"You're driving an Impala this week, eh? Yeah, I rented one of those on my last vacation/business trip/etc.," said everyone I ran into (not like that) when testing the 2014 Chevrolet Impala LT2 this week. It seems that everyone I know has rented one, but no one actually knows anyone that owns one. This experience is anecdotal, of course, but it certainly isn't a good thing for the classic American nameplate.
For 2014, the Impala reaches the market with a new look and a new high-tech message that I think is a big step in the right direction. There's nothing dull about the the Impala's new angry face and the muscular proportions inject the nameplate with a healthy dose of machismo that's been missing since the Impala was neutered to a FF platform back in 2000.
Parked side-by-side at a local strip mall, the 2014 Impala is more memorable than the Camry or Accord, more menacing than the Mazda6 and Taurus. Stylistically speaking, this comeback is off to a very good start.
New generation MyLink infotainment
Dating back to 1958, the Impala is Chevrolet's second-oldest nameplate (preceded only by the Corvette), so I find it amusing that it is the model that ushers in the newest generation of Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment technology.
This 8-inch touch-screen cabin tech package checks many of the right boxes where connectivity and customization are concerned and even leaves a lot of room for expansion down the line. For example, the icons on the home screen can be reorganized by holding and dragging just like you can on your smartphone, as more features are added -- for example, if Chevrolet adds a new app partner later this year -- the main menu expands to multiple home screens that can be swiped between like an iPhone with eight, large, tappable icons per page.
Out of the box, you get access to three USB ports -- two in the center console and one behind the motorized touch screen that rises at the touch of a button to reveal a cubby hole for your sunglasses, smartphone, a box of animal crackers, or whatever. There's also an SD card slot, a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, Bluetooth for audio and hands-free calling, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and HD Radio tuning for the terrestrial FM band. We're also given control of the Pandora Internet Radio app on a connected smartphone, if installed, with the ability to browse custom stations, rate songs with a thumbs-up or -down, and bookmark artists or songs for later retrieval.
Let's also not forget the OnStar telematics system, which is now fully integrated into the infotainment system, rather than presenting itself as a totally separate system, and comes with a six-month trial for the full suite of services, including emergency crash response, remote services like door unlocking, concierge services, and turn-by-turn directions.
There's also a small, full-color information display in the instrument cluster that provides at a glance access to navigation directions, hands-free calling info, vehicle settings, and more using steering wheel controls.
As I said, the system checks a lot of the right boxes, even in its unoptioned form, but there are a few issues. For example, one of the system's features was the ability to store shortcuts to pretty much any part of interface using virtual preset buttons that popped up along the lower edge of the screen, but this strip of faux buttons appeared inconsistently -- sometimes ever-present, such as when listening to radio, and other times nowhere to be found.
Additionally, I found the system to be remarkably sluggish between my inputs and, at times, pretty unresponsive. It's remarkable how annoying a second or three of lag between a screen tap and a system response can be, but these are fast times that we live in and I expect my tech to be as quick on the draw as I am -- particularly at 70 mph. However, the most heinously laggy bit of the MyLink system was the optional navigation system.
Options, packages, and creature comforts
Out of the box, the 2014 Impala is well-equipped, but it's the options that truly characterize the cabin tech experience -- forming both its greatest strengths and weaknesses.
For example, the LT Navigation package is a $1,095 option that adds, well, navigation to the Chevy MyLink system, as well as keyless entry and push-button start. The interface looks good and all of the options and menus are laid out logically -- it's good to know that you won't get lost in the navigation system -- and the directions and routes returned by the system were generally pretty good.
However, like the rest of the MyLink system, the navigation system is sluggish and laggy. Hitting the map button upon entering the car, you'll have to wait as you watch a blank map load and be populated with streets, then 3D buildings. Searching for a destination, sometimes seconds would go by before I was allowed to start inputting search terms using the onscreen keyboard. If you started searching for a destination without first specifying a city, it could be a few beats between each letter of your search term while the autocomplete system presumably searched the entire state for restaurants that started with the letter "A" and then "Ar."
It was maddening, but there is another way: voice command. Whether you used the onboard voice recognition system or let OnStar do your destination entry, speaking to the car was usually very accurate and much faster than poking at its screen.
The $940 LT Convenience package is an odd collection of options that adds a rear camera with dynamic trajectory lines and distance markers, a rear proximity sensor that audibly beeps as you approach obstructions or people, remote start, a universal home remote for garage door openers and the like, and floor and trunk mats. If I could get the rear camera as part of the Navigation package, the Safety package, or better still as a standard feature, I'd skip this option altogether. Sadly, you can't.
The Premium audio package is another odd pairing of an 11-speaker Bose surround audio system and 19-inch wheels for $1,140. Chevy also throws in a rear spoiler and a 120V AC power outlet for the rear seat as part of this package.
The Premium seating package is a $945 check box that adds heated front seats and eight-way power adjustment for the front passenger seat that almost matches the standard power driver's seat, save the omission of four-way lumbar support for the passenger.
Finally, there's the Advanced Safety package that adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and forward-collision warning to the Impala's suite of active safety technologies. I was a bit disappointed to find that adaptive cruise control wasn't part of this package -- typically it goes hand in hand with a forward-collision warning system. Then again, typical FCW systems are radar-based, where Chevy's appears to be optical. This lack of forward radar explains the Impala's lack of radar-guided cruise control. This package will add $890 to the bottom line.
These packages are all dependent on each other in a chain of prerequisites. You can't get the Navigation package without the Premium Audio package, which you can't get without the Seating package, which you can't get without the Safety package, which you can't get without the Convenience package. So, if you just want navigation, you may as well consider the whole thing one big $5,010 suite.
Power and performance
On the road, the 3.6L V6 engine feels competent in that laid-back, effortless, old-people's-car way. You get the feeling that there's a potent power train at work, but that it can't really be bothered to really flex its muscles without a bit of prodding.
Through the wonder of direct gasoline injection, the V6 outputs 305 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque, sending that power through a six-speed automatic transmission on its way to the front wheels.
The transmission lacks a sport program, but does have the goofiest manual shift mode that I've ever not wanted to use: a rocker switch atop the shift lever that, when triggered with a thumb, up- and downshifts. It's difficult to reach, tricky to engage, and thankfully, easy to totally disregard.
Let the gearbox do its thing and the engine sip its fuel and the EPA reckons that 21 miles will laze by for every gallon of gasoline used. That's the combined estimate, which breaks down to 18 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Nail the pedal to the floor and you'll get significantly lower economy, but you'll also be rewarded with the full giddy-up of the 305 ponies. In a straight line, the Impala can feel remarkably quick for its size, but only when goaded.
One of the first things that I noted when getting behind the wheel of the Impala was its electronic power-steering system, which is ridiculously overboosted. The result is steering that is absurdly light -- you could drive this car with a pinky finger, if you wanted -- but also lacks any semblance of road feel. The Impala may have the face of a sports car, but it's got the ride of a land yacht. Despite infusing the Impala with a healthy dose of Camaro-inspired, muscular good looks on the outside, Chevy has managed to outbeige the Toyota Camry where driving is concerned.
Perhaps this isn't a bad thing; the light steering makes the sedan notably easy to drive around town, when exploring the limits of the tires' adhesion is less important than being able to dance around pothole and parking lots without muscling the wheel. The ride is remarkably smooth and quiet. It's quick when you need it to merge and relaxed when you just want to commute in peace, both very good traits in a large sedan.
Pricing and in sum
Our 2014 Chevrolet Impala started at $29,950 for our already well-equipped, V6 model, but we've also got $5,010 in options and packages. We've also got $810 in destination charges that bring us to our as-tested price of $35,770.
However, as annoying as the navigation system was, you could probably skip that $1,095 option and invest the money into continuing OnStar turn-by-turn navigation beyond the six-month trial, dropping the Impala's price below the $35K mark where it compares even more favorably with the likes of Toyota, Honda, and Ford, while still offering similar levels of functionality thanks to the standard MyLink infotainment and OnStar telematics systems.
|Model||2014 Chevrolet Impala|
|Power train||3.6-liter V6, six-speed automatic transmission, FWD|
|EPA fuel economy||city, highway, combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||n/a|
|Navigation||Optional with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard for hands-free calling and audio|
|Disc player||single slot CD|
|MP3 player support||standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, 3 x USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM Satellite Radio, HD Radio, Pandora app integration|
|Audio system||11-speaker Bose surround|
|Driver aids||Rear camera, rear proximity sensor, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning, lane departure warning, forward-collision warning|
|Price as tested||$35,770|