Chevrolet Impala SS V8 car reviews

Review Notes: 2007 Chevrolet Impala SS
Personality Average family sedan with rocket under the hood
Gas Mileage EPA estimates: 18 city, 28 highway (expect 15 city, 23 highway)
Unusual features V8 with front wheel drive!

The Chevrolet Impala debuted in the 1950s and became an American icon. Named after a rather fast animal that could run from 0-60 in the same time as its automotive namesake, the Impala was a hit for quite a long time (setting a record of one million units sold in 1965), and was only taken from the GM roster in 1985, when front wheel drive had its historic triumph; it remained Chevrolet’s best seller through most of the 1970s. Amusingly, the 1985 Impala was resurrected in 1994 on a revised version of its old platform, as a civilian upgrade to the Caprice police package; this version ran through 1996 only but was highly regarded.

The current Impala has been around since the year 2000, when a front wheel drive Impala replaced the old Lumina, and has made a name for itself as a reasonably durable and economical police car for those departments willing to leave rear wheel drive. We felt that past front-drive Impalas have been satisfying vehicles, with comfortable, classy interiors and good straight-line performance (albeit without particularly good cornering). The 21-st Century Impala SS used a supercharged V6 until 2006, when the current V8 model debuted; the supercharged V6 produced similar 0-60 times in the lighter pre-2006 Impalas, but didn’t have the always-instant response of the V8.

The 2006 incarnation departs from recent front-drivers in a few ways. First, there has been a considerable improvement in cornering, especially in the SS model, whose suspension has been tightened dramatically to accommodate the power of the V8 engine. Along with that rather dramatic improvement came an oddly blander, traditional straight-dashboard Chevy look, replacing the mild cockpit look of recent Impalas.

The greatest feature of the SS model is the V8 engine, and that's worth talking about for a while. Pushing out 303 horsepower, the motor has abundant torque (peaking at 323 lb-ft) across the board, so that no matter how fast you're going, when you push down the pedal you get instant thrust; and you can easily feel it. While the Impala does a very fast sprint from 0-60 in under seven seconds, in the same turf as such all-out sports cars as the Dodge SRT-4, it also responds instantly at any time. Goose the pedal at 10 mph, and you can smoke the front tires. Traction control and a specially tuned front suspension makes the Impala relatively safe to drive; without those touches, incautious drivers might well find themselves on the side of the road now and then. But even at highway speeds, it takes off with little provocation; hit the gas and the tach swings up about 3,000 rpm immediately, then the transmission kicks down for a silky kick in the posterior. At the same time, a light touch on the pedal is rewarded with a smooth, even acceleration. The responsive, smooth four-speed automatic transmission (who needs five speeds with this much torque?) easily handles the power, and shifts without fuss or harshness, never getting in the way or having one of those confused "oops, I thought you meant I should do that" moments. It’s not quite Corvette still thrust, but it is considerable and it is not jarring.

While the Impala maintains a straight line under full throttle, it does so without full control; both the engine and the steering systems are fighting for use of the front tires, and that results in a light feel under hard acceleration. Easing off on the throttle instantly restores full control, as it does on a well-designed rear-drive vehicle. We suspect Chevrolet has pretty much discovered the maximum power for a front-drive car; indeed, conventional wisdom tells us that they’ve exceeded it by a good margin, yet the Impala stays as manageable with 303 horsepower as some front-drivers are with 250 horsepower. Just make sure you replace those RS-A tires with something equally capable when the time comes - and don’t wait too long to replace them!

The exhaust burble has been carefully tuned to match that of a tuned 1970s high-performance V8 engine, despite the use of variable displacement - a feature which shuts off four cylinders to save fuel (premium fuel, that is). Based on the indicator in the trip computer, we found that four cylinder mode was used mainly while moving and not at idle, an interesting approach designed perhaps to avoid customer complaints about the engine noise changing. GM claims the feature increases gas mileage by 8%; but we still couldn't get over 15 mpg around town, even with a light throttle foot.

The changes needed to handle the V8's power were largely translated into other Impalas; the SS’ main exclusives are bigger wheels with P235/50R18 Eagle RS-A tires, and larger stabilizer bars in front and back. The front MacPherson strut / coil spring suspension and rear trailing-arm suspension with dual-rate coil springs is the same across the line. The new brakes to match the V8’s power, with larger vented discs in front, better rear discs, and higher fluid pressure, are also standard across the line, so that the benefits of the SS package translate to the least expensive base models. The Impala already had good brakes, so these changes make the car even safer.

The Impala is also quieter and more comfortable inside than it was before; the extra body stiffness needed for handling power no doubt lessened the need to have firm shocks (and using dual-rate springs and shocks helped as well, because the shocks can be soft for minor bumps and harder when needed for nastier shocks or to keep all four wheels planted). Laminated (“quiet”) steel was used to reduce noise, along with other changes, so bumps are felt - not nearly as much as you’d think in a car with this size engine and this good cornering - but not heard. Indeed, sound insulation was very good all around, with little wind noise. The comfortable ride made it seem as though the Impala was not nearly as adept around turns or under hard acceleration as it was. Steering is moderately light but still gives feedback. Though the Impala is a surprisingly hefty 3,712 pounds, it feels lighter most of the time - though it keeps the big-car ride, it also has smaller-car cornering.

The interior of the SS and the standard V6-powered Impalas are similar in most respects, with the SS version getting a special steering wheel cover, the aforementioned faux carbon fiber plastic on the dash, and SS logos on the headrests. Standard throughout the line are side curtain airbags, ABS with electronic brake force balancing, traction control, and a tire pressure monitor that shows the pressure of each individual tire, not to mention OnStar (which notifies emergency services if you're in a serious accident). If you associate luxury with wood trim, the base Impala has more luxury than the SS, since the non-SS models use wood trim throughout the dashboard and on the doors. The gauges in particular seem less than elegant, with bold italic type on small gauges. Aside from the instrument panel, though, the interior seems nicely done. Visibility is good throughout, with a relatively small blind spot, though we'd have asked for larger rear-view mirrors; sun visors slide along their supports for greater coverage. The interior mirror has a manual day-night switch for more effectiveness on bright headlights.

The new four-button vehicle information system allows easy setting of various lock and light controls, viewing of the temperature and compass heading coupled with average speed or gas mileage, or viewing of the 4/8 cylinder mode coupled with instant gas mileage; it also shows distance to empty and includes two trip odometers, and cycles through tire pressure for each tire. The oil life remaining feature can save you a lot of time on oil changes, since most people don't need those every-3,000-mile trips; the engine computer monitors conditions and changes the estimated oil life accordingly. Also in the information system are a compass, temperature, average speed, and the ability to change the vehicle's locking and lighting preferences. Up above, with the dual map lights, is the usual universal garage door opener.

Speaking of gadgets, the Impala SS includes GM's new built-in remote starter system; press the lock button and hold down the remote-start button on the key fob, and your Impala will start right up without your having to be inside; the defroster goes on with the fan full blast. Once it's warm (or cool) enough, you can get in, insert the key, and turn it, and everything will go back to normal.

A new cruise control system, more convenient than in past GM models by far, is mounted on the steering wheel, with a big button for set/coast, resume/speed up, and cancel; the system has an on-off button with the others, which has its own LED to indicate that the system is on. When a speed is locked in, a green light appears on the dashboard, going off when you press the break or the cancel button. The cruise remembers from trip to trip whether it’s on or off, a convenience.

The climate control is the new GM system, with black knobs surrounded by chrome dials (a theme also used in the headlights), which is surprisingly compact and easy to use; detents are provided between vent positions for greater flexibility, an idea we first saw in the 1995 Plymouth Neon. The system looks good and is easy to use. The optional seat-warmers are positioned in the same console as the other climate controls; one knob doubles as the air conditioning pushbutton while another is also the rear window defroster.

The new corporate stereo doesn’t seem to match the sound quality of past models, but it is easy to operate; gone is the old fashioned idea of having your presets arranged by band only, so that you can press buttons to get either AM or FM stations without having to hit the BAND button. The presets are listed via LED on the screen, so you can see what they are before pressing the buttons. Controls on the wheel make it easy to move through your favorites.

Back seats are comfortable enough, albeit not ideal for tall passengers on long trips due to relatively low cushions; leg room is good but feet might not fit underneath the front seats. Headroom is good in all positions. The oversized sunroof and large windows help keep the cabin seeming large and airy. Entry and exit are fairly easy, with large door openings. Padded cubbies provide places for change, sunglasses, and other paraphernalia.

The huge trunk can hold quite a bit, but the opening isn't especially large, and there's a single cargo net to hold things in place. The new flip and fold rear seats, though, include a storage tray under the cushion, which can be helpful in carrying single bags; there are also hooks for bags or other items with the seats’ bottom cushions are flipped up.

The base price on the Impala SS is $26,330, which provides a fairly loaded vehicle: the V8 and four-speed automatic, dual-tip stainless-steel exhaust, onoe year of OnStar Safe & Sound, traction control and four-wheel antilock disk brakes, tire pressure monitor, curtain airbags for the front seats, power locks, theft control, 18 inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, tilt wheel, cruise and audio controls on the wheel, eight-way power driver seat, power windows, locks, and mirrors, remote starter, dual-zone air, rear defogger, stereo with CD player and input jack for iPods and such, and the rear flip and fold-flat seats. Or test car also had leather and heated front seats ($1,125), a power sunroof ($900), the Bose eight-speaker stereo ($495), and the universal garage door opener ($100), for a total, including destination, of $29,610. That's a lot - but it's considerably less than a Hemi Charger or 300C, not to mention comparable to a loaded Camry or Accord.

Overall, the Impala SS is quite a nice vehicle for the price. The ability to push your bottom into the seat on demand, at any speed, is always nice, though you pay for it more with heavy demands for gasoline than with the initial sticker price.