You know that saying, "You have to spend money to make money"?
For the moment, never mind how it stacks up against the competition, or how well it sells. The most important thing about the 2014 Impala is that Chevrolet created it. They had to, in order to prove they could compete.
We flew out to San Diego (on our own dime) for a sneak preview of the new Impala. Reps from GM assured us that, though it's more expensive than the car it's replacing, the new Impala would make money. Unlike the last Impala, the majority of which ended up in rental and municipal fleets, the new car wouldn't be a volume seller. Instead, Chevy said, it would be a true flagship for the brand.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the center stack. The new Impala debuts Chevrolet's updated MyLink infotainment system, which we found to be exceptionally user friendly. Big physical buttons control the major audio and climate functions, while large icons make a touchscreen easier to use.
That touchscreen opens like a garage door to reveal a hidden compartment with a USB port. Chevy reps told us its an ideal place to store a phone, out of reach while driving, but plugged in to MyLink for on-the-road connectivity. Touch response is good, but swipe has a bit of a learning curve, lest you accidentally hit a menu selection while trying to change screens.
If you want to reconfigure the look of the touchscreen, you can choose from four "themes" — some of which seem more useful than others. You can enlarge certain frequently-used choices, or move apps around on the screen. Also of use: preset buttons that can take not only radio stations, but also destinations and favorite songs off digital media. You can mix them amongst AM, FM and XM presets all on one screen.
If you connect your smartphone, MyLink will either play stored music or use its data plan to stream audio using one of the included apps. One cool feature: If you connect multiple phones, you can play music from any of them, switching among them for different songs.
In addition to ten airbags, the Impala features a number of optional active safety systems that should keep you from deploying any of them. Cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, blind-spot alert, and collision mitigation braking (it'll do its best to slow the car to limit the severity of a crash) are all available.
The tester we drove also came with an active cruise control that will work across all speeds. Just set it and steer, and the Impala will keep an appropriate distance from the car in front. We only used it for a very short period of time — car makers don't like to schedule test drives during rush hour — but we didn't find any immediate, glaring faults.
While the new Impala doesn't look very much like the outgoing model, it's certainly a car of its time. The front clip is intentionally reminiscent of the Camaro, while side-on it the greenhouse (all that window glass and the pillars that surround it) could be mistaken for a Hyundai Sonata. The shiny "bright bar" spanning the pinched tail lamps may currently be ubiquitous on large sedans, but the look originated on the Impalas of the late 1950s and early '60s.
Inside, the LTZ models we drove had contrasting piping and double-stitching that accented the leather upholstery. Fit and finish is definitely improved from the prior car, and the whole design wouldn't feel out of place in a more upscale vehicle.
Its overall look is understated. In keeping with the Chevy badge on the front and the size of the car, it's an appropriate style choice for folks who want some luxury touches without ostentation. We imagine it'll be popular with both realtors and elected officials, folks who need to toe a careful line between the image of success and the appearance of earning too much money.
On the Road
We had a chance to drive the Impala for an afternoon, up an interstate and along winding mountain roads. Neither of these gave a great impression of being stuck in traffic, but both showed how the Impala handled at its real-world limits.
The Impala is a big, front-wheel drive car, no bones about it, which was immediately noticeable when Chevy had us to hustle it on some mountain hairpins on our test drive. The Impala complied, but definitely made its size known. Electronic power steering felt vague at high speeds, but on point (for a car this size, at least) in curves — an odd choice for a car that'll likely spend most of its days as a highway cruiser.
Acceleration from the 3.6L six-cylinder engine was perfectly adequate, and we're looking forward to trying out the other two engine choices — a 2.5L four-cylinder and a 2.4L four-cylinder with a mild hybrid setup that Chevy calls "eAssist."
Though it's Chevrolet's flagship sedan, the 2014 Impala won't ever be an object of lust. But that's because it's designed to be less a showoff than a showcase of the best that Chevy has to offer. Instead of a tired midsizer, the all new Impala offers MyLink connectivity, active safety, understated yet attractive style, and a relatively comfortable ride.
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