Chevy is doing it again.
It may not be rear-wheel-drive or offer V8 power, but the Impala is a family sled and road car worthy of the bounding African antelope badge on the sail panel.
Perhaps because it is a Cadillac road sled with a bounding African antelope badge on the sail panel – and a Bowtie badge in the grille – instead of a wreath and crest. Look closer and you’ll discover that the “Chevy” Impala is actually – or at least, in major ways – a Cadillac XTS.
Or, the reverse.
They share the same “platform” – industry-speak for the underlying chassis, basic layout and physical measurements (including the same wheelbase) with the chief differences between the two coming down to exterior body panels that don’t quite interchange, a full flat-screen gauge package in the Caddy (vs. an analog cluster in the Chevy) and FWD-only vs. AWD-available in the Caddy.
The Impala is a down-low way to get into a Cadillac for about $10-15k less.
It also costs less – and gives you more room – than either the Toyota Avalon (Japan’s best effort yet at building a big American sedan) or the Hyundai Azera (nice car, but more of a heavy cruiser than a battleship proper).
Ditto the Chrysler 300 – which is a really nice car, but a smaller (and pricier) car.
WHAT IT IS
The Impala is a full-size, potentially six-passenger sled very much like they used to make ’em.
It shares a platform with the much more expensive Cadillac XTS sedan – as well its available V6 engine and many other commonalities.
Base price is $26,910 for an LS with 2.5 liter engine; the V6 LT starts at $30,125. There is also an LTZ V6 trim, with a base price of $35,290. But the me most expensive Impala is the LT V6 at $39,635
Chevy’s trim structure – and pricing – can be a little confusing. There are “1” “2” and “3” packages that can be added to to the LT and LTZ trims. The “2” signifies an Impala is equipped with the optional V6 (LS Impalas are four cylinder-only).
So, the price you pay depends – as usual – on the trim and packages you buy.
The Impala’s most directly comparable rival is the Toyota Avalon – which is also full-size but slightly less full-size than the Chevy. It also comes standard with a significantly higher MSRP: $32,285 to start. It does come standard with a V6 engine (optional in the Chevy) but not everyone needs the extra cylinders – or the bigger gas bills.
There is also the Chrysler 300. It’s closer-in-layout to the traditional American lead sled – being rear-drive-based and offering V8 power. It’s also the only other car in this class that’s comparably roomy inside. But it has a much smaller trunk – and also carries a much higher price tag: $31,695 to start.
You may have seen Chevy’s big ad campaign for the in-car WiFi “hot spot” now standard in all Impala trims. No need to find a Starbucks to get online when on the road. The WiFi also works outside the car – so you can set up some folding chairs, picnic, camp… and Google, too.
The other big news – not as well-known – is that you can now buy a compressed natural gas (CNG) version of the Impala. Actually, it runs on both CNG and gas – which gives you the flexibility lacking in most alternative fuel vehicles and much better performance, too.
Three-fourths a Cadillac for less than two-thirds the price.
Class-leading interior room (especially front seat legroom, of which there’s three inches more in the Chevy than there is in the Cadillac).
A handsome shell, too.
Available four cylinder engine – and $5k-plus lower sticker price than others in this class.
Standard in-car WiFi, 18 inch wheels (not available – or extra-cost – in Avalon).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Four cylinder Impalas are great deals – but a great deal less quick than V6-equipped rivals.
Four is only slightly more fuel-efficient than 100-plus hp stronger optional V6.
AWD isn’t offered (you can get it in the Chrysler 300).
The Impala is the only full-size car currently available that you can buy with a four cylinder engine. The others in this class – Avalon, 300, Azera – all come standard with V6s.
The upside – if you buy an Avalon, 300 or Azera – is power/performance that would have qualified for supercar stardom when I was a kid back in the ’80s. The downside is a supercar price tag.
Well, maybe not quite.
But the four-cylinder Impala’s sub-$27k MSRP is a lot more family-friendly than its rivals’ entry-luxury sedan low-mid $30k MSRPs.
The downside is the Impala’s 2.5 liter, 195 hp engine is much less powerful than the V6s in rival cars. It takes about 8.7 seconds for the heavy Chevy (3,800 lbs.) to get to 60, about two seconds and change slower than the V6-powered Avalon, Chrysler 300 and Hyundai Azera.
Also, fuel economy isn’t much higher than what you’d get with the V6-powered competition: 22 city, 31 highway vs. 21 city, 31 highway for the V6 Avalon, 19 city, 31 highway for the V6 Chrysler 300 and 20 city, 29 highway for the V6 Azera. Or, for that matter, from the V6-powered Impala (18 city, 28 highway).
But you will save a bunch of cash up front – at least $4,785 (vs. the $31,695 to start Chrysler 300) and as much as $7,090 (vs. the $34,000 to start Azera). That buys a lot of gas.
And the 2.5 Impala isn’t slow.
It’s just not quick.
If quick is what you want, there’s the optional (in all but the base LS) V6. It is the same basic V6 you’d find under the hood of the Cadillac XTS. Slightly stronger, actually, than the Caddy’s version. Both displace 3.6 liters, but the Chevy’s rated 305 hp while the Caddy’s 3.6 V6 comes with 1 less
(304 hp). Another slight difference is torque: Both V6s rate 264 ft.-lbs. but the Caddy’s V6 makes it 100 RPM lower in the powerband (5,200 RPM) vs. 5,300 for the Chevy. The differences are pretty minor – and probably unnoticeable in terms of everyday driving feel.
One thing you could find in the XTS that you won’t find in the Impala, however, is all-wheel-drive. It’s optional in the Caddy, unavailable in the Chevy. Which is a little odd, for two reasons:
One, it would be so easy to offer it. Same basic car, same basic drivetrains. It’s surely a “bolt in” – if GM so desired.
Two, AWD is very popular.
Probably 60 percent of all mid-sized cars offer it. Why is it so (relatively) scarce in the full-size segment (the only car in this class/price ballpark that offers it is the Chrysler 300)?
Last item: You can order a “flex fuel” Impala that runs on both gasoline and compressed natural gas (CNG). The cool thing about this deal is you can burn either – whenever. CNG is cheap – and burns very cleanly (important if you’re a greenie) but refilling the tanks (high-pressure) requires access to special facilities – which are sometimes not close at hand when you need them. But with the flex-fuel layout, you just switch to gas and keep on going.
CNG is the ticket for fleet users who are looking to lower their fuel bills – and the same goes for civilians who seek the same.
None of the other cars in this segment sell this set-up, either.
The Impala is the Chevy of Cadillacs – or the Cadillac of Chevys. Whichever, however – the point is it’s a big, quiet, solid, lug of a car. The kind of car – and experience – that once defined American family cars. That went away for awhile – and the Japanese took over. The Toyota Camry – and its stretched-a-bit Avalon bigger brother – became “the” go-to family cars. They sold half a million of them a year, year in, year out.
Detroit eventually shook the sand out of its ears and got back in the game. The Chrysler 300 being one of the first truly serious alternatives (and not just a “buy American” alternative).
The Impala may be front-wheel-drive (and powered by a six – or even a four) but it owns the road like the full-sized Caddy it is – under the skin. This is not a new concept – just better executed this go ’round. Back in the ’70s, Chevy and Caddys often shared more than a corporate parent. A Sedan deVille and a Caprice… kissing cousins. It was great because it allowed Joe Sixpack to experience most of what Richie Rich did – at a Joe Sixpack price point.
Same deal here.
It’s not like Chevy was gonna rip out all the Cadillac suspension and tuning elements. Maybe a few things got left off (like AWD) but drive both without knowing which you’re driving and – trust me – it will be very hard to tell the difference.
Neither is a “sporty” ride – thank the motor gods. There is enough of that going around. They are reincarnations of American Road Kings past – without the tire squeal, body roll and ’78 Chrysler Cordoba back and forth pitching as you roll the thing to a stop. You get the dead-calm imperviousness in a straight line that comes with two tons of curb weight and a near 112-inch wheelbase – without the old school boat’s habit of pitching hubcaps into the weeds in the curves. If you like the Camry, dig the Avalon – you will be very pleased with this one. Especially when you take into account what Chevy charges vs. what Toyota (and the others) do.
The four is no hero, but it is absolutely adequate for family car service. For more than family car service, go with the available 305 hp V6. It’s the strongest available mill in this class (Avalon’s 3.5 liter V6 makes a mere 268 hp; even the Chrysler 300 doesn’t quit hit the 300 hp bar).
The Impalas’ direct-injected V6 gives the car the highway legs of its namesake. Loping strides across the savannah. With leaps and bounds just a push of the accelerator pedal away. All these cars are easy 100 MPH cars.
All day long.
Such a shame the highway speed limits in this country are stuck back in 1974.
There is some pitch if you rock it up to 100 and get on the brakes hard; but that is to be expected. The relevant point is the easygoing pleasantness of these cars.
All of them, to be fair.
Driving one is a time-travel trip, back to the days when big cars ruled – and small cars sucked.
Don’t miss it.
This is arguably some of GM Styling’s finest work in decades. Bill Mitchell’s ghost is smiling, somewhere. Remember Bill Mitchell? He penned the ’67 Corvette – and the very first (1967) Camaro.
Bringing up Mitchell – and the Camaro – is relevant in another way. The Impala’s lines were penned to establish kinship between it and the current Camaro. The effect is subtle but clear – and you really notice when you look closely at the front clip. From the cat-ate-the-canary grille, the metal flows (right word) back – almost 17 feet – accented along the way with the exterior chrome (including sail panel leaping Impala badges) that’s so typically absent from today’s monochromatic cars. It’s a beautiful car, plain and simple.
Bigger than the others.
Outside – and in.
Stretching 201.3 inches from end to end, the Impala is almost half a foot longer than the Toyota Avalon (195.3 inches) and wider, too (73 inches vs. 72.2 for Toyota’s “biggest” sedan). Even the Chrysler 300 – what would Luca Brasi drive? – is almost… shall we say, diminutive when parked next to the Impala.
The Chevy has just shy of 46 inches of front seat legroom (45.8 inches, to be precise). That is nearly three inches more legroom than you’d enjoy in a Mercedes S-Class sedan (nearly $100k to start). And also about three inches more than in the Avalon (42.1 inches) and – wait for it – almost four inches more than in the Chrysler 300 (41.8 inches).
You’re probably thinking – ok, but what about the back seats? How about almost 40 inches (39.8) back there? This is more than the Avalon’s got (39.2) and a lot more than the Hyundai Azera’s got (36.8 inches). The Chrysler 300 has slightly more – 40.1 inches – but you’ll notice this difference a lot less than you will the almost four inches difference up front.
The Chevy’s bigger-is-better them carries through to the trunk – which gets Tony Soprano’s seal of approval: 18.8 cubic feet, vs. just 16 cubic feet (a mid-sized car’s trunk) for the Avalon and (ditto) 16.3 cubes for the 300.
With the back seats folded and the pass-through open, you can haul a bundle of 2x4x8s home in the Impala – with the trunk closed. Also a sheet of 3×4 plywood (I did it).
The main gauge cluster is analog rather than flat-screen/digital as in the XTS – but the center stack has an LCD touchscreen interface for the GPS, audio, apps and so on that’s very similar to the Cadillac’s CUE system. It has six main – and large-sized – icons that you touch to get to whatever you want to get to. And behind it is a hidden storage cubby. Push the up/down button just below the screen and the entire LCD housing rises up several inches, revealing your secret stash area. Slick – and useful.
As is in the in-car WiFi, which has a working radius of 50 feet outside the car. The system is standard – as is a three-month trial subscription.
After that, you have to pay to play.
High-end options include an available 11 speaker audio rig, panorama sunroof, 20 inch wheel/tire package, adaptive cruise control and leather seating (and stitching) that looks hand-done and would have been Cadillac-only (and Cadillac priced) not so long ago. People rightly complain about money buying less these days – but cars are an exception to that rule.
This car, at least.
The center console is deep – and has its own lighting – but it’s narrow and would have been nicer if it were a bit larger. That – and a somewhat bland-looking steering wheel – are the only flaws I could find. You have to really be picky to not be happy with this car.
Impressed by this car.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Joe Sixpack’s Cadillac has arrived.
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