By Allen Penticoff
The Chevrolet Impala is one of America’s heritage model automobiles. It has deep roots in the auto industry with DNA going back into the 1950s. First, beginning in 1949 (1950 model year), there was the Chevy Bel Air, then came cheaper plainer Biscayne and Delray models. The first Impala was sold in 1958, continuing through six generations ending in 1985. The Impala reappeared in 1994-1996 as the seventh generation. The eighth and ninth generations were produced from 2000 to 2013. It was knocked down a notch from the top by the higher trim level found in the Caprice in 1966. But the Caprice is now gone and the Impala is back on top as Chevrolet’s full-sized automobile.
The Impala had the largest engines, and best styling of the full-sized Chevrolets for many years. Chevrolet has used the SS designation on many models – always denoting a performance version and still uses this badging on current models. Many Impalas have borne the SS badge as well – it is a faster, sportier car. Sadly, in the 1990s and well into the 2000s and 2010s, the Impala suffered from blandness. Until recently it has become associated with the most ordinary rental car – lacking style and performance. I am happy to report that the latest, 10th generation Impala that started production as a 2014 model, is a return to the days when owning an Impala was something to be proud of. It was the first American sedan in 20 years to earn Consumer Reports’ top score of 95 out of 100 points.
Recently Dean Obert at Bocker Auto Group in Freeport turned me loose with a 2015 Impala. I much enjoyed the drive and really would like to rent one sometime for a long trip. Quite the opposite of the lame Impalas of not too long ago. The styling of the new Impala caught my eye right away. Chevrolet got it right. And the rightness is not limited to the body. The interior is right and the mechanicals are too. A big break from the past (since the 2000 model year) is it features front-wheel drive rather than the rear-wheel drive of its ancestors. As with my usual review of a new car, I don’t go into all the electronics and infotainment that comes on the new cars – suffice it to say that a new Impala has everything a modern well-equipped car is expected to have. Yes, our cars have gotten to be quite complicated, but they are safer and more convenient than ever. The Impala embodies all of this.
You now get in via keyless entry and turn on the car with a button. The comfort is immediate with no complaints about fit, finish or body interferences. The steering wheel is power adjustable in/out as well as up/down to fine-tune your driving position. It was a hot day and I especially came to like the ventilated seats that offer heating or air-conditioning. The LTZ model I was driving also had a panoramic opening tinted sunroof that was quite large. The instrument display features analog gauges for speed, tachometer, engine temperature and fuel quantity as well as digital readouts, all in easy to read, sharp high-definition display.
You’ll find the back seats just as comfortable as the front and ready for a long road trip with passengers. There is plenty of space in the huge trunk for everyone’s luggage as well. Driving the Impala is a pleasure, the fit and feel is excellent, the handling very good. The six-speed automatic transmission with overdrive offers manual shifting with a switch on top of the shift knob. It is plenty quick, with 305 horsepower on tap. In hard acceleration from a dead stop in manual mode I did notice a significant amount of torque steer. It was definitely letting you know you were blasting off. Few front-wheel drive cars have the kind of horsepower to induce torque steer like this. It is not a problem in controlling it – soon you’ll be selecting second gear and going very fast. Zero to 60 mph time is 6.8 seconds and getting to 90 mph doesn’t take much longer.
So what’s a big car like the Impala doing in a Mr. Green Car report. Well, it is to show that new technologies and options are changing the face of the automotive experience. The “standard” Impala with the 3.6 liter 305 horsepower V-6 engine yields EPA estimated 29 mpg on the highway with 19 mpg in the city. The fuel system and engine are able to burn E-85 ethanol as well – what Chevrolet calls Flex Fuel. If you don’t need all that horsepower, a more efficient yet still powerful 196 horsepower ECOTEC 2.5 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with engine start/stop technology is available. The engine restarts when you take your foot off the brake. This engine will attain 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
But wait, there’s more: Chevrolet is offering the 3.6L V-6 with a bi-fuel option that allows use of either compressed natural gas (CNG) or regular gasoline – horsepower is 245 on gas, 206 with CNG. The fuel economy estimates are 17 city/25 highway mpg on gasoline and 16 city/24 highway on CNG. The Impala is one of few cars on the market to offer this kind of luxury and significantly smaller carbon footprint and air pollution through the use of CNG. CNG is also a domestically sourced fossil fuel that costs you less per mile than gasoline. With bi-fuel capability you can tank up on CNG to drive around Rockford for your normal errands and commuting, yet not have to deal with trying to find CNG when on a road trip. I consider this a great option to consider ordering on your Impala.
Base price of the 62 percent North American built Impala is $35,440. Price as tested in LTZ trim was $40,095. I see plenty of them on the road – and for good reason. Chevrolet has built a winner in its new Impala.