Chevrolet Impala SS Review

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

I bet you didn’t know there’s a torque steer conspiracy afoot. Several mainstream manufacturers have decided to boost their front wheel-drive models’ fuel efficiency by throwing their drivers at solid objects each and every time they dare to accelerate with authority. Thankfully, not all carmakers have joined the secret scheme; many wrong wheel-drivers maintain manageable directional stability under maximum thrust. Of course, these vehicles aren’t powered by a 5.3-liter can of whoop ass, like Chevrolet's latest Impala SS. If ever there was a front wheel-drive car that discourages hoonery, this is it.

Even before you fire it up, the Impala SS wards off G-force jockeys with its milquetoast styling. I’m not saying that the SS’ lines are restrained, but if this car were a politician it'd be too conservative for the Neocons. The usual hot car performance cues– aggressive front air dam, rear wing, bling wheels and twin pipes– are subtle to the point of existential angst. Only the 18” hoops sing a siren song to adrenalin seekers (courtesy of The Ramones): “Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba, I wanna be sedated.”

Inside, if it’s good enough for Avis, it’s good enough for you. Although the SS’ cabin is large and accommodating, the mock luxurious surfaces are as unyielding as a Kim Jong Il. Even the one place where the car’s designers showed their soft side– the door inserts– are blue light special. Parts bin? More like rubbish bin. The flash casting on the shift knob is bad enough. The fact that it lacks gear change information on its flimsy façade is worse. For a company that’s been promising world class interiors for the better part of a decade, the SS’ interior quality is nothing short of inexcusable.

And then there's the bean-counted icing on the rental car cake: the $31k Impala SS uses the same bulky steering column, bus-sized steering wheel and counterintuitive dash-mounted gear indicator as its column-shifted counterpart. But hey, the panel gaps are tight and uniform and the MP3-compatible, XM-ready eight-speaker BOSE audio has mad flava. If you like a traditional American big car vibe, the Impala SS is a nice place to visit– provided you keep your eyes closed and your hands to yourself.

The Super Sport allure (such as it is) rests solely upon the Impala's Corvette-based pushrod V8. This small block mill generates so much horsepower (303hp @ 5600rpm) and torque (323 ft.-lbs. @ 4400rpm) that it launches the 3711 pound Impala like a ball of flaming garbage in a catapult. Zero to sixty arrives in a shocking 5.6 seconds. The Impala SS has more than enough grunt to put a smile on your face– just like the one found on a septuagenarian moments after his last Viagra.

For a motor this beefy, you could even say the Impala's four-speed slushbox holsters one too many gears in its arsenal. Its quick-witted mannerisms also make part throttle acceleration more impressive than its cylinder deactivated fuel economy figures (19/27). Make no mistake: this is a well-executed powertrain. Well, aside from the fact that it’s off the mark by exactly 90 degrees.

Now I know I said the front wheel-drive SS is a torque steer demon. Clued-in readers will know that’s not strictly true. The Bowtie Boys have programmed the SS’ traction control system to counter the inevitable loss of grip at the prow by braking the left and right wheel sequentially, sending torque back and forth. The result is just as annoying as genuine torque steer, only slightly more bearable. If you want REAL torque steer, simply disengage the traction control and hang on.

The SS’ ride is wonderfully compliant and utterly non-sporting. Throw this floaty drifty heavyweight into a corner and the chassis tilts precipitously, violently hurling its unsupported driver towards one door or the other. Luckily, twin piston front brake calipers slow the bruiser’s rapid pace with ease and grace. The Impala SS is fine and dandy in a straight line, at 3/5ths. Push any harder and there’s no question whatsoever it’s gonna hurt. With its raucous intake tenor, accelerative restraint requires Pavlovian conditioning– which the SS’ handling provides at no extra charge.

In short, this dog won’t hunt. Someone in GM's marketing department should have had a word with the company’s engineers. Even a shade tree hot rodder knows an Impala SS requires strong styling, an upscale interior and a world class chassis. Rumor has it the next generation Impala will have a proper rear-wheel drive layout. Let’s hope so.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

More by Sajeev Mehta

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 145 comments
  • Theflyersfan Theflyersfan on Dec 12, 2007

    Even though this reply is WAY after the last posted date, there have to be a few TTAC readers considering this car! I just got my hands on one from Hertz - Gold points were going to expire, there was an unfortunate funeral coming up, airport runs were coming, and the weather was going downhill with snow, ice, fog, and then rain...so they hand me the keys to what I thought was a plain-Jane Impala until I noticed the "SS" on the door. (Total cost of rental = $2.77 after fees.) Now, I knew the concept of a 5.3L V8 over the front wheels with front wheel drive was going to be a challenge, but I'm really wondering how some of the people here have said the torque steer isn't that bad. I've driven the Mazdaspeed3, RSX Type-S, Civic Si, and a few other front drive 200+ hp cars and this torque steer was scary at times...and others in the car felt it each time I touched the gas pedal. It makes sense about having the ABS modulate the brakes to control the torque steer as you felt this side-to-side rocking motion under anything more than 1/2 throttle. The family and funeral were deep in Ohio farm country - straight roads, no traffic and fewer cops! The straight line 0-60+ is amazing in a car that can hold 5 people easily. I'm in the camp that a 5-speed auto would help greatly, but the 4-speed did a decent job of keeping the power flowing. When we were loading the trunk with the engine idling, we all liked the low but sweet sound of a (non-SUV) V8 rumble. (BTW - the trunk is huge.) Other likes: Lots of room for people and cargo. Decent quality leather and seats. The plastics on the dash didn't feel as cheap as other cars in the class...or GM is getting better at texturing them to make them feel better. Liked the stereo quality and easy to find iPod hookup. Near instant heated seats (hey...snow and ice insured they got heavy use!) Fairly quiet on the inside - only engine noise was the roar under throttle and some wind noise. Other dislikes: The person who thought the thumb-switches for the driver and pass. temps should be fired ASAP. They are of very poor quality and it is near impossible to change things a degree or two while driving. It's minor, but the information message display on the IP was distracting and if a new message appeared (like AUTO LIGHT CONTROL TURNED OFF), it would not return to your previous setting. If the "Active Fuel Management" performed as poorly as it did in a 3700lb car, I cannot fathom how poorly it works in a 5,000lb SUV. At the slightest blip of the throttle (like going from 65 to 68mph) at nowhere near 1/4 throttle position, it went from 4-to-8-mode just like that when it wasn't needed. Gas mileage suffered as a result. I'll admit to testing the top speed on the farm roads, but with the weather being poor most of the time and people and luggage in the car the other times, speed limits were followed and I never got above 21 mpg. At least it works quite well with regular unleaded. I thought the gauges looked rather childish and "boy-racerish" with the too-large italic font and somewhat garish colors. Others in the car noted the same thing. Overall, for those who want a very powerful sedan for under $30,000 (if, say, an Infiniti or BMW is too expensive), this is a car to consider especially for those who want a domestic car. However it still screams of GM's inability to fine-tune a car once it has been released. If they redid some of the interior plastics and gauges, and maybe reprogrammed the engine systems to handle the power better, the car would be even better. I would have no problem with many GM products if they followed the ideas of constant upgrades instead of the scrap and introduce something new that they do all of the time...there's no loyality if that keeps happening.

  • KillabeezRE KillabeezRE on Jan 09, 2010

    Gee...gotta go back to that horrible Impala SS review. I drive one...a 2007 model, just like the one pictured. I'd like to know what car you are driving, but, you must have, if it were in fact an Impala, got a bad one. My car has been nothing but great. Smooth, comfortable ride, the car is gorgeous, everyone likes the way it looks. And, it gets me through this horrible WV winter we are having this year and I live up several big hills with a less than stellar road crew on hand. She gets me where I am going and back home. I've read this bunch of triffle. And, guess what? If I were told I could have another car tomorrow, guess what I would pick????? I'd still be driving along in an Impala SS. Maybe, dear Mr. Mehta, you just cannot handle the machine? You know, scooters are really popular again.

  • Alan This outcome was certain.The US, Australia and Canada need to approach this differently. A policy towards plug in hybrids should of been a first step. As in CAFE gradually tighten FE from there.There's no reason why you can't have a 2 litre F-150 with electric motors putting out 400-500hp. A 2 litre turbo is good for 200hp more than enough to move a pickup.Also increase fuel tax/excise every year to fill the void in loss of revenue.
  • Doug brockman hardly. Their goals remain to punish us by mandating unsafe unreliable unaffordable battery powered cars
  • Lorenzo It looks like the curves are out and the boxy look is back. There's an upright windscreen, a decided lack of view obstructing swoop in the rear side panels, and you can even see out of the back window. Is Lexus borrowing from the G-Class Mercedes, or the Range Rover?
  • Lorenzo Didn't those guys actually test drive cars? I was told that one drove like an old lady, another like a maniac, and the third like a nervous middle aged commuter who needs to get to work on time and can't afford big repair bills, and they got together to pass judgement within their individual expertise. No?
  • Lorenzo Aw, I don't care what they call the models, as long as they don't use those dots over the O's.
Next