– Attractive styling throughout
– Cabin space, trim and features
– Ride and handling
– Light on steering feel
– Multimedia learning curve
– Button-operated tiptronic
Full-size sedans are big business in several GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, which just so happens to be the largest car market in the region. And the Americans just so happen to be the best at building full-size sedans. The Chevrolet Impala is a critical car for the General in that regard, competing in a field that has few, but well-established, players.
The Impala nameplate has been around in the States for generations, but it’s only been introduced in the Middle East for the first time with this new model. That’s okay, because recent previous iterations of the Impala were basically dull fleet cars in its home country, and this new-for-2014 one is a completely different clean-sheet design. It’s a large car, with sharp details and well-placed lines that hide its bulk rather well. LED running lamps, inset exhaust outlets, chrome detailing and the optional 20-inch wheels round out an upscale-looking package.
Inside, the premium feel continues with most above-the-waist surfaces covered in stitched-leatherette padding and soft-touch materials. The design is very contemporary, with even blue mood lighting along the dash at night. Aside from a couple of low-lying plastic panels kicked loose by previous journalists, it all appears to be tightly built in our well-used test car.
A big car conjures up expectations of a big cabin, and the Impala delivers, mostly. It’s spacious up front with mildly-bolstered seats and tiltable headrests. And there’s great legroom in the back, but while we average-sized guys found the rear headroom adequate, very tall folks might complain about the sloping roofline. Still, the Impala offers relatively better rear legroom than the Ford Taurus and better rear headroom than the Toyota Avalon. There are enough cup-holders and door pockets for four, while the boot is absolutely massive, with the possibility to split-fold the rear bench as well.
Tech-wise, our LTZ version packed everything under the sun. Ventilated power-adjustable front seats with memory, smart keyless entry with starter button, remote start, HID headlights, touchscreen multimedia system with Bluetooth, rear camera with parking sensors, a full set of airbags, cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, electric parking brake, tyre-pressure monitor and a panoramic glass roof are among the list of features, as is a dual-zone a/c that comes with rear vents and was unstressed in March weather.
There’s even a nifty cubby behind the touchscreen, the latter sliding away with a motorised motion at the touch of a button, and there’s a USB port in there so you can store and plug in your music player there. The multimedia system, with big colourful icons and 3D nav maps, is a bit complicated beyond the initial menu, but probably gets easier to play with over time.
Under the sculpted bonnet is a standard 3.6-litre V6, a gruff-sounding motor that makes a class-leading 305 hp at 6800 rpm and 358 Nm of torque at 5300 rpm. It’s mated to a competent 6-speed automatic, with a rocker-button on the shift-knob for occasional manual shifting. We managed a 0-100 kph time of 7.3 seconds in March weather. The engine is so torquey that you can pull off front-wheel-drive burnouts just by flooring the throttle with the stability-control off. At highway speeds, it has useful power that makes overtaking effortless for a car that weighs a hefty 1737 kg.
Despite its bulk, the Impala is similarly effortless to drive in the city, with its light steering and good forward visibility. The view out the rear window is a bit limited, but it’s irrelevant considering it has a rear camera in all but the base model. It rides very smoothly on most surfaces, with external noise never going beyond moderate levels at 140 kph.
Oddly enough, the car was a fair bit more enjoyable to drive than we thought it’d be. The handling is very neutral, with well-controlled body roll and clean understeer at the limit, without any untoward drama on smoothly-driven corners. The steering offers very little feedback and the brakes are spongy at lower speeds, but both firm up decently at higher speeds for better control. It’s probably why, with our mildly-aggressive driving, we pushed up the average fuel consumption to 13.8 litres/100 km, which still isn’t too bad.
Large sedans are increasingly taking a back seat on most consumers’ shopping lists in the age of the crossover SUV, but we’re glad they’re still around. Not everybody needs a wagon on stilts, and cars like this Chevrolet Impala are the most affordable way to get a luxury-car experience without paying for a premium badge.
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