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2014 Chevrolet Impala Test Drive Review

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2014 Chevrolet Impala Test Drive Review

Look and Feel 8
Performance 7
Form and Function 8
Technology 8
Safety 9
Cost-Effectiveness 7
7.8 10 Overall Score

The 2014 Impala attract[ed] the attention of more than a few rubberneckers…. Some applauded the Impala’s styling, others liked its stance, and one older gentleman just sort of smiled and gazed.

Formerly a mediocre 4-door favored most strongly by rental fleets, the Chevrolet Impala has been reborn for 2014 with perhaps the large-sedan segment’s most attractive styling, promises of up to 35 mpg on the highway, a genuinely impressive ride and handling package, and a bundling of materials and features typically reserved for premium-branded models. If it’s not a home run, it has to be at least a triple.

Look and Feel

8

Out of 10

If your impressions of the previous-generation Chevrolet Impala were—how do I say this politely?—underwhelming, you’re not alone. Though a staple of airport rental-car lots across the country, Chevy’s bland sedan failed to stand out in any significant way.

That all changes with the debut of the completely redesigned 2014 Impala.

I’ve been reviewing new cars for about 10 years, first in Southern California and now in New England, with plenty of multi-state and cross-country treks along the way. Until now, no one has taken an obvious second glance or made a point of stopping me to ask about any Chevy sedan I was driving. The 2014 Impala, on the other hand, seemed to be making up for lost time, attracting the attention of more than a few rubberneckers, friends who would generally show no interest in a domestic sedan, and a few nice folks down at the Cumberland Farms gas station/market where I sometimes pick up my morning Mountain Dew. Some applauded the Impala’s styling, others liked its stance, and one older gentleman just sort of smiled and gazed, asking what kind of fuel mileage I was getting and commenting on how far Chevy has come in recent years. I sensed that he was thinking back to a day when he had a Chevy he was proud to own, and perhaps that day had returned. Or maybe he was just feeling gassy. You never can tell what’s really going through a person’s mind.

All of the positive attention is justified. The Impala borders on sexy (just a year ago, I would’ve hammered my fingers before allowing those two words to be typed so close together), thanks to its sleek headlights, sloped front end and contoured hood, and the combination of a seriously raked rear window and tall rear quarter panels that give the Impala the 4-door coupe appearance that’s all the rage right now. Garnishment is kept to a minimum, something Chevy designers could forgo with sheet metal that looks this good. The transformation carries over to the Impala’s interior, where soft-touch surfaces, intuitive controls and attractive shapes and colors abound.

Car shoppers who like what they see and want an Impala of their own have several versions from which to choose. Starting things off is the LS, priced from $27,670 (all prices include an $810 destination charge) and equipped with a complementary 3-month subscription for Sirius and HD radio service, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar telematics and a power-adjustable driver’s seat, as well as more basic goods like 18-inch steel wheels and a 4-cylinder engine. The LS Eco ($29,945) adds upgrades including 18-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control, but the real differentiator is its eAssist hybrid system.

Considered the mid-range model, the LT is split into three sub-trims. Carrying a base sticker price of $29,920, the 1LT includes the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen display and SD card slot, Bluetooth streaming audio and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 2LT ($30,895) is essentially an Impala 1LT with a V6 under its hood. The last of the trio is an LT Eco ($31,920) packed with all of the LT features as well as the eAssist powertrain.

Sitting atop the 2014 Impala lineup is the LTZ, which, like the LT, is available in multiple versions. Select the 1LTZ ($34,690) and you’ll get the 4-cylinder engine plus a host of desirable upgrades, such as push-button ignition, remote start, heated front seats, a rear-view camera and 19-inch alloys. More importantly, Chevy has fitted this Impala with forward-collision alert, a blind-spot monitor and other safety features. As you might’ve guessed at this point, the 2LTZ ($36,715) is powered by a V6 engine, but doesn’t differ from the 1LTZ in any other way. Many of the LTZ’s features are optional on LT and LS models.

My test car was a 2014 Impala 2LTZ tricked out with Crystal Red paint ($395), 20-inch alloy wheels ($400), a navigation system ($795), adaptive cruise control with crash-imminent braking ($1,695), an LTZ Premium Audio Package boasting an 11-speaker Bose Surround Sound system ($700) and an LTZ Comfort and Convenience Package ($1,035), comprised of heated and cooled front seats, memory settings for the driver, a power-adjustable heated steering wheel, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a few other perks. When all was said and done, the total came to $41,600.

Performance

7

Out of 10

If you’ve seen the front-wheel-drive 2014 Impala in person, the suggestion of a normally aspirated (non-turbocharged) 4-cylinder engine being under its hood might seem a wee bit odd. This is a large sedan with competitors that typically equip even their most basic of models with V6s. Yet, to its credit, this entry-level mill does feature direct injection and EPA-estimated fuel economy measuring 21 mpg city/31 highway. That efficiency can be partially attributed to output measuring only 195 hp and 187 lb-ft of torque.

That’s more grunt than you’ll get out of the Eco trims’ eAssist powertrain, consisting of a direct-injected 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. Collectively, these components deliver 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. EPA estimates aren’t currently available, but Chevy suggests drivers will average 25/35.

The most potent of Impala engines is the direct-injected, Flex-Fuel 3.6-liter V6 that can be run on E85 or regular gasoline. Here, drivers have 305 hp and 264 lb-ft to work with and, according to the EPA, should see 21 mpg city/28 highway (less when burning E85). I averaged 25.2 mpg in mixed driving. All Impalas, by the way, are equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission.

When put into practice, the V6 delivers plenty of muscle for moving Chevrolet’s big sedan leisurely around town or into fast-moving freeway traffic. The throttle is easily modulated, so power delivery is smooth and predictable, and the transmission does an admirable job of consistently selecting the right gear for the occasion. That became especially evident during a sometimes lively run through New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. Despite changing elevation and encountering several corners, the tranny never got caught hunting or unable to determine if it should be in 2nd or 3rd and so on. I should note that there is no sport mode—few, if any, Impala drivers will likely even notice its absence—though there is a manual mode that’s activated by shifting into M and then tapping the +/- buttons on top of the gear lever. I found the placement awkward and the feature, for my needs, unnecessary.

In terms of the ride, Chevy’s engineers have done a fantastic job. I had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to drive the Impala through Boston on I93. Anyone who frequents that stretch of highway knows they’ll encounter some smooth patches packaged in between sections that are as cratered and uneven as a pimply teenage face. None of it had an adverse effect on the Impala, as it absorbed the rough stuff without becoming unsettled or transferring any of the ill effects to the driver. Handling is equally impressive, with electric power steering that’s appropriately light at slow speeds and heavier at high speeds, and suspension tuning that allows one to tackle sweeping corners without the car losing any of its stability or composure.

Form and Function

8

Out of 10

If I remember correctly, it was about a year ago—maybe two—when I got stuck in New York City and needed to rent a car to drive home to Maine. It was a gold Chevy Impala, and after a couple hours behind the wheel, I couldn’t wait to get out of it. Comfort was seriously lacking.

Thankfully, the 2014 redesign appears to have corrected that problem. Granted, my 2LTZ model wasn’t exactly rental grade, but if it was at all indicative of the entire lineup, even the base LS should be comfy.

There was no single standout that created my positive impression on its own. Instead, several parts and pieces contributed, including padded door sills and ample armrests, a heated power tilt and telescoping steering wheel wrapped in soft leather and wood, soft-touch materials on the upper dash and little touches like the rubber grips on the primary controls and what felt like a higher-grade plastic on items such as the turn-signal stalk and door-mounted power-window buttons. The quietness of the cabin, even at highway speeds and under heavy throttle, also played a part in moving the Impala decidedly upscale.

Of course, none of that matters if the seats are uncomfortable. To the contrary, I found the 2014 Impala’s front buckets to be spacious, with a bolstered lower section, a wide backrest that didn’t feel confining and broad lumbar adjustments. Triple-setting heating and cooling was a welcome bonus, but in Maine in December, you can guess which settings saw the most use.

Similarly, the Impala’s rear seat proved inviting with ample thigh support, generous headroom courtesy of a curved headliner and plenty of leg and foot space. As is typical of most sedans, the center section is suitable only for short distances.

In addition to passenger accommodations, the 2014 Impala offers a plethora of storage provisions, amongst which you’ll find door pockets with integrated cupholders, several fabric- or rubber-lined slots and cubbies, and a massive 18.8-cubic-foot trunk (14.2 for Eco models) that’s nicely detailed and expandable with the split-folding rear seatbacks in their lowered position.

Tech Level

8

Out of 10

High-tech hasn’t been the most appropriate way to describe Chevy’s full-size sedan in recent years, but, again, this isn’t yesterday’s Impala. From safety features (you’ll read about those next) and direct-injection engines to cooled seats and a navigation system with 3-D maps, 2014’s overhaul brought with it a bounty of new technology.

Among the highlights is the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system, accessed via an 8-inch touchscreen, buttons on the steering wheel and voice controls. When linked to a smartphone (easily accomplished—I had it done in literally seconds), MyLink allows users to take advantage of the Bluetooth streaming audio feature and Pandora internet radio, while USB ports below the center armrest let you plug in your portable device and easily access all your favorite Led Zeppelin and Nine Inch Nails. You can even crank up a few of those Neil Diamond tracks no one is supposed to know about. If you want to keep your hand-held tune machine hidden from view, tap a button just below the screen and the entire unit rises to unveil a hidden, lined compartment with a USB port. And, to keep your stuff safe from any unscrupulous individuals (i.e. cash-strapped valets), you can lock the hideaway with your own passcode.

Impressive as those features are, I was more interested in the technology that would help ensure I wasn’t the unlucky recipient of another speeding ticket. Within the gauge cluster is a relatively small screen that can be scrolled through using steering-wheel buttons that are clearly labeled, illuminated and either raised or indented to satisfy your tactile senses. Using the Info heading, I found the option to display my current speed zone. The feature is designed to operate just as you’d expect—a black and white street sign graphic shows the legal limit for the road you’re traveling on and changes as you move through zones. Everything seemed to work as intended on the highway, but on some major routes by my home, the graphic consistently read 45 mph, though the actual streets signs changed from 25 to 35 mph, 40 mph, then 55 mph. Perhaps the very light snowfall we were experiencing had a negative effect.

Another related feature was found under the Settings heading. It was a simple speed alert; I entered 72 mph and anytime I exceeded that limit, I’d hear a beep. No, this isn’t stop-the-presses technology, but it is desirable for those of us who suffer from chronic heavy-right-foot syndrome.

Safety

9

Out of 10

Among the new Impala’s many strengths is its obvious focus on safety. The payoff has come in the form of a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a best-possible Good rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) tough new moderate front overlap crash test. (As this review is being written, the IIHS has not published results for its complete battery of tests.)

Those results can be attributed to a generous assortment of related features including 10 airbags, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and electronic stability control. While it has no effect on crash-test performance, the Impala’s OnStar system plays a key role in the safety effort by way of its automatic crash response and roadside assistance services.

On top of that are the technologies offered as standard equipment on the LTZ models and optional on lesser trims. Specifically, we’re talking about forward-collision and rear cross-traffic alert systems, lane-departure warning, a rear-view camera, a blind-spot monitor, rear parking sensors and a passive keyless entry system that lets a driver enter the car quickly without fumbling around for a remote, which is especially helpful if you’re being approached by a stranger or walking to your car in a sketchy area.

These features are complemented by the LTZ’s optional intelligent cruise control with crash-imminent braking. The radar-based system scans the road to make sure the Impala is always maintaining a proper distance from the vehicle ahead (drivers tap the Gap button on the steering wheel to select one of 3 or 4 preset distances). If the technology determines a collision is likely and the driver hasn’t taken necessary action, it will apply the brakes.

Cost-Effectiveness

7

Out of 10

Before I drove 10 feet in my Impala 2LTZ tester, I did a quick walkaround, sat inside, touched and squeezed various surfaces to get a sense of the materials, and checked out the features accessed via the 8-inch touchscreen. There was an awful lot to take in, but the $41,600 sticker price struck me as being high. However, after a little research, I found that the Chevy is competitively priced and actually undercuts some of its rivals.

That said, the redesigned 2014 Impala isn’t without its shortcomings. Here in the Northeast, the lack of an all-wheel-drive option stands out like LeBron James at a Smurf family gathering. AWD is available on the Ford Taurus and Dodge Charger, among others.

There’s also the little issue of that base 4-cylinder engine. To its credit, the 2.5-liter 4-banger delivers impressive fuel economy for the full-size sedan segment, but with sub-200 horsepower and torque ratings, it’s likely light on gusto compared to others with their standard V6s. It would be one thing if there was a commensurate price cut, but the entry-level Impala and 6-cylinder Taurus and Charger models all start in the $27,000-28,000 range.

This is where I’d usually take a few lines to discuss reliability ratings and resale values. Unfortunately, as I write this, the redesigned Impala is still new to the market, so that information is not yet available. I can tell you Chevy’s 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty betters the average 5-year/60,000-mile coverage, and the hard-to-please folks at Consumer Reports have listed the 2014 Impala as their top-rated sedan, a slot that has long been filled by Japanese- and European-branded models. The car is too new for them to recommend it based on reliability, but on all other fronts, I dare say those poker-faced staffers are downright smitten.

Updated

Thom Blackett is a lifelong car nut, owning cars ranging from Datsuns to Mustang GTs and, currently, a Ram 2500 plow truck. He has spent the past decade writing objective, thorough vehicle reviews and consumer-focused feature articles for Autobytel.com, Kelley Blue Book, The Boston Globe, Cars.com, and other leading websites and publications.

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