Anyone who follows Consumer Reports' ratings knows that it rarely heaps praise on domestic products. But suddenly everything has changed. According to the latest Consumer Reports' findings, the 2014 Chevrolet Impala has just earned top spot for sedans. .. overall Japanese and European products have held this position for the last 20-plus years. What happened? For the past 10 years, General Motors has been taking the best elements from its different divisions and integrating them into new models. The recent success of the Cadillac ATS, named "2013 North American Car of the Year" is a good example but similar strides have been made with Buick and GMC models. Now it's Chevrolet's turn. According to Consumer Reports' engineers, the 2014 Impala "... rides like a luxury sedan, with a cushy and controlled demeanor, (sic) while delivering surprisingly agile handling, capable acceleration and excellent braking."
Overall, Consumer Reports found the Impala to be competitive with cars that cost $20,000 more, including the Audi A6 and Lexus LS460L, as well as the recently reviewed Acura RLX and Jaguar XF. Consumer Reports magazine gave the Impala a score of 95 out of 100 possible points, compared to the Hyundai Genesis (92), Toyota Avalon (85), Chrysler 300 (83), Lincoln MKZ (81) and Ford Taurus (64).
I had a chance to test those claims in a 2014 Impala LT finished in striking crystal red tintcoat with the optional, twotone grey Suede-like Microfibre seating with white piping and blue double-stitching. There are three models to choose from: The LS, LT and LTZ. Base engine for all models is the 196 horsepower, 2.5 litre ECOTEC four-cylinder with Direct Injection and VVT (Variable Valve Timing).
The LT and LTZ are available with the more muscular 305 horsepower, 3.6 litre DOHC V6 with direct injection and VVT. The standard transmission is a six-speed automatic overdrive with (manual) driver shift control. After years as a contender for the Miss Congeniality award, this tenth generation Impala has finally received some TLC from John Cafaro, dead of Chevrolet design, famous for his Corvette styling over the years.
The Impala replaces the mundane three-box look of previous models with a sleek coupe-like profile that is both sporty and sophisticated. Chevrolet's classic 'bow tie' emblem centres the slim two-bar grille flanked by automatic projector-style Halogen headlights.
There's a hint of Camaro in the sculpted hood while the sweeping roofline adds a sense of effortless speed even when standing still. And the aerodynamic shape is functional, registering a surprisingly low Cd of .30 (Co-efficient of drag) that contributes to its highway fuel rating of 6.9 L/100 km.
Distinctive, sporty 10-spoke, 19-inch aluminum rims fill the wheel wells giving the Impala a well-planted stance on the road. Even the Impala logo has been refreshed and placed on the rear three-quarter panel just to remind us of the performance Impalas of the fifties and sixties.
Solid handling starts with the very stiff, Opel-designed platform, shared with the Cadillac XTS and Buick LaCrosse. The independent suspension uses variable, twin-tube shocks up front to control up/down motions while the rear multilink arrangement is attached directly to the unibody. To quote Consumer Reports:
"The Impala corners well for a large car, with prompt turn-in response and controlled body lean." In normal driving, the V6 is commendably quiet but push the loud pedal and it starts to sound - and deliver - like a V8, getting you to 100 km/h in under 7.0 seconds. The automatic provides seamless gear changes but you can use the simple toggle switch on top of the gearshift to shift for yourself.
The leather-wrapped tilttelescoping steering wheel lets you control audio, Bluetooth, cruise and trip information functions including instant and average fuel consumption, range, tire pressures and other programmable data.
The electric rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted with maximum assist for parking and firmer on-centre feel at highway speeds.
Despite being a large sedan, it remains stable and well balanced even when pushed to its handling limits.
The cabin is a two-cockpit layout with a spread-wing dashboard that flows down into the centre console. Double-stitched black and grey soft surfaces and faux ebony veneers give the dashboard and centre stack a rich, luxurious look complemented by the chrome door pulls and secondary switchgear. Both front bucket seats are heated and offer full power adjustments plus lumbar support.
An eight-inch colour screen atop the centre stack is the hub for the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system that includes the Premium Centerpoint Bose Surround Sound system AM/ FM/CD/MP3 playback and voiceactivation for Bluetooth, audio, phone book and music selection.
Just like an iPad, you can scroll through lists, swipe, drag and click as on any tablet. Three months complimentary XM Sirius Satellite Radio is included. The colour screen is also your Rear-view Backup camera and, hiding behind it is a secure compartment with USB port where you can charge and store your smartphone out of sight. Again, I have to agree with Consumer Reports: "The spacious cabin sets a new standard for Chevrolet fit and finish, with generally high quality materials and trim." The rear seat provides ample shoulder room for three adults and plenty of legroom to really stretch out.
The 60/40-split seat can also be folded forward to add to the generous 532 litres (18.8 cu-ft.) of trunk space.
Standard equipment includes all the usual power amenities plus dual zone automatic climate control; power, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals and ground illumination; solar absorbing glass; remote entry and push button start/stop.
A total of 10 airbags includes knee bolsters for both front occupants and additional rear side seat airbags for outboard passengers.
2014 CHEVROLET IMPALA LT
Type: Large FWD sedan
Engine: 3.6-litre V6
Horsepower: 305 @6800 rpm
Torque: 264 lb-ft @5300 rpm
Fuel economy: City - 11.1 L/100 km; highway - 6.9 L/100 km
Base price: $32,945
Price as tested: $41,320
Vehicle provided by: Laird Wheaton Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, GMC
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
© Copyright 2013