Depending on your age (and your devotion to the motor vehicle), there may have been more than one Chevy Impala in your life. In my own case, the most memorable was a fantastic 1968 Impala my delightfully driving-skills-impaired grandfather picked up on one unlikely automotive trade and lent me on a couple of occasions.
Flash forward over the years — and remember that Impala has been a presence on American roads since 1957 — and the illustrious nameplate eventually grew smaller and found itself attached to many less interesting variations.
I think General Motors has taken a healthier step with the debut of the 10th generation Impala. Impala the new is a sizable but still svelte automobile that shares its platform and standard setup with the new Cadillac XTS, rendering it a classy but more affordable iteration.
The affordable part is true: Sans a few of the higher-level options, you can get the same well-equipped 2014 Impala I drove for a couple of days for $29,950. The addition of sport wheels, a premium audio system and the full range of driving and safety aids only took the car to $35,770 — not so bad considering the tall cash I’ve seen required for imports offering the same size and comfort.
And in case you’re wondering what the car’s most-talked-about feature might be, I’ll give you a hint — it’s an 8-inch information screen atop the center stack that motors up and down to reveal a curious storage space for small valuables. Odd, that.
So what does the 2014 bring to the table, exactly, besides an elongated, moderately bulky presence that makes it look like a Malibu on steroids?
All that extra space means your rear-seat passengers will be quite pleased with the room they have, some 39.8 inches of “stop kicking your brother” space. There’s 18.8 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk, as well, which I suppose you could use as a less-than-idle threat to any misbehaving kids.
Up front, the 201.3-inch-long Impala has got the same ample space offered by the equally large but not gigantic XTS, which itself has been offered as the new-generation replacement to all of those boaty, Northstar-engined Caddys favored by the geriatric set.
And they haven’t dumbed down the power, either. The high-end Impala gets a 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 now used by several other members of the family, producing a not-unpleasant 305 horsepower.
That’s good enough to get the big machine rolling quite comfortably down the road, with the added bonus of at least 29 mpg on the highway — also an impressive development.
Alternately, there’s an Ecotec 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s good for 196 horsepower and increased mileage or, somewhat later this year, the 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder with eAssist — basically a mild hybrid system that doesn’t like to call itself a hybrid system, as I recently experienced in a Buick LaCrosse, but can get you 35 mpg.
After time in a few borderline brutal sports cars, the Impala was a breath of fresh air — comfortable and easy to drive, soft but steady on the suspension and a little more anonymous, though still attractively styled.
In the four-cylinder models, GM has partnered with Bose to create an electronic noise-cancelling program to help keep the ride even more whisper-quiet.
There are certainly plenty of stylish bits, as well: Wheels go up to an optional 20 inches, and the instrument cluster is rendered in a futuristic and pleasant style with two big, chrome-edged clusters and a multi-adjustable video screen in the middle. There’s even classy blue ambient lighting.
The wood grain-styled surfacing and the double-cockpit styled dash all contribute to a pretty classy interior experience.
On the safety end, your Impala can be upgraded to have it all, including a crash-mitigation mode that will intercede and dump the brakes for you if you’re cut off or caught unawares, plus combinations of lane-departure, blind-spot and even rear cross-traffic alerts.