inordinately so given the size of this car, and getting in and out of the car is easy. and it has a healthy cargo capacity. It has a huge trunk and flip-and-fold back seats that present holding wells for groceries or a flat cargo floor that expands the trunk for long items.
It's very stable on the open road, a nice cruiser. There's lots of low-end torque from the larger of the two available V6 engines, the 3.9-liter V6. Step on the gas and it goes. And it handles well, in fact surprisingly well given its size.
Several models are available, ranging from strong, reliable, fuel-efficient family sedan to sleek and powerful performance car. The mid-level Impala LT probably best exemplifies the model line. We like the LT with the optional 3.9-liter V6 engine, which gets GM's Active Fuel Management system for 2007, which improves real-world fuel economy. The LTZ adds leather and other convenience features. The SS comes with a small-block 5.3-liter V8 engine that sounds great and delivers strong acceleration performance.
For its low price alone, the Impala will be on many family-sedan shopping lists, where it competes against the Ford Five Hundred, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.
Chevrolet Impala LS ($20,830); LT ($21,440), LT with 3.9-liter ($24,160); LTZ ($26,250); SS ($27,855)
Launched as a 2006 model, the design features smooth lines. The big headlamps have a premium, jeweled appearance with three independent lighting units and are smoothly integrated into the front end. The tail lights are nicely integrated as well. These details complement other quality attributes, such as tight tolerances of 3.5 mm or less between body panels and substantial grab-style door handles that won't pinch your fingers or snap away from your hand on a cold morning. Flat-blade windshield wipers provide consistent pressure on the glass, which helps eliminate streaking and wind noise.
The LS, LT and LTZ are distinguished by exterior trim but share one front end design, while the SS sports a completely different design that includes a dual-split grille with SS-signature black-diamond crosshatch pattern. The Impala SS also features Corvette-inspired bright exhaust tips. A rear spoiler is standard on LTZ and SS models, and is available on LT.
The standard seats have firmer cushions and increased lumbar support than previous models. We didn't find the SS seats particularly comfortable or supportive, however, with too much lumbar support and not enough side bolstering to retain the upper body in corners. Optional leather-covered seating has a new style of seams around the perimeter and French seams on the center sections.
A twin-brow instrument panel wraps around into the doors. Impala LS, LT and LTZ models have wood trim, with brushed silver trim optional. The SS comes standard with unique metallic trim panels, with wood as an option. We found the instrument panel pleasing to the eye, colorful, entertaining and easy to use, with a nice all-of-a-piece unity and style to it. Interior materials are at least one grade better than the usual Chevrolet stuff.
The dual-zone climate control system that comes on all but the base LS model is a snap to use, with large, round control knobs and good markings. It can support up to a 12-degree temperature difference side to side. The optional remote engine start system comes with a 200-foot operating range and automatic climate pre-conditioning to warm or cool the interior. The driver information center offers more than 50 different alerts, depending on the vehicle's equipment. The glovebox is large enough to actually hold stuff.
A new family of audio systems features radios compatible with Generation 7.0 OnStar. The base audio system includes AM/FM/CD and six speakers. An optional MP3/CD-radio is configured for XM Satellite Radio, with a two-line, 32-character display and the capability to select freely between AM, FM and XM. We really liked this system because we could set up all of our favorite stations in one row, for example, allowing us to quickly switch between AM news, XM news, FM music stations, and CDs. Setting these presets is as easy as holding the button down. A big round knob in the center allows quick volume adjustments. Presets for the equalizer let you quickly switch settings from rock to country & western to talk radio. Too many radios nowadays are too complex or have tiny buttons difficult to operate underway. More of them should be like GM's radios. It's sophisticated yet easy to operate. The optional ICDX radio adds an in-dash six-CD changer. Impala also offers a premium Bose audio system. All radios include a standard auxiliary input jack for external devices such as an iPod or remote cassette player.
The back seat is roomy and comfortable for two adults or three kids, but not three adults. The forward-flipping rear seat cushions reveal a storage tub underneath that can contain spills or transport a variety of items. The tub also serves as a covered storage area beneath the seat with cushions down; and exposes convenient grocery bag hooks when the cushions are flipped forward. A generous pass-through from the trunk can be created by flipping the seat bottoms forward and the seat backs flat.
The trunk is larger than that of most mid-size cars, at 18.6 cubic feet, and a huge trunk opening makes loading easier.
The 3.5-liter V6 (standard on LS and LT) generates 211 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. We haven't seen EPA fuel economy estimates, but we expect an Impala with this engine to earn fuel ratings of about 19/29 mpg city/highway.
The 3.9-liter V6 (optional on LT, standard on LTZ) produces 233 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It adds a variable-length intake system to variable valve timing. New for 2007 is Active Fuel Management, electronic software that shuts off three cylinders when full power is not needed. Chevrolet says Active Fuel Management improves fuel economy by up to 8 percent in certain driving situations. Chevrolet has applied this technology before to V8s, but this is its first appearance on a V6. Actual EPA estimates are still pending.
The four-speed automatic transmission is reponsive and was never an issue, though some of the competition now offers more flexible five-speed automatics.
The V8 that comes on the SS delivers 303 horsepower and 323 pound-feet. That's more power and torque than any other entry in the class, but the chassis that comes with it needs taming. The traction control system simply gets behind in its orders whenever you slam the throttle open at a stop in first gear, and lets the left front tire spin wildly for a few seconds until it finally catches up. While we appreciated the extra power and torque available in a kickdown or passing situation, and we loved the brawny, muscular sound of this engine at full throttle, it's a challenge to launch cleanly and quickly at the same time. Besides wheelspin, there's a lot of torque steer. Slam down the throttle and you'll feel a significant tug on the steering wheel. The V8 also features Active Fuel Management (formerly called Displacement on Demand), which shifts between eight-cylinder and four-cylinder operation, depending on speed and load. The V8 was EPA-rated at 18/28 city/highway for 2006 and shouldn't be any different for 2007.
All Impalas come with a MacPherson-strut, coil-over-spring independent front suspension, with gas-charged struts and a stabilizer bar. The rear suspension uses a trailing tri-link setup with gas-charged struts and coil springs. A rear stabilizer bar is standard on all models. Suspension tuning is matched to each engine. With all three, however, there is a lot of pitch, dive, and roll in the chassis, plus a lot of uncertain driving moments with the added power of the SS. The SS, particularly, drives as though its chassis needed more development time before production. Steering on all models is over-assisted, fairly numb and uncommunicative.
The Impala's four-wheel disc brake system (vented in front, solid in rear) represents an improvement over previous generations. Comprising new front brakes, improved rear brakes, and a new brake booster, the system is designed for quieter operation, longer pad life, and more resistance to brake pulsation. The new ABS includes Electronic Brake-force Distribution. On the road we found the Impala's brakes very much to our liking: powerful, direct, and linear, with a nice, progressive ratio of pedal travel to stopping progression.
The new Generation 7.0 OnStar offers Turn-by-Turn navigation with the optional Directions and Connections service. Turn-by-Turn navigation directs the driver through the route by using the digital readout lines in the radio head. Directions are downloaded by the OnStar advisor to the vehicle and can be played back or paused anywhere from start to destination. Besides being easy to use (all directions are downloaded to the car by an advisor) Turn-by-Turn offers an affordable sys
The Chevrolet Impala LT and LTZ models are pleasing to drive, whether equipped with the 3.5-liter or 3.9-liter V6 engines. The SS cuts a conservative but dashing figure, with its quiet badging and giant five-spoke, 18-inch wheels; but it has more power than it knows what to do with, though we did enjoy its loud, authoritative exhaust rumble). Overall, the Impalas are good cars, though they don't match the sophistication of some of the competition.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn, Michigan.