“New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down.”
New York City. The World’s Capital. It has something for everyone and everything for someone. One can travel the globe and never find better restaurants, theatre, shopping, museums, or music.
It’s also an awful, awful place to drive.
Parking is non-existent or hellaciously expensive. Taxi drivers show no concern for surrounding vehicles, changing lanes at will. Pedestrians leap out in front of vehicles–sometimes sober, but most of the time not. And the traffic! Sitting in the Lincoln Tunnel for ninety minutes “just because” is a daily occurrence. What vehicle can survive such a test?
Enter the 2014 Chevrolet Impala.
I had the privilege of facilitating a meeting at the Grand Cascades Lodge in Hamburg, New Jersey this week. It’s a beautiful facility, with rooms bigger than any of my first three apartments, a meticulously manicured golf course, and a Wine Spectator-recognized restaurant with a $30M wine cellar.
It’s also only forty miles from New York City. So, naturally, on my last evening there, my colleague, Shawn, and I took his 2014 Impala rental car with just over 3K on the clock into town. It was the 2LT variety, complete with a whomping 3.6 liter V6 kicking out over three hundred horses. Our plan? Eat at the best Mexican restaurant I’ve ever experienced, Baby Bo’s on 2nd avenue, and then head into the Village to hear Roy Hargrove’s big band perform at the Blue Note.
The 2013 Impala was one of my favorite sleeper rental cars, especially in LTZ trim. I used to love watching unsuspecting rental car customers walk past them in favor of Nissan Altima 2.5 S models, leaving them for me to swoop up on. I was extremely curious to see how the 2014 model would compare.
My first test of the Impala was to see how it fared from the passenger’s perspective. Shawn drove us into the city, avoiding the backup in the Lincoln Tunnel and taking the long way into town on the George Washington bridge. First impressions of the Impala’s interior? Best in class. Seats were much more supportive than the Avalon, dash materials were much softer than the Azera. The MyLink infotainment system was intuitive and easy to use. Forward visibility was decidely better than what I experienced in the Avalon a few weeks earlier. So far, so good.
Shawn’s driving style was much less aggressive than mine on the highway, but once we got into the city…not so much. The big Chevy floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee through the streets of Harlem, switching lanes and handling the potholes of Park Avenue without a single hiccup. The cabin provided insulation from the soundtrack of the urban atmosphere, not to mention from the homeless individual knocking on our windows. One sudden lane change received a honk and a warning from our rear starboard side. “Make sure that you put that there’s a big blind spot in the review,” Shawn advised. Consider it done.
Upon arrival at 34th and 2nd, we found a parking space right behind a CR-V Zipcar and headed into Baby Bo’s. This little gem of a restaurant seats maybe thirty people and serves the finest inexpensive Mexican food in the country. If you have a Hot Tamale x10 badge on Foursquare, like I do, this is a must do in Manhattan.
Next up–the Village. Going the thirty blocks from Baby Bo’s to the Blue Note took about fifty minutes. At 8:00 PM. Think about that the next time you complain about your suburban morning commute.
“Why is it that a taxi seems like it would have been about twice as fast?” Shawn wondered.
No street parking to be found in Greenwich Village, so we opted for a parking garage on 3rd Street. Amongst the G Wagens, Range Rovers, and 911s already parked in the garage, the Impala fit right in. This car LOOKED like big money-everything from the stitched dash to the paint quality impressed. GM didn’t cut any corners when it came to appearance.
The line for the Blue Note stretched all the way down the block to McDougal Street. I had reserved a table beforehand, and upon entry to the club our server led us to a spot near the front of the stage, right in front of Roy Hargrove’s microphone. For those of you who may not be lifelong Jazz fans, Hargrove is on the Mount Rushmore of trumpet players. He’s been on the New York scene since the late Eighties when when he was in his late teens. He has won two Grammy awards. He’s collaborated on recordings with everybody from Stanley Turrentine to D’Angelo to John Mayer. (Mentioning John Mayer is always a good way to get a review published at TTAC — JB) I was psyched.
Roy came out in a white cotton suit, green Ray-Bans, Nikes, and a purple bow tie with skulls and crossbones. I momentarily thought that perhaps I had accidentally gone to see will.i.am play trumpet. The set was okay. Not inspired, not awful. It was time for Shawn to toss me the keys and for me to drive us back out of the city.
Unfortunately, the drive back to New Jersey was a tedious one. After getting through the Lincoln tunnel with no hassle, we were forced down from four lanes to one across the bridge to the Meadowlands, which meant an hour-long traffic jam. Fifty MPH speed limits greeted us for the rest of the trip after that, with cops stationed about every two miles. Much to my chagrin, I was unable to fully test the direct-injected V6’s power, but the trip did let me know how the Impala would fare as an urban assault vehicle. The answer? Very, very well. Large enough for a family of four. Small enough to fight its way through traffic. Good enough fuel economy (we averaged just under 25 MPG for the trip).
Most importantly, the car was EASY. The stress of sitting in one spot for nearly an hour, inching along, was completely nullified by the comfort of the driver’s seat, the rich sound of the stereo, and the well-lit displays. The Impala moves with the facility that most drivers would expect from a Lexus. Somewhat comfortably numb, but still enjoyable. The transmission handled the start and stop with ease–no clunking, no uncertainty about which gear to select.
At 1:30 AM, I reluctantly turned the keys over to our valet as we returned to the resort. As I watched him drive away, I thought, “The only thing that would keep anybody from buying this car is that damned bowtie on the trunk.” This is a car that should conquest business from Toyota, Lexus, Hyundai, and Ford. This is a real Impala. This is a car GM can be proud of. I wonder how it would look next to a Boss 302 in my garage?