Chevrolet has a hit on its hands with the completely redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Impala, which arguably is the best full-size sedan in its class, and perhaps even beyond its class.Shockingly, even the folks at Consumer Reports agree – people who in the past have typically favored Japanese cars over American brands. The magazine recently listed the Impala as tops in its class, and even put its Buick sibling, the LaCrosse, in second place – behind such stalwarts as the Toyota Avalon and Ford Taurus.For an American car to get such praise, you know it has to be good, and it is. Forget the Impala it replaces – the one that was a pretty decent vehicle, but was mostly used in police and rental fleets.General Motors doesn’t even sell a police version of the new Impala, and has been careful to limit sales to the big fleets. That’s because this is a consumer vehicle, beautiful and classy enough to park in front of those big houses with circular drives. Really. And Chevy has another vehicle, a Caprice, that’s sold exclusively as a police vehicle, and it’s also still offered a police version of the previous-generation of the Impala. Chevrolet’s new flagship sedan is larger and roomier than the previous model, with a stylish exterior and quite refined cabin. It’s such a compelling new product that it should be on your shopping list if a full-size sedan is what you need. You might even shop it against some of the premium brands, such as the Acura RL or even the BMW 5-series, unless you just have to have that high-end brand name on your vehicle.GM says its goal is to have at least 70 percent of the new Impala buyers be retail customers, and the rest fleet – exactly the opposite from the past few years. The automaker also wants retail leases to account for 35 percent of total sales, up from almost none before.Trim levels include the base LS, the midlevel 1LT and 2 LT models, and top-end 1LTZ and 2LTZ. Starting price is $26,860 (plus $810 freight) for the LS; the 1LT is $29,110; 2LT, $30,085; 1LTZ, $33,880; and 2LTZ, which we tested, $35,905.GM offers a 39-month lease for as low as $268 a month, for the LS model with a payment of $3,042 up front.The Impala is to the Chevrolet Malibu what the Toyota Avalon is to the Camry, the Ford Taurus is to the Fusion, and the Nissan Maxima is to the Altima: a step up for people who want something a bit larger and fancier than the mass-market midsize sedans.There will be three engines available, all with direct fuel injection: a 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6, with 264 foot-pounds of torque; a new 196 horsepower, 2.5-liter Ecotec four-cylinder, with 186 foot-pounds of torque; and a 184 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder with fuel-saving eAssist technology, which will arrive later this year. The eAssist powertrain, also offered in the redesigned 2013 Malibu sedan, uses a small electric motor as a booster, and has EPA ratings of 25 mpg city/35 highway. It will not be available until December, GM said.Impala’s V-6, a version of the engine used in the base Chevy Camaro, is the most-powerful normally aspirated engine in the large-sedan segment. It’s the one that provides the sportiest performance but lowest fuel economy – 19 city/29 highway.The V-6 is standard in the 2LT and 2LTZ models, so it was included on our tester. It gives this family sedan nearly the same kind of pep as it does in the Camaro, which makes the Impala lots of fun to drive. But the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder has plenty of power for everyday driving, and should be fine for most people. It’s rated at 21 city/31 highway.Handling is almost sport-like, holding the curves quite easily, and braking is straight and sure. The gears shift smoothly, and with a kick on the gas pedal, the V-6 will take the car from zero-60 mph in 6.8 seconds.While there’s less power from the eAssist system than the base four-cylinder, it’s still more than adequate for normal driving. Many consumers will find the slight loss of power a worthy concession in return for the better fuel economy.With the redo, the Impala also got a new electric power steering system and enhanced suspension, designed to improve roadhandling.Total cabin space is 105 cubic feet, which is huge in today’s market. The Impala’s cabin is much quieter at highway speeds, thanks in part to Bose active noise cancellation.We loaded the car up with five people – three adults and two teens – and even the rider in the middle of the back seat had decent knee and legroom. Headroom is enough to accommodate taller people, even in the outboard rear seating positions.The trunk has a whopping 18.8 cubic feet of space, more so than even some of the crossover utility vehicles. There are several interior storage areas, including a roomy center console and a space behind the in-dash audio screen to hide valuables such as cellphones. Standard safety features include 10 air bags, antilock disc brakes and tire-pressure monitoring, along with high-tech options such as adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation braking, forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, a backup camera, and rear park assist.The car has low-profile projector-beam high-intensity-discharge headlights, and the LTZ models come with LED daytime running lights.Smartphone integration is accomplished through the newest, voice-activated Chevrolet MyLink audio/infotainment system, which includes a customizable eight-inch color screen. A variety of Internet apps, such as Pandora, can be accessed through the audio system when connected to a compatible phone. Bluetooth capability is includedOnStar and XM satellite radio are standard; and an in-dash navigation system is optional. But OnStar has its own navigation features, including turn-by-turn directions (requires a subscription).Exterior colors choices are black, Blue Ray, Blue Topaz Metallic, Champagne Silver Metallic, Crystal Red Tintcoat, Cyber Gray, Silver Ice Metallic, Silver Topaz Metallic, Summit White, Tin Roof Rusted, and White Diamond Tricoat. Available wheel sizes are 18, 19 and 20 inches.Our tester, in the Crystal Red Tintcoat color ($395 extra) came with 19-inch silver-painted split-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels with a machined face. We had a Jet Black/Dark Titanium leather interior.Outside, there are chrome accents and badges, including the Chevy bowtie on the grille. There are dual chrome exhaust tips, as well.We had a nice power sunroof with a second-row skylight. Rear passengers had adjustable air vents, a small storage cubby and a 120-volt power outlet on the back of the center console, which was part of the $700 premium audio package.Also included were two rear reading lights, small seatback pockets, two cupholders on a pull-down center armrest, bottle holders in the doors.Driver and front passenger rode in comfort in the bolstered bucket seats, which were heated and cooled. The cooled seats were part of the $1,035 Comfort and Convenience Package, which also included memory for the driver’s seat, outside mirrors and heated tilt/telescopic steering wheel; heated outside mirrors with puddle lights on the ground and built-in turn signals; auto-dimming for the driver’s outside mirror and rearview mirror; a universal garage/gate opener; and premium carpeted floor and trunk mats.Storage areas up front were perfect for portable electronics. There were bottle holders and map pockets in the doors, a rubber-lined cubby with a removable tray under the armrest, a covered storage space with a 12-volt power outlet under the dash. Another small storage space, perfect for a smartphone, was behind the dual cupholders in the center console.Inside the lighted armrest bin were another 12-volt outlet, two USB ports, a memory-card reader and an auxiliary input jack. A storage space was even provided for an umbrella, at the top of the door pockets.There’s a pop-up infotainment touch screen in the middle of the dash, with a hidden storage area behind it that also includes a USB port. It’s a great place for keeping smartphones and iPods out of sight.LS models have cloth seats; LT versions get cloth/vinyl seats; and LTZ models come with perforated-leather. Suede microfiber-trimmed seats are available on LT and LTZ models.Other standard or optional features include remote start, keyless entry/exit and pushbutton start, heated steering wheel and heated/ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescopic steering column with memory, and dual-zone manual or automatic climate control.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.