Chevy's updated, enduring model is a family-sized success, writes Kevin Hackett.
Road test: 2014 Chevrolet Impala
"Oooh, that's a good looking thing," I say to myself as I clap eyes on the Chevrolet Impala for the first time. The car was delivered to my home while I was away and, to be honest, I'd kind of forgotten it was there until I was due to participate in the daily death race to the office and found an extra key in the box. But now I'm slightly taken aback. It really is a handsome car, and I wasn't expecting that.
Impala is Chevrolet's most enduring model name, and the press material I find inside its (again) really attractive interior makes no bones about this fact. It's full of really great images of models from decades gone by - utterly enormous and often ridiculous road barges that bear no relation to the almost European-looking car that I'm now sat inside, admiring its cabin architecture. After an initially dicey relationship with The General and other American carmakers, either I'm going totally soft or they've really upped their game and are making some fantastic cars nowadays. I'm convinced it's the latter.
It's odd how bankruptcy has turned this company into what it should have been all along. To cut costs, the likes of Chevrolet have turned to the European arms of General Motors, namely Vauxhall and Opel, for platform technology and design, with the result that previously wallowy and shoddily built cars are steadily being replaced by models that offer futuristic designs, decent handling, vastly improved build quality and exceptional value for money. And the Impala is no exception to this trend.
The segment being fought in by the Impala is awash with bland, boring, given-up-on-life machinery such as the Toyota Avalon, yet the Impala, now in its 10th generation, looks fresher, bolder, more modern and more mature than any of them. At least from the front, because as you take a walk around it, the Impala, you soon realise, has been cursed with a rather unfortunate rear end. That huge boot might be capacious enough to smuggle a family of camels, but its high line hampers rear-view vision from the driver's seat and it lends the entire car a lumpen look. The body creases that try to ape the look of a Merc E-Class don't do it any favours, either.
There are no such complaints on the inside, however. Here, all looks and feels wonderful. The trim on this car is a mix of black and biscuit-coloured leather upholstery, along with some tasteful grey veneered wood. Whoever spec'd the trim needs stringing up, however, because light-coloured upper dashboards always give horrendous reflections in the windscreen - it looks cool at first, but is a total pain to live with, even for a couple of days.
What I like most about this car is its intuitiveness. Normally a man will do anything to avoid reading instruction manuals - we are technology experts from the moment of conception, naturally. But modern cars have me flummoxed and, after a couple of days of acute frustration, I find myself reaching for the book in the glove box to find out how to turn on the headlamps. Either that or I just call up my teenage son, because he does actually know everything. Not so the Impala.
Bluetooth set up for audio and phone? Done in an instant. Tone settings on the (gorgeous-sounding Bose) hi-fi just the way I like them? Check. Satnav worked out, safety system alarms disabled? In a heartbeat. This car is so simple that even I can use it - it's dinosaur- friendly and, on that basis alone, I can highly recommend it.
It doesn't let itself down on the move, either. Performance from the 305hp, 3.6L V6 is adequate for most normal driving scenarios, feeling relaxed rather than urgent (it does weigh the best part of two tonnes), but it's the wafting, silky smoothness of its progress that impresses the most. Double glazing, impeccable sound insulation and nicely judged damping make this car impeccably refined, making it feel way more expensive than it actually is. Lexus, Infiniti, even Audi and BMW owners, take note.
And that's the real appeal of cars such as this. The Impala offers a great deal of road presence and occupant enjoyment for relatively little in the way of financial ruin. It's built to take on more prestigious brands at their own game and it won't make its owner feel like they bought it because they couldn't afford that 5 Series. And, when the real nutter SS version inevitably arrives, it could very well become the muscle car of the decade.
Would I be tempted to buy one myself? If I had a family in the traditional sense then yes, definitely. It ticks practically every box there is for the motorist who wants style, substance and good value for money, and is proof positive that the US car industry has turned a corner, from which there should be no going back.
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