Raise your hand if you have never, ever — ever — driven a Chevy Impala. Think about it for a minute . . . maybe your dad owned one, or maybe even his dad, since the brand goes back more than five decades.
And if you’re a business traveller and/or suburbia dweller, chances are you’ve either owned or rented an Impala. It’s a car that most people rarely give second thought to, yet it’s engrained in the automotive landscape. As Chevy once pitched, the Impala really is “like a rock.”
Literally scads of these ubiquitous sedans can be found unobtrusively going about their business without fuss or drama on nearly every city block, rural road and freeway in the land.
The Impala has been a Chevrolet and parent General Motors stalwart since 1958 when it was a trim option for the Bel Air coupe. And except for a couple of interruptions in the mid-’80s and ’90s, the brand survived. The multiplicity of duties that it has performed include police vehicle, taxi cab, rental-fleet workhorse and, between 1994 and ’96, sinister-looking performance “SS” sedan.
The Impala’s current incarnation began for the 2006 model year when Chevrolet tweaked the sheetmetal and installed a trio of new powerplants, including a 303-horsepower V8 that formed part of the SS package. Despite the passage of time and the departure of the SS, the Impala continues to look decidedly attractive, in a conservative sort of way.
The 2011 edition pretty much stays the course — a surprise to absolutely no one — although it’s rumored that an all-new edition could be a year or two away. That might be welcome news for Impala aficionados, although the dimensionally similar and brilliantly styled Chevy Malibu has, of late, garnered considerable attention and accolades.
Still, the Canadian-built Impala shines in areas where the upstart Malibu, as well as several of its competitors, fall short. For example, you can still order a front bench seat that ups the car’s total passenger capacity to six. Additionally, you can order a unique flip-and-fold back seat that converts into a handy flat storage tray as well as creates a full-width pass-through from the trunk for greatly increased cargo space. Emphasizing a car’s practical side is always a great way to keep ’em coming back for more.
The now-strictly-V6 Impala — no more V8 — carries over its two remaining sources of thrust. The 211-horsepower 3.5-liter unit is exclusive to the LS and LT, while a 224-horsepower 3.9-liter V6 that resides exclusively with the LTZ. Both engines feature the old-school cam-in-block design that uses pushrods and lifters, whereas modern designs use single or double overhead cams. Hey, it works for the Corvette, so why not the Impala, right?
Changes to the 3.5-liter V6 for 2011 allow you to use corn-based E85 biofuel (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline), just like the 3.9.
Also hanging around is a four-speed automatic transmission, surprising since nearly every other automaker has long since switched to five- and six-speed (or more) automatics with ultra-low-revving overdrive ratios in the interests of improving fuel economy.
Even with just four forward gears, the Impala’s city/highway fuel rating of 18/29 mpg for the 3.5 (17/27 for the 3.9) compares favorably with other import- and domestic-based full-size sedans although the competition is making as much as 100 more horsepower for similar displacement. GM’s own 3.6-liter engine makes more than 300 horsepower, depending on the application.
The Impala’s LS, LT and LTZ trim levels remain pretty much unaltered from 2010, with all cars arriving with a generous assortment of popular convenience items plus limited-time satellite radio and OnStar-assistance subscriptions. That being said, if you’d like to add, among other things, fancier wheels, a sunroof or a premium audio system, you’ll need to step up to the mid-grade LT.
Along with the 3,9-liter engine, the range-topping LTZ’s goodies include leather seats (heated in front), premium Bose sound system and Bluetooth short-range wireless networking (for hands-free cell-phone use, for example), to name a few.
At a usually negotiable starting price in the $25,000 vicinity, the Impala isn’t the biggest bargain on the block, but its roomy cabin, decent fuel economy and reputation for durability have contributed to the car’s impressive longevity. And for prospective buyers, that’s certainly worth a second thought.