SAN DIEGO -- Next to the Camaro and the Corvette, the Impala is arguably one of Chevrolet's most iconic models. In its heyday, it used to be one of the most popular and beloved full-sized sedans, but over the years, it wasted away to an appliance doomed to fleet sales for taxi companies and car rental agencies.
I can almost guarantee you most of the taxis you see in any downtown core will be either a Ford Taurus or a Chevy Impala. The numbers don't lie, either. Last year in the U.S. alone, GM says 70 per cent of all the Impalas it sold went to fleets.
With the latest generation, GM is hoping to flip that anomaly, bringing its flagship four-door to the front of the full-sized realm, starting with better underpinnings. Built on a modified Epsilon platform, the same one that underpins the Cadillac XTS and Buick Lacrosse, the first characteristic buyers will notice about the Impala is that it's big -- nay, huge.
Having spent most of my life with a 1995 Pontiac Bonneville, the problem with cars of this size is that they are typically boats. The ride is soft, quiet and comfortable, but any sort of spirited driving will leave you bobbing from side to side with sloppy handling and ample body roll.
It's not a big problem in the Impala. The suspension configuration -- McPherson struts in the front and a multi-link setup in the rear -- can be considered moderately sporty for the car, along with its power steering derived from the Camaro. It won't set any lap records on the Nurburgring, but then again, the Impala isn't designed to.
The Impala is designed to be a comfortable, full-sized highway cruiser for families, and it's among the best in that regard. Considering the Impala rides on 20-inch wheels, the ride is very soft and compliant, effectively soaking up potholes and bumps, in addition to rough pavement. Steering is light, making the car easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces and, surprisingly enough, requiring little corrections and inputs to keep it in check on the highway.
When it hits dealers in April, the Impala will be powered by a direct-injected 3.6-litre V-6, good for 303 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. With a curb weight of nearly 1,724 kilograms, the range-topping V-6 provides enough pep and was never once overwhelmed under acceleration.
Two more engine options will be added to the Impala's lineup later this year, the first of which is a 2.4L four-cylinder mated to GM's eAssist system. It'll pump out a total of 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. The second is a 2.5L Ecotec, producing 195 hp and 187 lb-ft of torque. All three engines will be mated to a six-speed automatic sending power to the front wheels only.
Where the outgoing Impala was something along the lines of a mobile appliance, the latest Impala certainly boasts attractive packaging. Sure, it is big, and its high beltline makes the car look chunky. It's also classy, with LED daytime running lights and BMW-inspired halos around the headlight projectors.
The front wears Chevy's trademark two-tier chrome grille, but is more chiselled and aggressive. In fact, it's slightly Camaro-like, especially with the hood's shape. Along the side, the Impala boasts a character line very similar to the Buick Lacrosse, in addition to fenders that flare out slightly.
The Impala's rear sits rather high, which makes it look almost hunched over and chunky -- a far cry from the aggressive front end. That translates to small sightlines from the inside, especially out of the rear-view mirror. Not only that, but the dashboard projects unusually high amounts of glare onto the windshield in direct sunlight.
It's too bad, really, because the interior is otherwise a very nice place to spend time. Materials are exponentially improved over the outgoing Impala, with a blend of leather, soft-touch plastic and contrasting stitching, as well as the standard kit of chrome and wood trim.
The Impala is also the first Chevy to feature MyLink, an entertainment system similar to Cadillac's CUE. The interface is very similar and gesture recognition mimics a smartphone, meaning you can pinch to zoom GPS maps, or flick rough menus.
MyLink boasts the standard kit of connectivity options, including Bluetooth, auxiliary and iPod inputs, and even a nifty feature called valet mode. Activate that feature and MyLink is locked, meaning drivers who do not know the PIN code cannot muck around with radio station presets and navigation destinations.
It's far from a challenge to design a successor to the current Impala, but the latest generation certainly exceeds expectations. Similar to what Ford did with the Crown Victoria, GM will continue to produce the current model exclusively for fleet sales. That should leave more than enough time for the latest generation to reaffirm itself as GM's flagship full-sized sedan rather than a rental car icon.
-- Postmedia News