There are few cars that shout "rental fleet" louder than the previous-generation Chevrolet Impala. It's frumpy looks, bland interior, and tepid performance found only one home, and that was at airport rental lots around the country. It looked like it would be a sad footnote at the end of the life of one of Chevrolet's longest-running nameplates.
That is, until the 2014 redesign changed everything. The new 2014 Chevrolet Impala is everything the old car wasn't: interesting, attractive, pleasant to drive, and high-tech. The thing is, the Impala is up against a newly resurgent class of full-size cars that includes the Toyota Avalon, the Hyundai Azera, and the Kia Cadenza, not to mention stalwarts like the Ford Taurus and even the rear-drive Dodge Charger. So how does the new Impala stack up? We drove one for a week to find out.
Model and Price
While you can get into an Impala for as low as $27,670, our LTZ was a little more comprehensively equipped, and more expensive with a base price of $36,580, including the $810 destination charge. That got us a 3.6-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, rear parking sensors, a big dual-panel sunroof, HID headlights, leather seats, and a keyless ignition and entry (although the switchblade-style key still constantly flipped out from the fob). To that was added the $1,035 LTZ Comfort and Convenience Package, which threw in things like memory settings for the driver's seat, outside mirrors, and the steering column; a trunk mat; auto dimming rearview mirror, and ventilated driver and front passenger seats. There was also a $750 heated steering wheel, and a high-end Bose audio system for an extra $700. Throw in $395 of red paint, and you have a total of $39,505, a price we still consider easily competitive against the Impala's competition.
Safety and Key Features
The Impala has the usual array of airbags--front, side and curtain--but to that it adds knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, and outboard bags for rear passengers. The LTZ model also adds forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot alert, a backup camera, and cross traffic alert. As for crash tests, it earned five stars from the federal government, and has Good ratings in moderate overlap and side impact tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Impala's key feature is its size. Like the rest of the vehicles in its class, the Impala trades on a big rear seat and cavernous trunk. While it's true you can get more features in a smaller vehicle, like a Malibu or Honda Accord, you won't get the same sized rear seat. You also won't get the Impala's eye-catching design; we had people coming up to us asking the age-old "whatkindacarizzat" question. Substance and style...clearly, Chevy's on to something.
Family Friendliness and Utility
A car with a rear seat this big can't be anything but family friendly. The doors open wide, and there's plenty of room for little passengers to spread out without an ever-escalating chant of "He's on my side!" burrowing into your brain. For really little ones that require their own seating equipment, the LATCH points were easy to reach, and there's plenty of room for installing and removing child seats without needing a chiropractor after. The trunk can easily swallow a week's worth of groceries, with plenty of room left over. Think six golf bags or, if you don't hit the links, a solid eight baseball bat bags.
The downside is fuel economy. While the Impala may be rated at 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, our 16.2 mpg average didn't even come close. We can't really explain it either, since the Impala isn't exactly a car that inspires spirited driving. It didn't get a lot of highway time during its stay with us, which could account for the low numbers.
Comfort and Quality
It took a little doing to get truly comfortable in the 2014 Chevrolet Impala we drove, although it wasn't really the fault of the car's design. Rather, it was the fault of too many options. The power driver's seat moved every which way, and it took a while to find a sweet spot. Then we adjusted the steering wheel, and had to start all over again. Good thing there's a memory for all that since the resulting sweet spot was very sweet, indeed, and probably impossible to find later. Front seat passengers get seat heaters and coolers, although the fan on the latter vibrates as it gets up to speed and is a little distracting. The heated steering wheel was very nice though, and we were impressed by how well the interior was laid out.
Quality-wise, though, it could use another go around. While there are soft-touch panels on the dash and door tops, the material itself felt a little thin. Likewise, the French stitching on the dash was purely for looks, as it clearly wasn't holding anything together. The panels on the center stack squeaked when you pressed on them, too. It all looks good, and it functions quite nicely, but we have to wonder how well it will all hold up in the long run.
How it Drives
Nobody is going to mistake the 2014 Chevrolet Impala for a sport sedan, at least not once they start to drive down the street. This is a comfortable car with a buttoned-down ride, but if you think that means it'll carve corners or zip through on-ramps, you're mistaken.
The Impala's comfortable and quiet, with a smooth ride that avoids floating or bouncing around. Even the Toyota Avalon has a stiffer suspension than this, an odd turnaround for that particular car. The steering is light to the point of being effortless, but only at parking lot speeds; on the highway, it firms up to take up the slack. The engine and transmission get the Impala moving just fine, but there's little here that's particularly sporting.
So the Impala's not very fun to drive, fine. But so what? Not everything needs to be a sport sedan, and the Impala's comfortable and quiet ride makes it an excellent choice if those are your priorities. It's a traditional American sedan, big and comfy, with a good ride and plenty of features inside. The nav system works well, and we like the clever touches, like the hidden compartment behind the navigation screen. The downside to that is the interior that, despite its high-content and attractive styling, still feels a half-step behind some of its competition, especially the ultra-refined Toyota Avalon. On the flip side, the Impala undercuts the Avalon's price by about $1,000 when similarly equipped. Is the price difference enough to seal the deal? We won't try to convince you otherwise.
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