Chevrolet first used the Impala name more than 60 years ago. It made its debut on a Motorama concept car in 1956 and then was applied to a production vehicle for the 1958 model year, where it was used to denote a top of the line version of the Bel Air 2 door hardtop. The name remained in continuous use right up to 1985, and it quickly became and remained the biggest selling full-sized car that Chevrolet offered. A short reprise in the late 1990s saw the name feature on a performance version of the massive Caprice and then in 2000 the name reappeared on the eight generation of Impala car as a large front wheel drive sedan, sitting at the top of Chevrolet’s passenger car range. Even in the early noughties, the car quickly established itself as a doyen of the rental fleet, as it offered a compelling combination of space and value and as the decade progressed, an ever greater proportion of Impala seemed to start life this way. The ninth generation lasted for 10 years, overlapping with a tenth generation car which made its debut at the 2012 New York Auto Show, as a 2014 model year car. This car is based on an extended version of the Epsilon 2 platform, and under the skin, it shares much with the Cadillac XTS and Buick Lacrosse, though it does follow Chevrolet family styling and it is considerably cheaper than its GM stablemates. Sales started in March 2013, and GM tried hard to position this as a cut above rental fleet fodder, keeping the older car in production for the likes of Hertz and Avis for another three years. Inevitably, though, it was only a matter of time before the new car did appear in the rental fleets, and indeed I was able to sample one from Phoenix Airport in April 2016. The car I tested then was from near the bottom of the range, having the entry level 2.5 litre 4 cylinder engine and LT trim. Most of the rental examples even now are still found in that spec, and the car has changed only in relatively minor details since the time of that test, but more recently I did notice that Hertz also have some cars with V6 badging on the boot and in rather posher top of the range Premier trim. As I quite liked the 2016 test car, I decided that I would try to source one of these plusher Impala models and eventually, after lots of careful scrutiny of the cars parked up in LAX and Phoenix, on the first day of my late 2019 trip, I found what I was looking for, a 2019 model year LTZ Premier in photographically friendly Nightfall Gray Metallic. What, I wondered, would I make of this car, now several years since launch?
There is a big difference between the power outputs of the 2.5 litre 4 cylinder engine of that previous test car and the V6 as fitted to this one: 197 vs 305 bhp and that is pretty evident once you have pressed the button of the keyless starting and set off down the road. This Impala feels pretty urgent, with acceleration that belies a car of this size and class even though the official performance stats are not perhaps quite as impressive as you might expect, perhaps thanks to the fact that this is quite a heavy car. At all times, the engine is smooth and refined and noise levels remain low. The Impala is particularly refined when cruising at a steady speed on the freeway, which is how I covered most of my test miles, with the engine spinning at under 2000 rpm when travelling at 75 mph. All is not perfect though, as the 6-automatic gearbox could at times be a bit hesitant or feel slightly lumpy, though this is not something that I have seen anyone else complaining about. I covered a fairly hefty 553 miles in my day with the Impala and it consumed 16.76 gallons, which computes to an impressive 33 mpg US or 39.4 mpg Imperial, testament to how little the work the engine was doing at that steady cruising speed, and a notable improvement on what I achieved with the 2016 test car. Reminder, perhaps, that larger engines can be more economical than small ones.
Chevrolet don’t pretend that this is a sports sedan, and it is not. The steering has a bit of feel, but it is clearly engineered more to make the car easy to pilot and manoeuvre than to give you lots of feedback. The handling is predictable and safe but nothing that is going to encourage you to look for the twisty route home, and if you do drive with gusto you will find the car does start to understeer. There is modest body roll. Surprisingly, the ride is not that good, for which you can probably thank the larger and lower profile 245/45 R19 wheels you get on a Premier-trimmed Impala. The brakes worked well, though the pedal did feel a little on the soft side. I can’t say the same about visibility, which even by modern standards is not great. The rear screen is narrow and quite steeply angled, so you absolutely do need the rear-view camera and parking sensors which are included in the spec of the car. It also features a useful blind spot assist feature.
Generally, the interior is nicely finished with plenty of stitched leather and gloss black inlays but the overall effect is rather spoiled by some particularly horrid plastics on the centre console, which just look like they are cracked. Reminder, perhaps, that American tastes – either perceived or real – are still not quite in alignment with European ones. The steering wheel is leather wrapped and proved pleasant to hold. The dashboard follows current GM thinking and design. There are two large dials for speedometer and rev counter, with rather nice turquoise pointers, much like contemporary Ford models, and between them a digital display area with trip computer and other functions, which you select using buttons on the right hand steering wheel spoke and above this a “bubble” with water temperature and fuel level gauges. The left hand spoke handles cruise control and audio repeaters. Stock issue GM column stalks are used for indicators and wipers, with their slightly serrated ends and the lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The centre of the dash contains an integrated 8” colour touch screen for the audio and MyLink functions. Sensibly, some buttons and knobs have been retained to aid the use of the audio system. Navigation comes as standard in the Premier trim as does XM satellite radio, Apple Car Play, Android Audio and a 4G WTE WiFi hot spot. There is a Bose sound system and the sound quality from the 11 speakers was pretty good. You still get a CD slot, something which is becoming increasingly rare on cars these days. Beneath this system are the controls for dual zone climate control. There is a wireless charging pad under a lid on the centre console.
Seat upholstery in the Premier trim is all leather, of decent quality, though not as soft as you get in some premium-badged cars. You can get comfortable using the all-electric 8-way seat adjustment and there is a telescoping steering wheel, so it was easy to get the driving position I wanted. There is plenty of space, though the high centre console means you may not realise it in the way you used to do when the two front seats were so obviously far apart with little between them. The dash area in front of the passenger curves forwards so there is more of a feeling of space for the occupant here than for the driver. Premier trim means heated front seats, though in California even in late November, these were not something that I put to use.
This is a big car, and this is particularly obvious when you look at the space available for rear seat passengers. There is plenty of legroom even if the front seats are set well back, ample width for three and even with a slightly sloping rear roof line, headroom will more than suffice even for the tallest of passengers. There is a dropdown central armrest with cup holders in the upper surface and oddments can be stowed in the map pockets on the back of the front seats and the bins on the doors.
There is a very sizeable boot here. It is particularly long from front to back and as there are no batteries under the floor of this version, depth is good, too. The lack of batteries means that there is room under the floor for a space saver tyre and a bit of space for odds and ends around it. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split and drop down to give a very long load platform in. Inside the cabin, there is a modestly sized glovebox, a lidded cubby over the driver’s left knee, a deep armrest cubby and pockets on the doors for all those odds and ends that you want to have to hand and there is also a GM feature which no other brand seems to have copied, of being able to swivel the infotainment screen upwards to reveal a stowage recess behind it.
The 2019 Chevrolet Impala is available in three trim levels. Thanks to equipment upgrades in 2018, the base LS trim is more than just bare-bones transportation. Moving up to the LT trim gets you upgraded interior materials and access to several option packages. The range-topping Premier trim offers an extensive and upscale list of standard features. Two engines are available. A 2.5-litre four-cylinder with 197 bhp, 191 lb/ft of torque is standard on the LS and LT trim levels, while a 3.6-litre six-cylinder, with 305 bhp, 264 lb-ft of torque is standard for the Premier and optional in the others. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission and are only available with front-wheel drive. The LS trim starts with a good selection of standard features. You get 18-inch steel wheels, sound-insulating laminated windows, automatic headlights, cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, a rearview camera, air conditioning, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seats, OnStar (includes 4G LTE and Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity), a six-speaker audio system, satellite radio, and Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system that includes an 8-inch touchscreen interface, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Moving up to the LT adds 18-inch alloy wheels, remote engine start, heated mirrors, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, rear air vents, extra headrest adjustments, and a few other small interior trim upgrades. The Impala LT also offers many upgrade packages. The Driver Confidence package includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors. The LT Entertainment package pads on navigation, an 11-speaker Bose stereo system, a CD player, ambient interior lighting and a 120-volt outlet. Want a sunroof and a rear spoiler? Order the Sunroof and Spoiler package. There’s also the LT Convenience package, which includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel as well as an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Convenience package can be upgraded with the LT Leather package, which adds leather upholstery and a power-adjustable front passenger seat. The top-trim Impala Premier gets 19-inch wheels, xenon headlights, heated power seats and leather upholstery, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and some unique exterior accents. It also includes the contents of the LT’s Driver Confidence, Entertainment, and Sunroof and Spoiler packages. Packages for the Premier trim include the Premier Confidence package, which adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and 20-inch wheels. The Premier Convenience package adds ventilated front seats, a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory settings, and auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors. Both the LT and Premier trims also have access to the Midnight Edition Appearance package, which adds black-painted 19-inch wheels, replaces the chrome exterior trim with black-painted pieces, and includes special black interior trim pieces. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Midnight Edition Impalas are only available in black.
The Impala’s days would seem numbered. Although GM said that they had no plans to discontinue the model and exit the segment in the way that Ford did when their rival Taurus model ended production earlier in 2019, they have now changed their mind and said that the final cars will be built in 2020. One look at the sales figures will tell you why. In 2014, the first full year of sales of this generation Impala, a total of 140,280 cars were sold, and even that was a long way down ten years previously, when more than double than number were finding buyers, but by 2018 the figure was just 56,556. Is that really justified? On the merit of the car, I would say “no”, as this Impala, even though it is now a 6 or so year old design, struck me as a very worthy car indeed, even if it is never going to win prizes for excitement, but the sad reality is that the market especially for cars in this class has turned its back, en masse, on large family saloons and thinks that crossovers are what everyone needs. Resistance, it would seem it is futile, and that, sadly means that end for the US domestic full-sized sedan is in sight, with only the US built Toyota Avalon and the FCA duo of Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger left. And that’s a real pity. I am sure that the Impala will linger in the rental fleets for a while after the end of production, but once they are gone, that will be it, and a crossover you will get, whether you want one or not. But until then, if you are offered an Impala, know that are getting a very sound product and if it is a V6 car, all the better.