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Chevrolet has redesigned the full-size Impala sedan for 2014 -- marking the 10th generation of a nameplate that General Motors introduced for 1958.
This generation has lots of improvements both in looks and technology. It's no vanilla fleet vehicle -- it's attractive and well-appointed, inside and out, with plenty of space for five adults and lots of cargo -- 105 cubic feet of cabin space and 18.8 cubic feet of trunk.
Trim levels include the base LS, midlevel LT, and the LTZ, with a choice of three wheel sizes and two engines, and all have six-speed automatic transmissions.
The base engine is a new 195-horsepower, 2.5-litre Ecotec four-cylinder, while the LT and LTZ get a 305-horsepower, 3.6-litre V-6.
I tested a beautiful top-of-the-line 2LTZ with the V-6 engine and silver-painted split-spoke 19-inch aluminum wheels with a distinctive machined face. The exterior was dressed up with strategically placed chrome accents and badging, just enough to be elegant. Chrome accented the trunk lip, the body-color door handles, the upper mirror housing and body side molding along the lower front door to the middle of the rear door.
Windows and the lower front air vent were outlined in chrome, the "grinning" grille was chrome with a chrome Chevy bowtie, the Impala badge on the rearmost side pillars were chrome, and the exhaust openings were chrome-trimmed.
Also included on the test vehicle was a power sunroof with a second-row skylight, which opens up the interior feel. The interior feels even roomier, thanks to rear doors that bow slightly outward to increase shoulder room. Legroom has actually been increased a total of 14.5 centimetres -- 116.3 cm in the front and 101.1 cm in the rear.
The outboard rear seats were comfortable enough for a road trip, but even the middle seat had enough space for an average-size adult, or a sturdy child safety seat. There was some toe room carved out under the center front console, probably helpful for a child in a safety seat.
Rear passengers had a few amenities, including adjustable AC/heat vents, a small cubby and a 120-volt power outlet on the back of the center console (part of a premium audio package), dual reading lights, small seatback pockets, two cupholders on the pulled-down center armrest, and small bottle pockets on the doors.
Visibility in the rear was fair, with the slope of the side window extending to behind the passengers' heads.
The front carved bucket seats were heated and cooled, part of an optional package, and had enough adjustments to fit any driver comfortably. The passenger seat also reclined. The package included memory settings for the driver's seat, outside mirrors and heated tilt/telescopic steering column; heated outside mirrors with ground illumination and jewel-like turn signal indicators; auto-dimming driver's side mirror and inside rearview mirror; a universal garage/gate remote; and premium carpeted floor and trunk mats.
The driver and front passenger had lots of options for storage, with larger bottle/map pockets on the doors, a rubber-lined cubby with a removable tray under the armrest, a covered cubby with a 12-volt outlet under the dash, and a small "French fry" cubby behind the two cupholders on the center console.
In the armrest cubby was a light, a 12-volt outlet, dual USB ports, a card reader and an auxiliary input jack. There was a surprise cubby for an umbrella at the top of the door pocket, and a hidden storage area with a USB port behind the powered pop-up infotainment touch screen. A button under the screen raised or lowered it to give access to the cubby, a perfect place to store smartphones or iPods for security.
Controls for the heated/cooled front seats were between the cupholders and the fry cubby. But I had to hunt for them, and I didn't like that they could so easily be accidentally turned on.
The well-crafted cabin had lots of small touches of chrome trim on cupholders, control knobs/buttons, instrument cluster, steering wheel ring, doors, shifter knob, dash, start button, and lights/wiper stalks. There was a padded leather dash, gray faux-wood trim on the dash, console and doors, ice-blue ambient lighting, and accent piping on the top-stitched seats.
Thanks to double-pane acoustic glass for the windshield and front side windows and plenty of acoustic baffles elsewhere in the body structure, the cabin was also very quiet.
The latest version of Chevrolet's optional MyLink infotainment system had an 8-inch touch screen and natural voice recognition. MyLink has not impressed me, though, and even the newer version is not intuitive, with some functions not clearly marked or easily located.
Audio, navigation, some climate functions and rearview camera share the touch screen. There were audio controls on the back of the steering wheel, which I located as I turned the wheel and accidentally touched the station next/previous button.
The audio system was quite decent, with 11-speaker Bose centrepoint surround sound in the LTZ premium audio package. The Impala comes with three months of satellite radio service and six months of OnStar Directions and Connections with automatic crash response and turn-by-turn navigation.
There were controls on the steering wheel for cruise, steering wheel heat, forward collision alert on/off, and the driver-information center. The controls for the driver-information center were not marked, though, meaning a trip to the owner's manual to study their use.
Forward collision alert and collision-avoiding brakes, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic alerts are new technology for the Impala.
The car also has battery-rundown protection, theft deterrent, passive entry and keyless start. Ten airbags are now standard, along with a domed hood to help reduce injury to unfortunate pedestrians.
My Impala had a cavernous, wide-open trunk with hidden storage under the floor, along with a compact spare and tools. The lid was easy to raise and lower, and the lip was low enough for easy loading of groceries, luggage, stroller or DIY supplies. The rear seatback folded flat to accommodate even larger items -- a storm door or plywood, perhaps.
The Impala handles well, with little to no leaning in curves, practically imperceptible gear shifting, and quick, smooth acceleration. And the factory specs say it can go from zero-60 mph (96.6 km/h) in 6.8 seconds.
With the V-6, the official fuel-consumption ratings are 11.1 L/100 km city and 6.9 L/100 km highway.
In mostly rush-hour slow-and-go traffic during our test, we managed 10.6 L/100km on average, according to the onboard computer.
-- Fort Worth Star-Telegram