The long-tailed classic that is Chevrolet’s Impala has gone through many iterations since it was introduced in the late 1950s – some good, some excessively bland. The redesigned 2015 Impala LTZ is in the former camp and after 10 days of driving I was pleasantly surprised at how well Chevy has executed the overall package.
Over the past 45-plus years, the MacKenzie clan has owned a variety of Impalas. From two RWD utilitarian box models in the early ‘80s to a beautifully styled third generation model in the 1960s, the family has had enough hands-on experience with the car to pique my interest in the latest model. So for 10 days I put Chevy’s new saloon to the test in the streets of Calgary and out west on the gale-force-wind-swept plains at the foot of the Rockies.
Stylistically, when comparing the 2015 Impala to its ancestors – particularly the 7th generation bubble-era Impalas of the mid-90s, the box-on-box RWD design of the early 1980s, or the rebadged, low quality Malibus of the early 2000s – this current generation is definitely one of the stronger designs of the last 30 years.
The 2015 model has still retained some of the original model’s styling, getting points for its long masculine lines and well-rounded proportions. An original Impala detail can be seen sculpted up and rising out of the rear door into the hindquarters. This waistline detail also perfectly ties in with a chiseled line that starts out at the top of the headlights, carries over the front haunches, through the driver's door handle, dissolving just before the rear door handle. The roofline finishes beyond the rear axle point, but the tapered rear window treatment finishes out almost exactly over the rear axle point. The hood looks to borrow some design cues from the Camaro, as does the relatively short overhang.
Not only is this flagship one of the best looking models in GM’s stockade, it has also been extremely well received by the folks at Consumer Reports. In 2013, the 2014 Impala scored 95 points in the sedan category, putting it in second place only after Tesla’s Model S with 99 points.
Inside the big saloon, Chevrolet has done a top notch job with fit, finish and materials. The leather seats were comfortable yet supportive, while there’s enough space in the back to fit three adults with ease. Storage and carrying capacity is impressive with over 532 L (18.8 cu.ft) of cargo volume and a trunk spacious enough to hold three sets of golf clubs and the caddy if needed. The sound system, infotainment unit and overall interior ergonomics were quite good, as was headroom, legroom and finish.
Chevrolet has also incorporated its new 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot system into the car. This essentially turns the Impala into one big rolling hotspot, capable of feeding wireless to up to seven devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.
On the safety front, our Impala LTZ is loaded with just about all the safety gadgets GM could muster. Forward Collision Alert (FCA) and Front Automatic Braking (FAB) systems were both integrated into our tester. Using a high resolution camera the FCA system will flash red lights on the windscreen via a HUD display while sounding a crash alarm. In daily use, the system definitely worked well to get my attention both aurally and visually.
Using forward seeking radar, the Front Automatic Braking system (in combination with the Adaptive Cruise Control) warns drivers of slowing or stopped vehicles in their lane. The system is also active, so if it senses braking isn’t being managed quickly enough in a collision situation, then the FAB will step in and automatically activate the brakes.
The lane departure system worked to keep the car between the lines when the program was engaged, but I did find it to be overly sensitive in certain situations. Given the length of the Impala, the rear camera display, with its peripheral warning sensors, was a most welcome addition in identifying oncoming vehicles or cyclists when backing out of a corridor of SUVs.
While the car makes a strong, dynamic visual impact, it’s hard to ignore its extensive dimensions. From tip to tail the Impala stretches 16.7 ft (5.1 m), making it as long or longer than most SUV’s or minivans. Thus, parallel parking was no walk in the park and I avoided it whenever possible. On the plus side, finding the car was easy thanks to its cruise ship size. On the scales, the flagship is also anything but light – at 3,867 lb (1,754 kg) it isn't as heavy as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but the Impala LTZ is really pushing things in the weight department.
However, like a well conditioned heavyweight fighter, the Impala somehow still managed to move about the roadways like a confident European sedan. The ride was smooth and solid on most terrain. On the highway out west near the Rocky Mountains, the winds are legendary for being less than friendly to most anything on wheels, but the Impala had no problem maintaining its straight line composure. The car was also surprisingly agile in spite of the weight.
The Impala’s suspension is nicely dialed in for both highway driving and inner city maneuvering. The large 20-inch rims and rubbers help to keep the car in check when pushed. Steering was overly assisted at lower speeds but translated to a more solid, confident feel at highway speeds and in more aggressive cornering.
While the overall ride was smooth, quiet and comfortable, the suspension did struggle handling larger bumps and road irregularities, with a disconcerting thud coming through the chassis. The big chunky A, B and C pillars also raised blind spot concerns when lane changing or maneuvering in parking lots, although lane-changing issues were mitigated by the side mirror blind spot sensors. My biggest complaint is the location of the manual shift button on top of the shifter knob, which makes it awkward to shift in manual mode. But given that the target demographic for this car would most likely not use manual mode, I doubt many would notice this ergonomic issue.
Under the big Camaro-like hood resides GM’s 3.6 liter V6 that’s connected to a 6-speed automatic gearbox that adequately provides power to the big front wheels. While back-to-front weight bias for the Impala isn’t ideal, the 305 hp V6 with Direct Injection and Variable Valve Timing give the car enough power to handle most day to day scenarios. Chevrolet reports that there's 264 lb.ft of torque available at 5,200 rpm and acceleration from 0-60 mph (96 km/h) takes 6.8 seconds. Not lightning fast by any means, but with its hefty weight figure, those performance figures are respectable.
The 6-speed gearbox proved to be dialed in nicely and first-rate in the city. On the highway, the gearbox/engine combination let the car cruise with minimal effort at speed, while keeping enough grunt in reserve to pass when necessary. Chevrolet reports mileage figures of 23 mpg (12.5 L/100km) in the city, while on the highway figures jump to a decent 34 mpg (8.2 L/100km).
The basic Impala LTZ starts at US$35,680, but our tricked out ride, with its heated steering wheel, vented seats, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, adaptive cruise control, full range with collision mitigation braking, premium Bose sound system, 20-inch aluminum wheels and P245/40R20 rubbers ended up coming in at just under $41,500. For the money, not a bad deal when looking at competing vehicles, which could include the Chrysler 300, Audi A4, Acura RLX, Kia Cadenza and Infiniti Q50.
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