Chevrolet Impala is a modern, capable mid-size sedan, with a look and especially a name designed to push the nostalgia button for a certain generation.
From 1958-65, Impala meant the flashiest full-size Chevrolet, a real working-man's Cadillac, tame in its base form but offering performance options to match its aggressive looks. After '65, the sporty Impala was subordinated to the more conservative-looking Caprice, and eventually the name disappeared from the Chevrolet lineup.
Like its older namesake, the new Impala is tame and practical with base-level equipment. When ordered with its optional 3.8-liter V6, however, this new Impala is not only quick, but also more responsive than the six-seat models from Toyota, Dodge, Ford and Buick. It shares its platform with the Pontiac Grand Prix, and offers competent suspension tuning, distinctive looks, and plenty of interior room.
Two models are available, both four-door sedans: Impala ($19,960) and Impala LS ($23,660).
The base Impala uses a 3.4-liter 180-horsepower V6.
The more upmarket LS comes with GM's proven and highly competent 3.8-liter V6, producing 200 horsepower. The real difference between the base and LS is the level of luxury amenities on the standard-equipment list.
That's because the 3.8-liter engine is optional on the base model ($995). Whether base or LS, 3.8-liter Impalas come with aluminum wheels, quicker steering, traction control, and anti-lock brakes.
New for 2002 is the Sport Appearance Package, which adds extra gauges to the instrument panel and its own unique look to the Impala's front and rear ends, interior, and wheels.
ABS is a $600 option on base models, an odd choice for Chevrolet, when most other GM cars come with anti-lock brakes even in their most basic guise. The anti-lock brake system includes a tire-pressure monitor.
Also standard on LS (optional on base Impalas) is GM's OnStar system. OnStar is a customer-service network linked to each car via satellite. It's one of those convenience features that you may never notice during daily use, but it's nice to have if something goes wrong. The system can notify network representatives of the car's location, to facilitate roadside assistance or to help track the car if it is stolen. It automatically notifies the OnStar network when the airbag has been deployed, and operators will dispatch emergency crews to the spot unless you respond to their calls.
The Impala looks bigger than it is, thanks to its upright windows and roof pillars and relatively long greenhouse. The Impala is a whopping nine inches shorter than a Dodge Intrepid, yet it's slightly larger in total interior volume.
The most significant styling cues are the headlight and taillight clusters, which use a unique combination of round lights clearly visible from behind trapezoidal covers. It's an aggressive look for a Chevy sedan, so you'll easily spot an Impala in traffic. If you don't like the boy-racer spoiler on the deck lid of the LS, you can delete it for a $175 credit.
The Impala is noticeably roomy inside, with 122 cubic feet of interior volume. Interior space was gained by designing a high roofline with more vertical sides, carefully rearranging the rear bulkhead, and moving the seats slightly outboard. From the driver's seat you get the impression that the car is huge inside, likely because you sense a notable distance to the right-side passenger.
Base models come with a three-passenger split bench seat in the front; LS models come with two individual front seats, although by checking off the right options you can put buckets in the base model or a bench in the LS. New for 2002 is a leather-accented bench seat. Because it comes with six-way power, lumbar support, and a side-impact air bag, it costs $1390 on base models and $625 on LS.
At first glance, the individual seats look flat, like semi-benches, but when you sit in them, they provide good support for your thighs and your back. They feel like bucket seats. But then the front-center passenger has to straddle the split between the seats. A slight hump down the center accommodates the exhaust; but it also hampers legroom for the front center passenger.
It's easy to orient yourself inside the Impala. Controls are logical, work smoothly, and are easy to see. They follow the function of those in the smaller Malibu, but they're bigger. New for 2002 are individual temperature controls for the driver and passenger.
Although Impala boasts more total interior volume than the Dodge Intrepid, the Chevy's rear seat area is shorter on useable legroom. Still, the Impala is better in this respect than the Ford Taurus or the even the full-size Ford Crown Victoria. The Impala's rear seating position is comfortable and relatively high, which makes it easy to get in and out. There are three shoulder belts in the rear, as well as LATCH child-seat tethers. In the LS, the rear seat is split 60/40 and folds down to allow bulky items to protrude from the trunk; that's handy if you're a Home Depot regular.
The headliner is nicely padded. Chevy says this design will pass the federal head injury requirements scheduled to come into effect for all cars in 2003. A seat-mounted side-impact airbag is standard on LS and available as part of several option packages on the base model.
The new Impala feels like a big luxury car, even compared to a Ford Crown Victoria or Toyota Avalon. The Crown Victoria seems unrefined when you drive the two back-to-back. The Toyota feels bland by comparison.
The view out of the Impala is good, and particularly helpful are the small quarter windows that split the rear pillars. The creases on the hood give a good perspective for judging where the front of the car is, handy for parking a big car in compact spaces. The rear deck lid seems high, however, so care is required when backing up.
Handling is surprisingly quick and sharp. This is not the wallowing, live-axle barge from the 1960s. One reason is the use of a huge aluminum engine-cradle subframe, isolating vibrations while allowing for a more rigid structure. A monster dashboard bulkhead made of light and strong magnesium adds to rigidity, giving the car a robust feel. The engine cradle and dashboard structure lock the steering shaft down rigidly, so there are no excess wiggly movements. Chevy says a new link between the steering column and the steering gear contributes to better on-center feel at the wheel. Both base and LS models benefit from a strut brace in front, as well as anti-roll bars front and rear. This type of hardware is usually found only on sports sedans.
On the road, the steering feels good, better than the Toyota Avalon's. The LS we tested felt particularly good, with its quicker steering ratio.
Likewise, the brake pedal feels firm and responsive. Braking is smooth and steady, and we applaud Chevy's decision to use discs at all four wheels, even on the base model.
Acceleration is brisk, especially with the more powerful 3.8-liter engine. (There's also just enough torque steer, felt as a slight tug on the steering wheel whenever you stomp down on the gas pedal, to remind you that this is a front-wheel-drive car.) The Impala is the least-expensive GM car powered by this gutsy pushrod engine. Chevy claims it will accelerate to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, which is quick for this class.
Police-package Impalas will get the higher-ratio gearing from the Grand Prix, and should be quicker still. The cops may even learn to like this car, even though front-drivers are still looked down upon by many of America's men in blue. The front steering knuckles for police versions are made of steel instead of weight-saving aluminum, though Chevy says the aluminum knuckles (and the rest of the car) exceeded durability tests.
The Impala delivers excellent value among mid-size sedans, with decent handling, immediately recognizable design cues, and a long list of amenities. It honors the heritage of the original Impala, without reviving the old car's excessive bulk. For a younger generation who never knew the older car, Impala will mean something entirely different.
|Model Line Overview|
|Model lineup:||Impala ($19,960), Impala LS ($23,660)|
|Engines:||180-hp 3.4-liter ohv 12-valve V6; 200-hp, 3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6|
|Safety equipment (standard):||dual airbags, structural headliner, three LATCH rear child-seat tethers|
|Safety equipment (optional):||driver's side-impact airbag, ABS and traction control|
|Basic warranty:||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Assembled in:||Oshawa, Ontario|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):||Impala LS ($23,660)|
|Standard equipment:||(LS) dual-zone climate control, ABS, traction control, aluminum wheels, tire inflation monitor, rear-window defroster, power locks, remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors, cruise control, power windows, variable intermittent wipers, fog lights, split rear seatback, six-way power driver's seat, AM/FM/cassette stereo with RDS, rear spoiler|
|Options as tested (MSRP):||Preferred Equipment Group 1SB ($785) includes AM/FM RDS cassette and CD stereo, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, trip computer, HomeLink transmitter, theft deterrent system, compass; Leather interior ($625); Power passenger seat ($325)|
|Gas guzzler tax:||N/A|
|Price as tested (MSRP):||$26,005|
|Engine:||3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||200 @ 5200|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):||225 @ 4000|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:||20/30 mpg|
|Track, f/r:||62.0/61.1 in.|
|Turning circle:||38.0 ft.|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:||39.2/56.5/42.2 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:||N/A|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:||36.8/55.7/38.4 in.|
|Trunk volume:||18.6 cu. ft.|
|Towing capacity:||1000 Lbs.|
|Curb weight:||3450 lbs.|
|Brakes, f/r:||disc/disc with ABS|
|Fuel capacity:||17.0 gal.|
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of August 31, 2001.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-222-1020 - www.chevrolet.com