The Chevrolet Impala is a big, roomy sedan. While classified as a mid-size sedan, it's large for that class. Close in size to the Toyota Avalon, it competes with mid-size and full-size cars. Among them: the Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.
For 2009 the Impala gains significant safety enhancements: thorax side-impact airbags, seatbelt pretensioners for front-seat lap belts and anti-lock brakes with traction control are now standard on all models. Bluetooth is available, the Impala SS gets 18-inch flangeless alloy wheels and there are three new exterior colors.
We find the Impala's neat, clean lines pleasing to the eye. Its styling looks contemporary, handsome, and clean. Other people must think so as well, as 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 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 trim levels are available, ranging from a strong, reliable, fuel-efficient family sedan to a sleek and powerful performance car. Depending upon trim level, there are three engine choices, two V6s and a V8.
Chevrolet continues to improve and upgrade the Impala. We highly recommend the StabiliTrak electronic stability control. 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.
The 2009 Chevrolet Impala presents a clean, neat, pleasing design that's not so homogenized as to be boring. It's an attractive car.
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 gaps of 3.5mm 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 2009 Impala has a lot going for it inside as well. The standard seats have fairly firm cushions and decent 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 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.
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 audio system is Bose. All radios include a standard auxiliary input jack for external devices such as an iPod or remote cassette player.
The 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.
We found the Impala's V6 engines to be smooth and quiet if not bristling with power. They feature variable valve timing, which changes the orientation of the camshaft automatically, adjusting the timing of the intake and exhaust valves for better performance, economy, and emissions.
The 3.5-liter E85-compatible V6 that's standard on LS and LT has variable valve timing and generates 211 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. It gets an EPA-rated 19/29 mpg City/Highway on gasoline and 14/22 City/Highway on E85 ethanol.
The 3.9-liter E85-compatible V6 has variable valve timing and produces 233 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. The 3.9-liter V6 gets an EPA-rated 17/27 mpg City/Highway on gasoline, and 13/20 mpg City/Highway 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. To sample that, we hit the throttle to wide open from a stop in first gear, and 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: hit the throttle hard 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 upon speed and load. The V8 is EPA-rated at 16/24 mpg City/Highway.
All Impalas come with a MacPherson-strut independent front suspension, with gas-charged struts and a stabilizer bar. The rear suspension uses a multi-link setup with gas-charged struts, coil springs, and a stabilizer bar. LS and LT models come with the softer FE1 suspension, while LTZ and SS have 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) has been designed for quieter operation, longer pad life, and more resistance to brake pulsation. 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.