Pros: Robust and refined engine; roomy interior; available six-seat configuration; large trunk

Cons: Dated styling; lack of innovative features; low-quality interior materials; uninspiring dynamics

For years, the Impala was a mainstay in the full-size-sedan segment. Its reputation was that of a roomy, reliable car that provided plenty of space. In short, it was an example of good family transportation. Now, although none of that has changed, those attributes are no longer enough to compete in a segment populated with a lineup of modern and refined offerings from Buick, Chrysler, Hyundai and Volkswagen.

The Impala has not been redesigned for several years, while its competition has been busy reinventing itself with dramatic styling and design efforts, innovative features and relevant performance enhancements.

That said, the Impala nameplate is still trusted among older buyers as one that has stood the test of time. And for some, its longevity is all that's needed to feel comfortable about a buying decision.

For 2012, the Impala returns as the dependable, straightforward sedan that it always has been. But this year, there is a nice jump in power thanks to a new V6 engine combined with a six-speed automatic transmission across all trim levels. The Impala also benefits from a minor update to the front and rear fascias, as well as some new and revised features. The LS gets a dual exhaust and new 16-inch aluminum wheels, while the LT enjoys a rear spoiler and flip-and-fold rear seat. All Impalas will now have Bluetooth connectivity as standard.  

There's no doubt that all of these improvements make the Impala a better car. But in a segment full of genre busters, it's just not enough. For that reason, the 2012 Chevrolet Impala feels as dated and stodgy as ever.

Comfort & Utility

Within, the Impala underscores its old-school approach to motoring with bland-looking gauges and a simplistic control layout. Buttons are large and easy to maneuver but lack sophistication. Then again, for those who want straightforward operation with little fuss, it's here for the taking.

Seats are supportive and plush, excellent for daily driving or long-distance cruising.  Buyers can choose between five- and six-seat configurations. The latter makes use of a front bench, which is practically unheard of for a sedan today. Most, however, will go with the more comfortable front bucket seats with center console in between.

The rear seats are spacious and versatile. For those who need serious cargo-carrying functionality, the Impala offers available flip-and-fold rear seats to extend the already large trunk.

The Impala is available in three trims: LS, LT and LTZ.  Standard base features on the LS include cruise control, a six-way power adjustable driver's seat and a six-speaker stereo. The midlevel LT adds dual-zone climate and the aforementioned fold-down rear seat. The uplevel LTZ brings leather upholstery, power heated mirrors, heated seats and a premium stereo.

In short, the Impala cabin can be called practical and even functional. But there's little in the way of refinement, innovation or visual appeal.

Technology

Technology amenities are limited to Bluetooth and a stereo with MP3 capability. Unfortunately, common modern features like navigation, a rear-view camera or even a USB interface are not offered on the Impala.

Performance & Fuel Economy

All trims of the 2012 Chevrolet Impala are powered by a new 3.6-liter V6 with direct injection. Output is a robust 300 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Energy channels to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Not only is this unit more powerful than the previous one, it's also slightly more efficient. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/30 mpg highway.

Safety

Occupant protection comes from a complement of six airbags - front, side, head curtain - and GM's OnStar telematics service. The Impala also comes equipped with ABS and stability control for a firmer grasp of the roadway.

Driving Impressions

The Impala's new engine grants the car a renewed sense of performance and throttle response. It delivers strong off-the-line acceleration and plenty of confidence in left-lane passing at highway speeds, all in a very smooth and quiet manner. This engine is clearly a better match for the Impala than the outgoing unit. Also improving the driving experience is a seamless six-speed transmission, which offers a substantial feel and well-spaced shifts throughout the rev band.

The Impala's ride is as comfortable as it has ever been. It offers a plush and solid feel in all types of driving. The cabin is well shielded from road, wind and engine noise. All of these traits keep buyers coming back to the Impala.

However, the Impala falls short when it comes to handling. It's unwieldy in corners and doesn't feel very sure-footed when making quick directional changes. Aggressive maneuvers are clearly not this car's strong suit. Fortunately, the Impala's larger 17- and 18-inch wheels give it some much-needed road grip in the absence of agility.

Overall, fans of the Impala will be impressed with its uprated power. The car's emphasis on ride over handling will also remain a draw among its more mature clientele.

Other Cars to Consider

Buick LaCrosse - Also a part of the GM lineup, the LaCrosse is more refined and athletic than the Impala, and its near-luxury credentials make it more of a status symbol. However, the Impala delivers a softer ride for those looking for that.

Chrysler 300 - The 300 has a more opulent interior and exterior. Even its ride is more luxurious. It also offers more features and better handling. The Impala, with its new engine, excels in straight-line performance, which is not as much of a priority to buyers in this class.

Hyundai Azera - The Azera is significantly more stylish, modern and refined, inside and out. It offers many more innovative technology features, as well as a driving experience that is far more balanced between ride and handling.

Volkswagen Passat - The Passat is a higher-quality automobile all the way around. It's so well engineered that it makes the Impala look and feel even more pedestrian than it is. The Impala, however, is less expensive and offers more cargo space.

AutoTrader Recommends

The Impala that makes the most sense is the range-topping LTZ model.  It's a good value for all the standard equipment it offers. The most important of these features may be its large 18-inch wheels, which will help compensate for the Impala's shortfall in handling skills. The LTZ's Bose sound system and leather upholstery will enhance the driving experience as well. We recommend adding the optional sunroof to cap the LTZ package.

The Impala may never be able to compete with the refinement of many of its rivals, but the loaded LTZ is as close as it gets, and in most cases, for a lower price.

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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