Like every other Y2K-frenzied fool in December, 1999, you were busy engineering a small mountain of canned soup and one-gallon water jugs. That’s true unless you lived in Oshawa, Canada and worked in General Motors’ plant.
In that case, you were busy creating an entirely different abomination: the eighth-generation Chevrolet Impala.
|1. The second of three powertrains for the new Impala is a 2.5L 4-cylinder that makes 196 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is rated 21 MPG city and 31 MPG highway.
3. Other engines include a 305 hp V6 and an upcoming eAssist mild hybrid.
4. Pricing for the new 2014 Impala starts at $27,535.
In either case, those choices would be unceremoniously slid into the “mistakes” folder and forgotten by most.
It’s been a long ride to redemption for the Impala, but most would agree that the day *ahem* design is finally here.
Earlier this year Chevrolet rolled out the all-new version while quietly extending the ugly older brother’s production cycle exclusively for fleet sales.
Obvious style changes separate the two, but General Motors dove beyond “skin deep” by offering three engines rather than a lone V6.
Perhaps in a play to prepare for the Government’s tightening corporate average fuel economy rules, the full-size Impala will come with a 3.6-liter V6 along with two four-cylinder mills.
STILL MORE TO COME
Second in GM’s staggered release of the Impala’s powetrains, the all-new 2.5-liter offers a slightly more efficient alternative. EPA estimates rate the car at 21 MPG for city driving and 31 MPG on the highway with an average 25 MPG.
SEE ALSO: GM eAssist Bet Doesn’t Pay Off http
Later down the road there will also be a 2.4-liter eAssist mild hybrid. The Malibu Eco comes with the same drivetrain, but you probably shouldn’t wait around for it.
SHOES TOO BIG FOR A 4-BANGER TO FILL?
Here’s the rub: Chevrolet has avoided small engines for the Impala for good reasons. It’s a bulky car well suited to carrying cops, criminals and cab passengers well past the witching hour, but that all takes horsepower and torque.
Chevrolet’s four-cylinder engines haven’t really had the right “equipment” to get things done in the full-size sedan segment.
Believe it or not, the 2.5-liter engine makes power comparable to what a V6 did a decade ago. Explicitly, you’re getting 196 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. Those are pretty good numbers for a naturally aspirated four pot.
How’d they do it?
Not surprisingly, direct injection plays a big role. The engine also adapts valve lift under heavy acceleration and variable valve timing to deliver more power when it’s needed.
That, combined with the same six-speed automatic transmission as the V6 model, offers a smooth and quiet ride. That’s surprising for a 4-cylinder in such a large car.
Most of the positive attributes found in the V6 model remain. Like its sibling, the 2.5-liter car feels surprisingly at home while tipping into turns. If anything, the cornering feels better because of weight losses associated with two fewer cylinders.
Unfortunately, the electric-assisted power steering feels dull and disconnected from the road. The car doesn’t struggle to maneuver, but feedback through the wheel is minimal.
In fact, the four-cylinder model offers most of what the V6 can with one key exception: straight-line acceleration. Giving the gas pedal a good stomp won’t deliver the same go-forward gusto as is offered by the V6, but do you really care?
AS FOR THE OTHER AMERICAN BRANDS?
You might. Just ask the other members of Detroit’s automaker fraternity.
Ford offers a four-cylinder in the Taurus, but it’s turbocharged. Chrysler and Dodge have instead opted to keep the V6 in the 300 and Charger, but use an 8-speed automatic to obtain better fuel economy. Neither Ford nor Chrysler dare to slide such unsubstantial options into a full-size sedan.
From a power perspective, the base Impala is left huffing and puffing down 92 horsepower from its next closest competitor: the base V6 Ford Taurus (the turbocharged 4-cylinder Taurus actually costs more than the V6). Understandably, however, the 4-cylinder Impala does trounce the Taurus V6 in fuel economy, rated at 19/29 mpg.
A considerable price gap would make up for that, but there isn’t one. Chevrolet asks $27,535 for the least expensive Impala, which is spitting distance from the Taurus and $545 more than the Charger.
Graver still, Dodge is throwing money at potential Charger owners like an aging playboy paying alimony.
For example, the company’s retail site shows $3,500 in cash discounts for customers in southern California, or $2,500 if you live in Denver.
THERE’S STILL A CASE TO BE MADE FOR THE IMPALA
Starting with the 2014 model, General Motors is offering two years of free maintenance. That includes up to four oil changes, tire rotations and vehicle inspections at your dealer for the first two years or 24,000 miles.
Oil changes are cheap and anyone worth their old Detroit iron might be willing to perform those rotations themselves. But the Impala has a lot going for it once you get inside, so why not take the freebies with a grin?
Better yet, the four-cylinder Impala can still come with cabin goodies to make you swoon. Just don’t buy the lowly LS model. Doing that means you’ll miss out on most of what makes the car’s cabin so stylish in the first place.
Faux wood trim on the center console disappears, the color scheme turns a drab gray and you miss out on the eight-inch touch screen.
That’s unfortunate because it also means missing out on what’s behind the screen. A secret compartment opens at the push of a button to reveal a hidden compartment meant to foil sticky fingered valets looking for valuables. While in valet mode, it hides personal information and keeps the compartment shut.
And let’s not forget, with the Impala you also get those handsome new looks.
With all that in mind, it makes sense to cough up an extra $2,250 for the 1LT trim and its aforementioned extras. Not buying it would be a personal disservice.
At that price, you’re sitting a scant $1,000 away from the V6 model, which begins to look like a better deal. That translates to about $1,000 to add over 100 hp, or about nine bucks per pony, with the tradeoff being just 2 mpg in both city and highway driving.
Can you stomach that? You probably should.