Chevrolet Impala LS Review

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
chevrolet impala ls review
If you want to judge a restaurant, don’t order the chef’s specialty. Go for the hamburger or the omelet. If the man in the funny hat prepares these prosaic dishes with the same passion he puts into his Suprème de Turbot Rôti aux Asperges Vertes et à l'Ail en Chemise, you have a winner. The same applies to cars. If you want to judge an automaker’s prowess, check their basic models. Scope the ones with standard engines and base interiors that hide in the back of the lots. A few miles behind the wheel tells you more about the manufacturer’s passion for product than anything their spinmongers could ever publish. Which brings us to the Impala LS.

Again, forget the Impala SS. That’s the fancy one with a V8 engine and a $28k price tag that tells you precious little about Chevy’s gestalt (save the fact that they don’t mind putting 303hp through the front wheels). Clock the LS– if you can find one. Oh there are plenty of them out there. It’s just that the model’s design is inoffensive to the point of invisibility. Admittedly, the new Impala looks better than the old Impala, but it’s not a patch on the really old Impalas or all the great Bel-Airs from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Why did GM’s designers settle on an update of a late-90’s Chevy Lumina? That design defined generic in 1998. Park the Impala next to a Dodge Charger or a new Camry and the Chevy disappears.

On the inside, more vanilla. The cabin is slathered in plastic with all the warmth of a German headmistress, accented with shiny petrochemicals that are less wood-evocative than a pine-scented air freshener. The three-passenger front seat lives up to its billing– provided one of them is an amputee. There’s a choice of fuzzy fabric upholstery in three dull colors, whose main advantage is that it keeps you from sitting directly on the foam. A center stack hangs down like a gigantic uvula, chiding you for being too cheap to spring for the higher-priced model (that includes the console). It’s easy to understand why the 2006 Impala was selected as Fleet Car of the Year by Automotive Fleet and Business Fleet magazines. The cabin sacrifices comfort and style for longevity and price.

Other than bland, the one word that describes the Impala’s driving experience is “adequate.” Adequate power from its pushrod 3.5-liter V-6 for keeping up with traffic. Adequate comfort for mindless interstate cruising. Adequate steering, handling and braking for avoiding accidents. Adequate sound insulation to keep road noise from interfering with the adequate AM/FM radio. After a few miles driving– I mean “operating” the Impala, you begin to manipulate the controls with all the emotional engagement you normally lavish upon your toaster. You find yourself wondering if the engineers who designed the Impala ever drove a base-model Accord or Camry– of any vintage.

Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot to recommend the entry level LS compared to its price/class competitors. The trunk is roomy enough to hold all your sales charts, sample cases, rolling luggage and whiskey bottles. And that’s about it. Side curtain airbags and one year’s OnStar-enabled Big Brotherhood are standard, but buyers more concerned about avoiding accidents than recovering from one have to stump-up an extra $600 for ABS and traction control. Don’t even ask for wheels larger than 16” (which come complete with bolt-on wheel covers), a sunroof, satellite radio, automatic climate control, remote starting or bucket seats. Those luxuries are only available on more expensive models.

No amount of money will buy you a modern transmission. The competition may offer five or six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, but the Impala buyer’s only option (which equates to no option) is a 1980’s-era four speed Hydra-Matic. It handles the changes well enough, but it’s not exactly what you’d call a paragon of cog swapping precision. Of course, this deficiency is something of an American tradition: the Impala is made by the same company that continued selling two-speed Powerglide automatics into the 70’s, when others had moved on to three and four-speed designs.

This Impala illustrates why Chevy (and by extension GM) lose market share daily. Instead of engineering a world-class product, they’re content to produce something that’s not even more than merely adequate. Then they try to dress it up in expensive trim packages and million-dollar ad campaigns and pass it off as something special. Unfortunately, a pound of chopped ground round is still a burger when it goes downtown. Eventually, even the least fastidious die-hard sees the advantages of a no-cost taste upgrade. Before long, everyone’s eating at the place up the street where the quality is higher and the fare more fulfilling. The Impala can run, but it can’t hide from restaurant reality.

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  • USAsupport USAsupport on Oct 08, 2008

    I am only 24 and I've only owned 3 vehicles: '91 Blazer (S10 sized), '05 Malibu Classic, and '06 Malibu LT. I enjoyed everyone of those vehicles. The Blazer did EXCELLENT up until the last 2 or 3 years I drove it (which was around '05-06). THe first thing to go was the front power windows .. something I have found to wear out on almost every vehicle after 12+ years. The other repairs, however, were needed because of how it was driven. The most expensive repair on it (Blazer) was $450 to fix the rear axle. The other was replacing the distributor from where I let it set for over a year without so much as cranking it. It needed replacing 3 weeks after that year+ time. I sold this Blazer to my neighbor for $700 in '06 (could have got $1000 but he was a friend in a bind). Since then, he has spent $1200 on fixing the windows, some cosmetics (I hit a speed limit sign), and new tires and brake pads. She runs excellent to this day with 197,478 miles. On the other hand, a good friend of mine had a '91 blazer EXACTLY like mine except it was a different color. His caused him tons and tons of problems until he finally gave up on it after 3 years. During my high school years, the blazer was the most common SUV and I'd say about 1:25 were real problems. I never drove a Honda Accord (have rode in them; nice cars) but, again, it was quite a popular car during my HS years. But the stats are the same: 1:15 were problem cars. A friend of mine had one then and still drives it today with over 300K miles; but he has spent about $3000 on it over the past 7 years. I remember one kid getting a brand new one ('01 then) and, after a year, it ended up sitting in his yard with engine and transmission problems; it's still there today with 13K miles on the odometer. The other 2 cars I owned got totaled before I really had any chance to give them a good run. The '05 I only had 6 months but everything worked great. The '06 worked excellent, but because I was always letting the gas run down to nearly empty, a little bit of trash plugged up a fuel injector .. nothing my mechanic couldn't cure for about $60 (mostly labor trying to pinpoint the issue). Some of the other posters that shared their experience stated that they were using a rental; some didn't even state where they made their purchase. The way a car is driven/treated has a lot to do with how it runs and how worn down parts are. If you didn't buy your car from a dealer with at least the 30-day warranty (thinking used cars here too)...then most complaints about issues you have with the car is void, in my opinion. Every automaker has a line of vehicles that aren't really that great on the outside/inside, or are overpriced, or run like crap, etc. I recently purchased an '06 Chevy Impala LS. I enjoyed the Malibu's but I wanted something a little bigger due to my accident record (2) over the past year (not my fault I might add =P). I really like the way this car operates. When it all boils down, give the car a good test drive .. have a mechanic you trust give it a good look-over during the 30-day warranty (if its a used car/truck) and have any issues repaired at the dealers cost, and hope for the best after that. Treat the car good and it usually does the same to you.

  • Impalaman695 Impalaman695 on Feb 12, 2011

    I don't really care for your restaurant comparison. In any car you review what it is you are reviewing. It is what it is. The impala ss is not the car you are talking about you are talking about an regular impala. The two cars are totally different. One was made for those who needed transportation for little money the impala ss was made for the driver who enjoys driving a fast luxury car. I own a impala ss and it rides awesome. Heated seats,Bose stereo(that sounds great),gets 30mpg on highway and will do 0-60 in under 6 seconds. So don't get mad at a someone for making an excellent car by basing your opinion on a different car. I know your going to say they put 303 hp to the wrong wheels but if your like me and live in an area that gets snow and ice in winter they put that hp to the right wheels.LOL