The Chevrolet Impala is a big family sedan close in size to the Toyota Avalon. The Impala is a comfortable and convenient car, practical and enjoyable to drive, with decent performance and fuel economy and competitive pricing.
The Impala competes with full-size cars, such as the Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, and mid-size cars, such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.
Impala carries over to 2011 largely unchanged, though there are some minor packaging changes. 2011 Chevrolet Impala models are available with Bluetooth and the latest version of OnStar Gen 9.0. All 2011 Impalas come with body-color body side moldings.
The Chevrolet Impala is front-wheel drive with a choice of two V6 engines. The 3.5-liter V6 that comes standard on the Impala LT and LS models generates 211 horsepower and 216 pound-feet of torque and gets an EPA-estimated 18/29 miles per gallon City/Highway. The Impala LTZ comes with a larger 3.9-liter V6 rated at 230 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque and 17/27 mpg.
For 2011, both the 3.5-liter V6 and the 3.9-liter V6 are FlexFuel-capable, meaning they can run on E85 ethanol. Fuel economy drops precipitously with E85, however, tumbling 7 miles per gallon in both cases to 14/22 mpg for the 3.5-liter and 13/20 mpg for the 3.9-liter.
On the road, the Impala is very stable, a nice cruiser. There's lots of low-end torque from the 3.9-liter V6. Step on the gas and it goes. Given its size, the Impala handles well, and surprisingly so.
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. Last redesigned for 2006, the Impala looks a bit long in the tooth.
Chevrolet Impala comes standard with StabiliTrak electronic stability control with traction control, and the latest generation of OnStar. OnStar will automatically communicate the nature and severity of a crash as well as the location of your to operators at the call center, who will notify emergency crews.
The Impala presents a clean, neat, pleasing design. It's an attractive car. Last redesigned for the 2006 model year, it is aging, however.
The big headlamps have a jeweled appearance with three independent lighting units and are smoothly integrated into the front end. The tail lights are nicely integrated as well.
We like the 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. Build quality is good, with tight gaps of 3.5mm or less between body panels.
Aside from minor badging, the only exterior differentiations among the trim levels are the wheels and the standard rear spoiler on the LTZ.
Inside is a roomy cabin. The 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 4-speed automatic transmission is responsive and smooth, although most of the competition now offers more flexible 5-speed automatics.
The Impala uses 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 contributed to this report from Dearborn, Michigan.