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.
We find the Impala's neat, clean lines pleasing to the eye. Its styling looks contemporary, handsome, and clean. Inside, there's lots of room, 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 simplifies loading cargo, and it has a generous capacity. Optional flip-and-fold-forward 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.
There are three trim levels, ranging from a sensible, reliable, and fuel-efficient family sedan to a more luxurious version with commendable performance and a good complement of features, and the two available V6 engines are dependable, responsive and efficient, while delivering ample performance.
Chevrolet continues to improve and upgrade the Impala. Two important standard features are StabiliTrak, General Motors' electronic stability control system that includes the function of traction control, and the latest generation of OnStar, which will automatically communicate the nature and severity of a crash as well as its location to the call center.
Changes for 2010 are few. There are three new exterior colors, and LT models now have standard fog lamps and offer the optional availability of the Convenience Package, which includes a universal garage-door opener, inside auto-dimming mirror, Bluetooth and outside heated power-adjustable mirrors.
Overall, the Chevrolet Impala is a comfortable and convenient car, practical and enjoyable to drive, with decent performance and fuel economy and competitive pricing.
The 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.
Aside from minor badging, the only exterior differentiations among the trim levels are the wheels and the standard rear spoiler on the LTZ.
The 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. A twin-brow instrument panel wraps around into the doors. 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 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.
At 18.6 cubic feet the trunk is quite large and offers the additional convenience of a big opening.
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 the LS and LT has variable valve timing and generates 207 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. It gets an EPA-rated 18/29 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 230 horsepower and 238 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 smooth, although some of the competition now offers more flexible five-speed automatics.
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 the LTZ has the performance-tuned FE3 setup and more responsive handling. The steering on all models is over-assisted, fairly numb and uncommunicative.
The Impala's four-wheel disc brake system (vented in front, solid in the rear) has been designed for quiet operation, long pad life, and 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 is pleasing to drive, whether equipped with the 3.5-liter or 3.9-liter V6 engines. They are roomy, comfortable, promise good reliability and represent solid value for the money.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn, Michigan.