Review: 2014 Chevrolet Impala (With Video)
I have this feeling that our most impressionable automotive years are our high school years. Maybe it’s because I was so eager to drive that I noticed anything with wheels. Maybe it’s that auto shop class where I got to wrench on a Wankel (that sounds wrong doesn’t it?). Whatever the reason, it seems many of my brand and model name identities were formed in the mid 1990s. For me, “Impala” doesn’t conjure up the W-Body abomination GM has been selling for the past 13 years. Instead “my” Impala has always been the 1994-1996
Caprice Impala SS with the 5.7L Corvette LT1 engine. This is my benchmark on which every Impala must be judged.
Before we dive in, it’s important to know that for 2014 there are two Impalas. Say what? In a stroke of genius (honestly) GM decided to keep selling the old Impala as a fleet only model. This isn’t the first time GM has done this, the Chevrolet Captiva Sport is a fleet only version of the defunct Saturn VUE. By offering a one car to the public and the other to rental and government fleets, one can logically conclude the used market will contain fewer white Impalas with tan cloth interiors over time. This can only be good for resale value.
The fleet-Impala continues on the ancient W-Body first used in 1988 while the new Impala rides on the same Epsilon platform bones as the Cadillac XTS and Buick LaCrosse. If you had hoped the Impala name would be tied to the RWD Caprice like it was in 1994, you aren’t alone.
If you recall my review of the Cadillac XTS a year ago:
Engineers took the Epsilon II platform (shared with everything from the Opel Insignia to the Roewe 950), stretched it to 202-inches long and hey-presto, the XTS was born. Unfortunately Cadillac wasn’t allowed to change the platform hard points, so the same 111.7-inch wheelbase and 62-inch track as the rest of the Epsilon rabble remains. With the wheelbase staying the same, the cabin had to be pushed as far to the wheels as possible to maximize interior space. The result is a sedan with awkward proportions.
When I first saw photos of the Impala I was worried the same awkwardness would translate to Chevy’s flagship, but it turns out the XTS’s proportion problem is mostly caused by the Art & Science design theme. When you dress the platform in super-sized Camaro clothes, things turn out better than expected. The slot-like grille, wide headlamps and plenty of horizontal chrome make the Impala look wide while the XTS’s grille makes it look narrow.
Chevy penned a side profile with a bit more visual interest than most of the competition (I admit that isn’t saying much) thanks to the “haunches” designed into the rear doors and quarter panel. Sadly the designers opted for roof-line that starts lowering at the front doors making the car look better but reducing rear accommodations. Speaking of the rear, the 2014 backside is more exciting than before, but that’s not saying much. Things change a little if you step up to the LTZ model which gets integrated trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips. Still, nobody seems to be spending much time on their back bumpers and trunk lids these days.
Overall the Impala is attractive but I think it slots behind the Chrysler 300 in terms of style and I don’t think it will age as well as the more “generic luxury” lines of the Kia Cadenza. Parking the new Impala next to a 1996 Impala I ran into at the grocery store, I have to admit my high school memories are rose-colored as the 1996 Impala SS looks frumpy in comparison. I can’t end this section without commenting on the 2014 Chevy SS, AKA the Holden VF Commodore, AKA the Chevy Lumina (Middle East), AKA the refresh of the Pontiac G8. Yes, it’s back. While I have no doubts a rear wheel drive sedan with a 6.2L V8 will be a blast to drive, the SS looks like the fleet Impala with some makeup and loses the Impala v SS aesthetics battle.
The Impala’s interior elicited more polarized reactions than I had bargained for during my week. While I’m a fan of the overall style, I can see how the flowing shapes may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The Impala’s build quality has certainly improved over the last generation and comparing the Impala to the Toyota Avalon can now be done with a straight face. Sadly in that head-to-head the Impala comes up short. The problem isn’t panel gaps or seams, it’s certain design choices coupled with plastics choices. The air vents you see in the center if the dash and the climate control bank are cast out of hard plastic and look cheap nestled between the attractive stitched upper dash and soft molded lower dash. My cynical side thinks this was deliberate so that Buick could have something to improve on. Test driving the Impala at night reveals the cabin’s party trick, chrome that glows blue/green when darkness falls. It looks a great deal less gimmicky than I assumed it would and the light strip is totally invisible by day. The light-up chrome is part of the $1,140 premium audio and sport wheel package.
Base LS models get cloth seats, LT models start with a leatherette and fabric combo, but most Impalas on the lot will have either the LT’s leather/alcantara combo (*bumping the base price to $32,695) or the LTZ’s “premium” leather seats which swap the faux-suede inserts for real cow. Regardless of the seat covering the Impala’s thrones are big and soft and 12-way power adjustibility. Unlike the seats in the Chrysler 300, you sit in the seats, not on the seats, a considerably more comfortable proposition. GM includes a 4-way adjustable lumbar support in all models and many of the Impalas I sampled had the optional 12-way seats on the passenger side as well, something you won’t find in the Azera or Cadenza.
The fleet-only Impala has a wheelbase just one inch shorter than this new consumer model, but due to its 1980s era platform design the space isn’t used efficiently. This is most evident in the back seat where this Impala delivers nearly 6 inches more rear leg room bringing this big boy up to a hair under 40 inches. This make the Impala the largest overall in the segment with front legroom higher than the former winner the Hyundai Azera and legroom nearly tying with the Chrysler 300’s 40.1 inches. At 18.8 cubic feet the Impala’s trunk is four cubes bigger than the Avalon, two cubes bigger than the 300 or the Korean twins and just 1.2 cubes smaller than the Taurus’ cavernous booty. Like the Taurus the Impala’s rear seats fold but it is worth noting that GM’s pass-through is larger and “squarer” than the Ford and the seat backs fold nearly flat with the load floor.
If size is what you demand, the Impala wins the battle with the most overall space. If however quality is more your bag, you’ll find higher quality parts in the Avalon, Azera, Cadenza, LaCrosse and in many ways even the Chrysler 300. The Impala fights back with supremely comfortable seats, but thanks to GM’s parts sharing the same can be said of that Buick.
If you’re a regular reader, you will know that I have recently praised GM’s low and mid-range touchscreen systems as some of the best in the business. The IntelliLink/ChevyLink system in the Chevy Volt and Buick Verano ranks second for me below the latest version of BMW’s iDrive. This is not that system. I an odd twist of infotainment badge engineering, the Impala (and the 2014 LaCrosse) uses a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE software. For Chevy duty GM swapped out the expensive capacitive screen (looks like a modern smartphone) for a resistive unit and added a few physical buttons to improve navigation in the system. Sadly all of CUE’s flaws are present including: random crashes, general sluggishness, unintuitive menu layouts and old-school mapping software. Like CUE some multi-touch gestures are supported but the cheaper touchscreen has troubles deciphering your intent. The system is hard to avoid as every Impala I could find had the system and the only way to escape it is to buy an absolutely base Impala LS as it is the only one without the 8-inch system.
On the bright side, some of CUE’s selling points remain. The system’s voice command system recognized more natural speech commands than the Kia/Hyundai or Toyota systems do and the media library functionality is excellent. Instead of treating the three USB ports as separate inputs, the system aggregates them into one large music library allowing you to voice command songs without specifying the device. The base 6-speaker system has an oddly hollow sound, but the up-level 11-speaker Bose branded system would be competitive in any near-luxury sedan. To get that sound system the Impala will set you back $33,835 as you can’t select the $1,140 sound and wheel package without a number of other options packages.
Under the hood you’ll find the same three engines as the Buick LaCrosse. Things start out with a 2.5L direct-injection four-cylinder engine good for 195 HP and 187 lb-ft of twist. This isn’t the engine you want. Not listed on the Chevy website yet due to its late introduction there is a 2.4L “eAssist” drivetrain that GM has stopped calling a hybrid. Delivering identical performance numbers to the 2.5L four-banger, the mild hybrid system delivered 29.8 MPG average during our week with the nearly identical LaCrosse. If fuel economy is your thing, stop here.
Although my soul is sad there is no Impala SS model for 2014, the 3.6L direct-injection V6 delivered better performance than in every situation except for the 2006 Impala SS which barely beat the 2014 in the 0-30 run but was still slower to 60. The reason isn’t just the V6’s 305 horsepower (2 more than the 2006’s 5.3L V8) or the respectable (for a V6) 264 lb-ft of torque(59 less), it’s the 6-speed automatic. The Ford/GM unit is closely related to the transaxle found in the Taurus but GM’s programming results in shifts that seem slightly faster and a hair firmer. The high revving six, weigh reduction vs the Cadillac XTS AWD and Chevy’s tire selection enabled our Impala tester to wheel-hop its way to 60 in a scant 5.52 seconds. This number was met with some head scratching on our Facebook page but I tested the number three times with the same result. It is worth mentioning that the Acura RLX posted similar numbers and a 5.52 second run isn’t out of the ordinary for a 305HP sedan that weighs around 3800lbs.
Need more performance? There have been persistent rumors about an Impala SS coming at some point and Cadillac has decided to drop their 410HP twin-turbo V6 into the XTS, will they offer a similar powerplant for the 2015 Chevy? It’s hard to say with the 2014 Chevy SS positioned as the performance sedan with a bow-tie.
The Impala benefits from Buick and Cadillac’s noise reduction efforts and it shows on the road with easily the quietest ride in the bunch. My snazzy new noise meter proved more complicated than I wish to admit and as a result I erased the readings, however the Impala was quieter than the active noise canceled Acura RLX, Kia Cadenza and Lexus ES350 I tested.
The Impala has a unique suspension setup that uses neither the Hi-Per Strut (HPS) suspension from the LaCrosse and XTS, nor the magnetic ride control from the Cadillac. Instead we get a traditional MacPherson strut arrangement with a redesigned strut tower for improved rigidity and rebound springs tuned to keep body-roll from turning into body-wobble. This is important because the Impala is a softly spring sedan in the classic American tradition. The combination works better than it looks on paper despite the loss of the HPS design which was created to vanquish the torque steer demons. Speaking of torque steer, there wasn’t any in the Impala during our tests. So much for that Hi-PerStrut. There’s still plenty of tip, roll and dive on winding mountain roads but the new Impala never felt sloppy or uncontrolled. Broken pavement was a problem for the Cadillac XTS with the suspension paradoxically feeling both too hard and too soft at the same time, the Impala’s traditional setup never exhibited this problem. If you jump up to the 20 inch wheels, be warned they have a negative impact on the serene nature of the Impala’s ride transmitting more road imperfections into the cabin than I thought possible.
When it comes to the competition, the Cadenza feels slightly unsettled at times but is nearly as competent. The Azera’s chassis and suspension tuning aren’t quite up to snuff. Toyota’s Avalon gives the Impala a run for its money with similar road feel and a slightly sportier tune to the dampers. The Chrysler 300 is a tricky comparison since it’s the only RWD sedan in the bunch, but the 300’s driving dynamics are superior to the Impala despite being slower to 60. The lack of AWD is disappointing in the Impala leaving the Buick LaCrosse to be the better handling twin thanks to its slightly more precise suspension knuckles and available AWD.
Without a doubt the 2014 Impala is the finest Impala ever made and perhaps the finest large sedan to wear the bow tie. The base 2.5L four-cylinder Impala snags a 0-60 time only a few tenths off the 1996 Impala SS with its 5.7L V8 while delivering 31 MPG on the highway. The eAssist delivers a similar experience with a surprising 35MPG highway score and 29MPG combined, a 60% increase in fuel economy vs “my” Impala. The 2014 V6 model may not sound as good as that 1996 LT1 but the numbers can’t be denied, the new Impala is the new Impala benchmark. But is it the best full-size American sedan? Not quite. A fully loaded Impala manages to be $2,000 more than a comparable Taurus Limited and about the same price as a similarly optioned Taurus SHO. I’d take the Taurus SHO. The Chrysler 300 is about the same price, but brings superior dynamics, a ZF 8-speed automatic and you can get the 5.7L V8 for not much more. Even the Avalon, which ends up being slightly more expensive than delivers comparable handling a nicer interior and a nav system that doesn’t crash randomly. The Impala’s biggest problem however is the 2014 Buick LaCrosse. In typical GM fashion, there is little daylight in pricing between the sister-ships and the Buick delivers a nicer interior, a few improved features, slightly better dynamics, optional AWD and a slightly more premium brand. Just like the Impala SS vs Roadmaster debate in 1996, you just have to get past the Buick’s looks.
- Aggressive styling.
- Ginormous back seat.
- Cadillac for Chevy prices.
- Some interior plastics are underwhelming.
- CUE based infotainment is slow and buggy.
- The Buick LaCrosse has a better interior for almost the same price.
Chevrolet provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Specifications as tested:
0-30: 2.33 Seconds
0-60: 5.52 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.33 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH
Average Observed Fuel Economy: 22.5 MPG over 549 miles
More by Alex L. Dykes
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