Chevy, my Chevy, why hast thou forsaken me? The Biblical Impala, dating back to the Burning Bush, still shuffles off the assembly lines in slippers and a tennis-balled walker. But as the rest of GM’s lineup leaps forward into the 21st century, the Impala’s age is starting to become a burden around Chevrolet’s neck.
How old is the Impala? Justin Timberlake was making a comeback from N’Sync when the Impala last received a redesign. The GM W platform it rides on dates back to 1988, which makes it old enough to run for state office or write for Autoguide. GM isn’t planning for a full redesign until 2014, by which time children of Impala owners will be shocked to learn that it was once rear-wheel-drive. If only the beleaguered Impala enjoyed the same voracious support as Ford’s Crown Victoria and Town Car, the darlings of the police and taxi fleets.
“There’s no doubt that the Impala is longer in the tooth than we would traditionally run a vehicle,” said Rick Scheidt, Chevy’s vice president of marketing. The Impala cost GM a higher score in Consumer Reports’ annual corporate ratings, bringing it down to 12 out of 13 automakers as one of the “lackluster cars” GM builds.
Not that GM’s doing this on purpose. A rear-drive variant had been rumored for 2011, but GM’s bankruptcy woes three years earlier nixed that plan. The America-only Impala took less priority than the globally-sold Cruze and Malibu—even now, GM is pushing the Sonic as fast as possible for consumers to take advantage of $4-gallon gas prices. And advertising the Impala as “roomier than a $66,000 Lexus LS460” isn’t going to do any favors.
With the newly-redesigned Malibu, GM is struggling to find a place for the Impala—compounded by the fact that with deep discounts (including one from the AARP), an Impala costs the same despite the differences in MSRP. “You have to reconcile that within a four-sedan showroom and be clear on whose position is what,” said Bryan Nesbitt executive director for Chevrolet design. “We’ve seen this transition happening, where it’s harder and harder to justify the scale of a vehicle without paying for it. This idea of a giant box that you can get for a very low price becomes harder to solve.” The next Impala will most likely move to the Epsilon platform, instead of the Australian, rear-drive Zeta from the Pontiac G6 that enthusiasts clamor for. It will share a chassis with the Buick Lacrosse and the next Cadillac XTS, as well as styling, too—dealers who were given a preview of the Impala claim that it resembles the Lacrosse.
For now, however, the Impala soldiers on. A six-speed transmission replaces its four cogs, and the choice of engine options gets cut in half to just a 3.6-liter V6. Lastly, a new grille and dual exhausts should keep the look current in a way Joan Rivers is used to. The fleet buyers that make up 75% of current Impala sales are happy, and so are the 25% of those who don’t just say “they don’t build ’em like they used to—” they live it.
Keep on keepin’ on, Chevy Impala—America’s #1 rolling nostalgia trip.
[Source: Automotive News]