Back in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the full-size Chevrolet Impala was the King of the Road, an unashamedly large and powerful sedan favored by American families that was perennially the automaker’s top seller. Recent years were not kind to this iconic sedan, however, with the Impala languishing as a lackluster model favored mostly by fleets and rental car companies.
Thus it comes with great delight that Chevrolet has managed a Lazarus-like revival of the venerable Impala for 2014 with its first full redesign in 13 years. We recently spent a week behind the wheel of the new model and can attest that it’s the most improved car of the decade thus far. It’s so much better that Consumer Reports, which had until recently gave the car a rock bottom rating, now hails it as being among the best vehicles it has tested, comparing it to cars that cost $20,000 more.
The new Impala remains front wheel drive and is based on the full-size Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS sedans. It’s a truly handsome-looking large car, with gentle curves and creases running alongside the vehicle, and a curvaceous roofline that reaches elegantly into a tall rear-end treatment. The only downside here is a narrow back window with compromised rearward visibility and slightly difficult entry and exiting, given the shape of the doors.
Golden Age Impalas were known for their smooth and powerful V8s, but the standard engine with the 2014 vintage is a 2.5-liter 196-horsepower four-cylinder we suspect is aimed at fleet customers. Also available is the LaCrosse’s “mild hybrid” 2.4-liter 182-horsepower four-cylinder engine that gets a modest boost from a small electric motor and is rated at an impressive 25/35 mpg city/highway.
We suspect most buyers would be happier with the direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 engine on top models that generates a lively 305 horsepower. It affords sufficiently quick launches, though some drivers may be left wanting more, such as the 410-horsepower twin-turbo V6 that’s debuting this year in the Cadillac XTS. A six-speed automatic transmission works well enough, though we’d prefer a smoother and more fuel-efficient eight-speed gearbox instead.
While it’s no sport sedan, it’s also not an old-school boulevard cruiser. It’s engineered to deliver confident handling, even when pushed hard though sharp curves and sweeping highway on-ramps, yet the car remains easy to park and delivers a smooth ride over all but the most-potholed stretches of pavement. A long list of available advanced chassis-control systems includes adaptive cruise control to maintain a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead, forward collision alert that will automatically apply the brakes to help avoid a crash, and both lane departure and blind zone warning systems for safer highway driving.
The 2014 Impala also maintains a quiet ride, thanks to a generous amount of noise-absorbing materials; four-cylinder versions further include a high-tech acoustic noise-cancellation system. The passenger compartment is elegantly styled with extensive use of high quality materials that gives it a luxury car look and feel. It’s truly spacious inside, with plenty of back seat room to accommodate three adults in comfort.
The latest version of Chevy’s My Link infotainment system includes a user-configurable dashboard mounted touchscreen display that’s among the easiest and most intuitive multimedia control systems in the business. Fortunately for the less technically inclined (or the just plain clumsy among us), most common operations can also be controlled via large, clearly labeled dashboard knobs and integrated steering wheel buttons; further, the system affords natural language voice operation of key systems that works surprisingly well.
The 2014 Chevrolet Impala starts at $26,725 for a base four-cylinder model (not counting the $810 destination charge) and ranges up to $35,770 for a range topping 2LZ version with the V6 and all the trimmings.