We find the Impala's neat, clean lines pleasing to the eye. Its styling looks fresh, and it is, having been sharpened when the Impala was last redesigned for 2006. Other people think so: the Impala is among the top-10 best-selling cars in the U.S.
This is a roomy car, in the front as well as the back seats, and getting in and out is easy. The Impala has a big trunk with a big trunk lid that makes loading cargo easy, and it has a healthy cargo capacity. Optional flip-and-fold rear seats are exclusive in its class, and provide not only holding wells for groceries but a flat cargo floor that expands the trunk for long items.
On the road, the Impala is very stable, a nice cruiser. There's lots of low-end torque from the larger of the two available V6 engines, a 3.9-liter V6 with advanced technologies. Step on the gas and it goes. Given its size, the Impala handles well, and surprisingly so.
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, which features GM's Active Fuel Management to improve real-world fuel economy. The LTZ adds a heavy-duty suspension, leather interior and convenience features. The SS comes with a small-block 5.3-liter V8 engine that sounds great and delivers strong acceleration performance.
Chevrolet continues to improve and upgrade the Impala. We highly recommend the StabiliTrak electronic stability control. The audio system has been upgraded for 2008, and XM Satellite Radio is standard on all models. OnStar is standard, and in its latest version it will automatically communicate the nature and severity of a crash as well as its location to the 911 centers.
Overall, the Chevrolet Impala is a comfortable and convenient car, practical and enjoyable to drive. It also offers low prices.
Chevrolet Impala LS ($21,255); LT ($21,865), 2LT with 3.9-liter ($24,540); LTZ ($26,830); SS ($28,235)
Most recently re-styled for 2006, the current Impala 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 unique 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 compared to previous models. We didn't find the SS seats particularly comfortable or supportive. Lumbar support is too aggressive, while there's not enough side bolstering to retain the upper body in corners.
A twin-brow instrument panel wraps around into the doors. Impala LS, LT and LTZ models have wood trim, with brushed silver trim a no-cost option on LT and LTZ. 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 a grade above average.
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.
For 2008, a new family of audio systems features radios compatible with Generation 7.0 OnStar. The base audio system comes with six speakers, AM/FM/CD/MP3 capability, and XM Satellite Radio. It features speed-sensing volume control and 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. Not so with GM's radios. The Impala sound system is sophisticated yet easy to operate. The optional system adds an in-dash six-CD changer. The premium system is Bose. All radios include a standard auxiliary input jack for external devices such as an iPod or remote cassette player.
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 is less expensive than a GPS navigation system.
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 that comes standard on LS and LT generates 211 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. It gets an EPA-rated 18/29 mpg City/Highway. The FlexFuel version gets the same 18/29 mpg rating on gasoline or 14/21 mpg with E85 ethanol, useful in areas that sell ethanol.
The 3.9-liter V6 (optional on LT, standard on LTZ) produces 233 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It features a variable-length intake system and variable valve timing. It also features 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 12 percent in certain driving situations. Chevy has applied this technology before to V8s (where it was called Displacement on Demand), but this is its first appearance on a V6. The 3.9-liter V6 gets and EPA-rated 18/28 mpg, and it's FlexFuel capable and rated 13/20 mpg on E85.
The four-speed automatic transmission is responsive 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 of torque. That's more power than any other entry in the class. To sample that, we slammed the throttle open at a stop in first gear. The traction control system let the left front tire spin wildly for a few seconds before it caught up. 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 quickly and cleanly at the same time, however. 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 features Active Fuel Management, which shifts between eight-cylinder and four-cylinder operation, depending on speed and load. The V8 is EPA-rated at 16/24 mpg using the more stringent 2008 test procedures.
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. LS and LT models come with the softer FE1 suspension, while LTZ and SS come with the performance-tuned FE3 setup. We found 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. ABS, when ordered, includes Electronic Brake-force Distribution and traction control. 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 Chevrolet Impala LS, 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.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn, Michigan.