2013 Chevrolet Impala- Old School, Please Proceed To The Exit

CAM00342According to a popular 80’s sci-fi film, the best automobile to travel back in time was a DeLorean.  Not just any DeLorean, mind you, but Doc Brown’s highly modified DMC-12 equipped with a flux capacitor and some plutonium stolen from Libyan terrorists.  Great in concept perhaps, but also somewhat pricey to buy and it could cause an inadvertent nuclear war.  A much easier and less risky alternative to time travel only requires a visit to your friendly, local Chevrolet dealer.  There, they will be happy to show you the remaining outgoing 2013 Impalas that tenaciously remain unsold on their lots.  Yes, there is a feeling of deja vu with the Impala; a sense that I’ve been here before in the past and that this car is awfully familiar.  This ninth-generation ‘pala has remained virtually unchanged since its last redesign back in 2006, making it the oldest unchanged model in all of GM’s American lineup.  It’s a quick study on how GM used to do things before the recession and the government bailout, both good and bad.  And despite all of this, it remains the corporation’s best-selling passenger car, although the vast majority of sales are ironically to rental fleets.  Alas, Chevrolet has recently introduced an all-new 2014 Impala to continue the sales momentum but this time intends the brand to land in more driveways than before.  Considering its long and loyal service to the General, it was only fair to take one last look at the outgoing Impala.

IMG_0805There’s a few facts to keep in mind with the Impala that reflect the car’s heritage.  The outgoing 2013 is the last passenger car to be sold in the US with a front bench seat, which is a $195 option.  Shocked that the bench seat is going the way of the dodo bird?  I was too initially; that iconic seat has allowed young couples to snuggle up at drive-in theaters for decades and was a staple during the traditional American road trip.  But with Buick suddenly becoming hip, Oldsmobile in the grave, and the demise of Ford’s large sedans, the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car; the Impala is the last traditionalist to carry the flame.  It’s really a shame; although I’ve never been a fan of the arrangement, it did prove handy for access to the other side of the car and freed up space for the long legged among us.  Lastly, there’s much history with this setup.  Chevrolet has had bench seats in its cars since the 1911 Series C Classic Six.

CAM00343I did also mention there was a familiar feeling to the Impala.  Unbeknownst to me at the time of testing, the Impala is also the last car to be built upon GM’s W-Body platform.  That front-wheel drive chassis was introduced in 1988 and was the basis for the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevrolet Lumina, Buick Regal, and Olds Cutlass Supreme of the time. In a fast-paced automotive world, that is downright ancient.  Oddly, before I knew all of this, the car as a whole reminded me of my mother’s mid-90’s Grand Prix that I learned to drive in.  That car had a similar character and manner as this Impala and while driving our test vehicle, I felt that I had indeed, gone back in time.  The fact that our Pontiac had a bench seat is another story….

CAM00358That being said, one of the aspects my mother loved about her Grand Prix was the engine performance.  That legacy continues with the current Impala after all these years.  A 3.6 liter V6 with dual overhard cams and variable valve timing is the only available powerplant on any 2013 Impala.  This is good news, as the output is a very healthy 300 horsepower.  The engine comes across as robust and strong enough to jump-start an entire planet, with gobs of power available at any speed.  Punch the accelerator from a standstill and there is an impressive amount of wheel spin.  The traction control just doesn’t know what to do and exclaims “I give up!”.  Switch it off, punch the accelerator, and the response is just plain insanity.  The amount of power sent to the front wheels is ferocious and the burnouts could carry on indefinitely.  It’s wise to use a light foot with the Impala, as the excessive wheel spin does indeed slow acceleration.  A seemingly infinite amount of power is readily available during passing or hill climbing as well.

If it’s one aspect that GM’s offerings have been praised for over the decades, it’s the smoothness of the company’s transmissions.  Here, the Impala doesn’t disappoint either.  Unlike it’s ancestors, the Impala has a thoroughly modern six-speed automatic.  Shifts were usually silky smooth and well-timed.  The operation of the transmission was almost transparent, even under hard acceleration while it tried to contain the merciless power being delivered from the V6.  One strange omission was a gear CAM00349indicator by the shifter; the only automatic I’ve ever encountered with this oddity.  It’s a sign of obvious cost cutting and somewhat annoying.  Luckily, a display showing the selected gear was on the instrument cluster to take the guesswork out of the car’s intended trajectory!

CAM00348Handling proved to be unrewarding in this 3500 lb. full-size sedan.  Going around corners felt sloppy and the car suffered from excessive oversteer, with the tail end continually wanting to slide out.  From the driver’s seat, the car felt balky on corners and unsporting.  The steering had about as much life as Death Valley in July and offered no feedback of where the wheels were; this is how all of GM’s family cars once felt.  Passengers ended up suffering from motion sickness due to the car’s continual meandering off course.

Unexpectedly, despite the relatively modern independent suspension with MacPherson front struts, ride was another Impala sore point.  The large sedan was jittery over bumps and every road imperfection was felt throughout the cabin.  The car’s stability was also influenced by unevenness in the road and the steering had to be continually adjusted.  The Impala was easily lead astray by potholes; an odd characteristic for a full-size car.

CAM00360Although the ride was a bit shaky, noise levels were impressively subdued.  The Impala’s cabin is a peaceful place to be at during idle and has the serenity of the Sistine Chapel.  There is barely any engine noise and all that can be heard is a distant hum.  With the exception of the overbearing wheel spin, engine noise is kept to a minimum even under acceleration and while cruising at freeway speeds.  The only notable racket at that velocity was some wind noise, but that was still minor.  We found it easy to carry a conversation in the Impala at any speed.

CAM00354At just over 200 inches in length, the Impala is nine inches longer than the midsize Malibu, and promises to be as vast as the Great Plains inside.  It does hold that pledge to some extent. Front seat space is generous with plenty of room to stretch out as long as the front seats aren’t slid forward for rear passengers and even with our tester’s optional sunroof, there was still plenty of clearance of taller heads. CAM00357 With the standard center console and bucket seats, there is enough room for knees to stretch out comfortably.  The driver’s footwell is awkwardly shaped with some intrusion from the wheelwell, and the foot-operated parking brake (yet another remnant of days gone by) impedes on where the driver’s left foot can rest.  Entry and exit was easy thanks to large openings and wide swinging doors.

CAM00353The back seat is an example of poor packaging.  For such a large car, legroom is notably cramped.  Even regular sized passengers will find their knees pressing the front seatbacks, which have a rigid back and don’t offer any give for knees.  Front seat passengers will need to pull their seats forward, robbing them of the generous space they originally had.  Rear headroom is tight thanks to the sloping roofline and space-robbing sunroof.  The outer rear seat cushions are oddly shaped, forcing the outmost passengers to sit ungracefully with their shoulders turned away from the windows.  Accessing the seat can be a little tricky as well due to the narrow lower door openings.  On a bright note; all the seats are covered in a supple and natty cloth that not only feels nice to the touch, but also durable.

CAM00351In an age of advanced interactive displays and touchscreens, the Impala’s uncomplicated ergonomics are a breath of fresh air.  This cabin is about as simple as they come nowadays.  The gauges are as humble and straightforward as possible, and most importantly, get the job done by being readable at a glance.  The radio is shared with many other GM models, which gets to be redundant, but the unit itself is easy toCAM00352 decipher.  Buttons are all clearly marked and the display is easy to read and shows preset stations, a nice touch.  The large volume knob in the middle is foolproof and logical.  The same applies to the dual-climate control; it is intuitive and basic; using dials instead of today’s multitude of buttons and digital displays.  The Ford Taurus, one of the Impala’s chief competitors, may have a more exciting and modern looking interior; but the Chevy’s hCAM00350omely and traditional setup will prove less maddening when it comes to simple adjustments.  All other controls including the steering wheel buttons for cruise and power windows are also user friendly.  Storage is decent with door pockets, a storage tray below the center stack, and a storage bin under the center armrest.  The glove box is also genereously sized and the dampers add an upscale touch.

CAM00347But the praise stops there; GM has since moved on and does things better now.  The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope.  The tilt adjustments themselves don’t have much range and like any Chevy during pre-recession times, the wheel only has a few notches to where the height can be set. The cheap-looking steering wheel, complete with the thin non-descript rim, is lifted straight from the non-premium Chevy Cobalt.  At least the wheel’s leather stitching feels opulent.  The dash and door surfaces are covered in a hard, brittle plastic and the wood trim has too much gloss and shine to be convincing.  Even with all its faults, there’s still something gratifying about the Impala’s old school ways of doing things.  Maybe it’s just the feeling of being sent to a different time.

IMG_0819Regardless, the Impala’s cockpit is a comfortable place to soak up the miles from the driver’s seat.  Visibility is good all-around thanks to large windows and moderately sized pillars; something that the Impala trumps over newer, edgier designs that forsake glass area for style.  Even though it’s a large car, parallel parking the Chevy on San Francisco’s tiny streets was relatively easy and thanks to the optional rear spoiler, judging where the rear bumper was during reversing was drama-free.  Side mirrors are oddly shaped and do take away some of the view of adjacent lanes.  The mirrors themselves do not fold, which could lead to pricey repairs in an otherwise minor brush against a wall or another car.  One increasingly rare feature that could ward off potential damage are genuine side molding strips.  They may not look cool, but are invaluable at protecting the car’s sheetmetal from inevitable parking lot dents.  Kudos to Chevy for keeping them this long!

CAM00345And speaking of sheetmetal, the current Impala’s design hasn’t changed much since 2006.  That may be an eternity in the automotive world, but the Impala is still an attractive car.  More than any other tester I’ve had on this website, the Impala received a number of compliments from passer-bys for its good looks and was even confused as a Volkswagen from one admirer.  It’s easy to see why; the Chevy does have the same timeless greenhouse shape as many VW’s and Audis and the kinked D-pillar does pay homage to the highly admired and performance oriented 1994-96 Impala SS.  Clean triangular taillights and simplistic front fascia are distinct and not garish like may newer designs.  Our car’s sleek, slimming black paint job (which Chevy creatively calls “black”), rear spoiler, and snazzy 17 inch wheel rims made this car look even more appealing.  After all these years, the Impala is still a handsome car and the design has aged well.

CAM00355Finally, the one aspect that the Impala shines most is cargo volume.  The 18.6 cu. ft. trunk is immense and easily gobbles more gear than the Chrysler 300 and Toyota Avalon, beating each of them by more the two cubic feet.  However, the Ford Taurus still beats the Impala by an additional two cubes, which is almost into mafia territory.  Regardless, the Chevy still impresses.  The trunk area is large and has a nice usable square shape with minimal wheelwellCAM00356 intrusion and nice lining.  The trunk opening is large and the lid is hinged with gas struts, which are more expensive than traditional hinges and free up space.  Nice touch!  Lastly, the rear seats do flip and fold flat, like many hatchbacks, and the unexpected result is a versatile, level cargo floor than can easily tote around long items, such as a surfboard, skis or even plywood.

Our Impala had 17k miles on the clock at time of rental.  There were no mechanical or trim issues, and not even a squeak or rattle, which is a change from how GM used to business.  I’m proud to say that the car felt tight and solid.

The EPA rates the 3.6 liter Impala at 18mpg highway and 30mpg highway, which is a very wide range depending on your driving conditions.  In a bizarre mix of San Francisco’s busy streets, an 80 mile run on open freeways, and a windy mountain drive, we averaged almost right in the middle at 25mpg.  Not bad at all for such a bulky and powerful car.

IMG_0803Prices for the base Impala LS start at $25,860 and for that price the car comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, a six-way power  driver seat, full power accessories, a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering  wheel, OnStar emergency communications, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack.  Moving CAM00344up to the LT, like our tester, bumps the price up to $27,385 but adds such niceties as 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, remote ignition,  dual-zone manual climate control, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a trip computer and a folding rear seat with a center armrest.  Our Impala also had the optional sunroof package that adds, you guessed it, a sunroof as well as a universal remote door opener and adds a cool additional $1,000 to the tab.  Once destination is added, the final as-tested price on our car was $29,210.  Keep in mind at the time of this writing, Chevy is offering $4,000 in rebates on the 2013 Impala, and dealers will be anxious to move them off the lots.  Potential buyers will have a lot haggling room in addition to those rebates.

CAM00363The outgoing Impala is not for everyone, certainly not those wanting the latest style, or the most advanced interactive multimedia displays.  The all-new 2014 will fill that void.  But there is a certain charm about the old car; kind of like a longtime friend you’ve known forever who always reminds you of days gone by.  It was a nice journey back to a time of simpler ergonomics, honest-to-goodness engineering, large powerful engines, and big, cushy seats.  I grew to like the big fella over the two days I had him, but still wouldn’t want to own one.  The cramped rear seats, pitchy ride, and some cheap, nasty interior bits are a turn-off and reminded me of how GM lost market share in the first place.  However, I’m not the target clientele, and for anyone looking for a solid, fast, roomy car for two people that drives like a remnant of old Americana, the Impala is a good bet, and especially more-so if you demand a bench seat as this will be your only remaining choice.  Given the current discounts, the Impala could even be considered a bargain compared to newer, smaller, and more pricier offerings out there.  Like a buffet, the flavors are a bit off, but the portions are big and the value unbeatable.  A decent 3.0/5.0 boomerangs

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