Chevrolet Impala car reviews

Review Notes: Chevrolet Impala LS
Personality Luxurious small car with big interior
Unusual features Looks, feels smaller than it is; responsive transmission
Quirks Overloaded stalk, goofy cruise control
Above Average In: Responsiveness, modern/retro flavor, sound insulation, highway cruising
Needs Work In: Some controls, overzealous seat bolsters

The Chevrolet Impala has done what many thought impossible - convinced police departments that maybe front wheel drive isn't so bad after all. Thousands of Impalas have been replacing Fords across the country in squad and fleet use. Based on our test drive, that's not surprising.

The Impala was designed to stay in character with its classic ancestors, and though it shares almost no actual engineering features with them, it does a credible job of filling their niche. The sleek, modern car has round headlights and taillights, set in rectangular lenses for a look both modern and retro. The key goes into the instrument panel, which is easier and carries a classic charm.

Our test vehicle was an LS, which includes the desirable 200 horsepower, 3.8 liter V6. This durable standby has proven its reliability over the years, and has a good balance of economy, horsepower, and torque. EPA gas mileage estimates, which we found to be accurate, are 19 city, 29 highway. Base models come with a 3.4 V6 that will be adequate for most drivers.

Acceleration is very good and responsive, thanks partly to a silky-smooth transmission that shifts very rapidly. Thus, on the highway, you can get rapid downshifts for better acceleration without realizing that the transmission is shifting. That helps GM to maintain good gas mileage, through a tall gear ratio, without sacrificing acceleration - and the Impala does not, by any means, sacrifice acceleration.

Passing is easier than with most other cars, where there is often a discernible pause before downshifts. The attraction to police departments is easy to see. There is very good power on the highway, with strong passing ability at excessive speeds. Wind noise remains low regardless, unlike many "quiet at 55, noisy at 75" competitors.

Around town, it is easy to drive the Impala gently, with strong takeoffs when needed. The traction control cuts in quickly, allowing only a brief squeal.

Handling is very good for a highway cruiser, handling high-speed parkway turns with ease, but the Impala is not a sports car. Few are likely to test the limits of the Impala's handling, though, and it feels nimble and responsive. Those who desire more can replace the tame Eagle GA tires.

The ride is good as well, with a firm feel and good insulation from road imperfections.

Visibility is good, despite the rear spoiler, which does not intrude.

The Impala's many clever features include headlights and reverse lights which stay on for a few minutes at night (and only at night) after unlocking or locking the doors with the key fob. Power memory means that the radio and power windows, stay on after you take out the key, until you open a door.

The optional "premium" stereo has excellent sound, along with well-placed features such as speed-sensitive volume and traffic information seeking. The "preferred equipment group" ($785) includes this stereo upgrade, along with steering wheel-mounted radio controls, an alarm, and an information center with built-in garage door openers, a compass and thermometer, and average speed, gas mileage, and distance-to-empty (among other things). We think the package is worth the money - unlike the $1,495 "sport appearance package," which makes the car look a bit cooler but seems rather pricey for what you get.

The instruments had a quality feel, in general, but had the usual GM deficiencies - the overloaded single stalk with variable wipe/wash, brights, cruise control switch, and turn signals. Though the cruise switch is on this stalk, the buttons are on the steering wheel, and there is no temporary cancel button. There is no right hand stalk, making us wonder why so many functions were packed into a single control. We also prefer a hand-operated brake release, though since the Impala is only available with an automatic, the foot brake makes sense.

The instrument panel is clear and easy to read, with a large tachometer and oil, temp, voltage, and fuel gauges. It is pleasantly backlit with the traditional green light. There aren't any "hidden" buttons that madden the new driver. The excellent OnStar concierge/emergency service is bult into the rear view mirror, along with bright map lights.

The interior has many storage compartments with rubberized insulation to prevent squeaks and rattles. A large cubby in the console easily swallows a full-sized box of tissues, along with CDs and EZ-Pass units. The cupholders are primitive, but easily available. There is also a large center box, and an absolutely massive trunk. The rear seats fold down (with a 20/30 split) to make the trunk's storage even greater. Our only complaint with the interior was an overly strong bolster built into the seat, but we readily admit that's a matter of taste.

Dual-zone vent controls are easy to use, and are coupled with a sensible set of ent and fan controls. The vent fan is very quiet, even on full blast.

The interior is large, roughly the same size as the full-size Crown Victoria and Chrysler Concorde. Entry into both the front and the rear was easy, thanks partly to very sensibly shaped doors (we wonder if there was police input there.)

The Impala is not just competitive, it's one of our favorite cars. There's no comparison between the Impala and the Accord, and the Impala easily beats the Taurus as well (without the Tauruses' past reliability problems). The Intrepid is a bit larger and has better handling, but the Impala may be more to the taste of many drivers, because it feels much smaller. Indeed, preserving the small car look and feel on such a large car is triumph for GM.

The new Impala brings up the standard for reasonably priced large cars, without disappointing those who remember its namesake. It's no surprise GM's had to add capacity to its Impala factory - this car's a keeper.