Chevrolet's Impala name has been around a long time. It was first appended to a 1956 Motorama car that I helped create the year before, then it was affixed to a production model in 1958. Except for a couple of hiatuses in the 1980s and '90s, it has been in use during forty-five model years. Enormously popular in the 1960s, the Impala sold more than a million units in the U.S. during the 1965 model year, a record never equaled by any other single nameplate, before or since. This 2014 Impala continues the front-wheel-drive configuration adopted at the turn of the century, albeit on a much more sophisticated platform. The transversely mounted small-block V-8 is long gone, and -- surprisingly -- for the first time a pair of four-cylinder engines supplement the V-6 that had become the Impala's standard powerplant.
Styling directives for the early Impalas were simple and clear, issued to designers with a wry look and the sarcastic comment, "Just make it so everybody likes it." This was translated by Campbell-Ewald, Chevrolet's longtime advertising agency, into variations of the ironic mantra "be more like everybody than anybody else," thus satisfying buyers' instincts to embrace herd behavior yet flattering their sense of individuality with upmarket cues. The Impala was definitely mass-market but at the same time somewhat luxurious. At times in the past, it was hard to distinguish Chevrolets from Cadillacs, so the formula worked. Apart from supposed prestige, there is not much about a Cadillac today that isn't available, at least as an option, on this new Impala.
Ever since Bob Lutz banged on the table a few years ago over the Malibu, General Motors has put together all its cars with pretty tight panel fits, and although I suspect there will be some bare-bones Impalas with mediocre trim materials used in the cabin, mid- and upper-level models are going to be really decent and quite respectable. Those two adjectives also nicely describe the appearance of this car. It's not spectacular, not original or groundbreaking in any way, and the front-end composition is generic to a fault, but the profile is sleek and appears to be aerodynamic in a way no Chevy sedan has seemed since 1952, when sedans were available with fastback or notchback bodies, a choice available from 1949 onward.
The clearest indication that this is not in fact a luxury model, however well equipped, comes from the interior, which despite itself contrives to look cheap. Not cheap and nasty but cheap all the same. It comes perhaps from the soft-looking bright metal trim pieces or perhaps from the fact that everything seems to be appended, rather than integrated into a carefully conceived whole. One is subliminally aware that despite the plethora of buttons and functions, each and every element is built to a stringently monitored, predetermined cost. My guess is that this car will succeed quite well in the market. It looks sleeker and sportier than Ford's bulky Taurus and is usefully lighter.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1 Rear quarter-window surround trim is sculpturally elegant and conveys a sense of quality to the entire side view. Very nice indeed.
2 A curious cutline separates the lid-type hood from the fender and fascia.
3 Windshield is set into the A-pillars, which then act as flow straighteners to keep air from spilling around the side of the body.
4 Multiple ribs on the hood panel mean that it requires less material on the inner stiffener -- for a lighter total assembly -- but it's somewhat messy.
5 Thankfully, the transverse bar for the bow tie is gone, but the total upper grille shape is shared by perhaps a dozen or more mainstream commodity cars.
6 Grille perimeter trim and two transverse bars are a bit soft and "melted" looking. The lower grille recapitulates shape and sections in a smaller size.
7 An awfully big hole for the available LED daytime running lamps, crisp-edged on top, just slightly soggy on the bottom.
8 Crisp line derived from the lower grille sides recalls the cheek plates of an ancient Greek warrior's helmet.
9 Outside mirrors are excellent in terms of field of view, and the bright metal finish nicely complements the side-window perimeter treatment.
10 Bright side-trim pieces are contained on the door skins only, protected by depth of the side indentation.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
11 There's a lot of BMW 7-Series in the spoiler/decklid assembly. And why not? It works in both cases.
12 This cutline is inelegant -- but again very much inspired by BMW.
13 Overall upper profile is quite beautiful, gives a sense of a roomy cabin, and is obviously good for airflow.
14 Transition from a grille-derived positive crease to a negative undercut is really well handled, providing a continuous line from the grille center to the rear door handles, where it disappears.
15 The undercut is at maximum on the front door, fading away as it approaches the rear door handle.
16 This rear fender-form outline is a continuation of the side-treatment undercut, deriving from the corner of the taillight and fading to nothing in the rear door.
17 Bangle/BMW surface treatment again, with a hollow section on the rear part of the fender expanding to a hard surface break behind the wheel opening.
18 The rather too thick chrome surround for the exhaust outlets is a little vulgar and overdone, but it does provide punctuation on the rear fascia.
19 Trunk opening is both high and narrow, thus less than practical for what is meant to be a family car.
20 Transverse chrome band between the taillights is a vestige of what recent Chevrolets have used for identity. It's neither attractive nor remotely elegant.
21 Steering-wheel-mounted controls are expected but look like an afterthought, neither particularly ergonomic nor practical.
22 Tunnels for the two main instruments are oddly shaped, with sharp inner corners, and are themselves covered by another glare shield, the whole messy and unconvincing.
23 Mottled plastic surfaces used throughout the interior, even on the wheel, are supposed to seem luxurious but finally just look like the plastic resin was poorly mixed.
24 Big touch screen lifts to expose cavernous storage space behind it.