First unveiled in 1958, Chevrolet’s dramatic Impala was a large and exotic sporting coupé, a marked departure from the brand’s large but conservative saloons of the time. It had a long body, a sleek curved glasshouse with dramatic fins at the rear and could be had with a small-block V8. One-third of all Impalas sold were convertibles.
It was all good for Chevrolet, and the success of the Impala helped the company earn top spot as a manufacturer. But sadly, it wasn’t to last. Successive generations of Impala lost the curves of the original, grew ever larger and more boxy, and the line was to become a staple of rental fleets and law-enforcement agencies.
But the name still had cachet and is fondly remembered by many. For 2014, it is applied to an all-new four-door large saloon, sharing a platform with Cadillac’s excellent XTS and an all-new body design. Chevrolet reckons it is a “re-establishment of a popular, enduring and iconic nameplate with a new outlook on style, comfort, efficiency, and safety”.
Certainly, it is a handsome thing, with a lot of Camaro in the front face with its hooded headlights and glowering looks. The rest of the body is entirely fresh and the sides are characterised by a rising crease over the rear wheels that is strongly reflective of the very earliest designs, but manages not to be retro at all. It is a shape that works best in bright metallic colours, something like Blue Ray Metallic, Champagne Silver Metallic, Crystal Red Tintcoat or Red Rock Metallic, rather than our near-ubiquitous black, white or silver-grey. You need a bit of light to really show off the form.
Certainly, the new 2014 is every inch a modern car, and a very far cry from those Seventies monsters with the 7.0-litre V8 under the bonnet. Which is a pity. But what we get instead is a highly efficient 3.6-litre V6 pushing out a credible
305 horsepower and 356Nm of torque,
with a claimed fuel economy of 8.1 litres-per-100km on the highway. This engine
is fitted with Variable Valve Timing,
fuel-saving direct injection and lightweight components for efficiency.
It is a good package.
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The power goes to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox, steering is electrically power-assisted and front suspension is a MacPherson strut design for greater precision and response. From behind the wheel, it is a set-up that delivers — there’s very little body roll, and the steering is light and accurate, if not the most feelsome. But it does what you ask, and you can ask for plenty.
The rear is a four-link set-up with a slightly wider track, which helps keep everything tidy and nicely planted. Overall the Impala rides very nicely with well-controlled body movement. Even on top-spec LTZ tester’s 20in wheels (18s and 19s are available) it stayed remarkably quiet and comfortable.
As you would expect in a modern Chevrolet, there is a shedload of safety systems in addition to the 10 airbags fitted as standard. You get Forward collision alert, Lane departure warning, Side blind zone alert, Rear cross traffic alert, a Rear vision camera with dynamic guidelines and Ultrasonic rear park assist, all to direct your attention to potential hazards with a variety of flashing lights, beeps and whistles. Or you could try driving properly and none of this would be necessary…
Yet more technology is deployed in the cabin, where you’ll find the latest version of Chevrolet’s MyLink system. This is getting ever closer to tablet-like operation and you can use many motions familiar to iPad users to navigate the various menus and lists. This interface is the work of Jeffrey Massimilla, Next Generation Infotainment engineering manager for GM North America. He says there should be no need to re-learn the navigation you are already familiar with, so if you know your way around a smartphone, you’ll be right at home with MyLink.
In many ways, technology defines the modern Impala. Long gone are the massive bodywork and huge V8s, now we get downsized and efficient, but the Impala is still Chevrolet’s biggest saloon. It is supremely comfortable inside, with plenty of room in the back as well, and operates with near-silent efficiency. There’s more technology at work than took men to the moon, but operating it is getting ever simpler. As a statement of the car-builder’s art, it is pretty much definitive, but fortunately Chevrolet remembers its history and has not forgotten the importance of style. The 2014 Impala is indeed an icon reinvented.