Five Days in an Impala
Board: Buying and Maintaining a Car
Got back from a vacation, and thought I'd report on the rental car. When flying, we typically rent a minivan, as we have to carry my son's wheelchair. But the costs for one in Portland were simply outrageous. ($150 per DAY!!!) So looked at SUVs and decided $75 a day was still too much. Since we were not planning on a lot of in-and-out of the car, but mainly needed it to get to our final destination (the Washington coast), I started shopping on trunk sizes and settled on a full size car for $43/day. The wheelchair can be disassembled pretty easily to fit in a decent sized trunk, and with only 3 people, I figured I could use part of the back seat for luggage if necessary.
At the rental counter, the full-size car ended up being a 2012 Chevy Impala LT - about 4 months old with 5400 miles on the clock.
The first test was trunk size, and I wasn't disappointed. The trunk swallowed two large suitcases, the wheelchair, and my laptop. We only needed to put the carry-on size suitcase in the back seat. And if I had been willing to spend a bit more time packing the trunk carefully, I might have squeezed that in as well. The back seat could fold down with a 60/40 split to provide room for longer items, although I never tried that. I'm guessing a pair of skis or a snowboard would fit there. Score 1 for the Impala.
The interior was the next item to look at. Nothing to write home about. The cloth seats were OK - somewhat supportive, but needing a bit more lumbar support for the two hour drive ahead of us. I never did get really comfortable for cruising. The steering wheel and gear shift were wrapped in leather that felt good to the touch. The interior plastics were fine - not cheap, but not great either. A decent balance between cost and comfort.
The dash was fairly simple - tach, speedo, fuel, and temp gauges. The driver info screen was two lines of dot-matrix display, plus a third line for the gear selection. The dot-matrix display was controlled by 4 buttons that walked you through several options (things like interior lighting delay and automatic door lock and unlock timing) and let you display all kinds of information. There was the usual odometer plus two trip odos, separate tire pressures for all four corners, instant and average fuel economy, average speed, and several other bits of info that I've forgotten by now. At first all of these display options seemed overwhelming, but after playing with them for a bit, I started learning my way around the menus. The info display was adequate, but it seemed like it could use more space.
The stereo included XM satellite radio. I've never played with that before, and found it incredibly distracting. There's way too many stations to just browse through while driving, so you need to do your channel surfing before you set off or leave that to the passenger. You could preset several stations, mixing up to 6 groups of XM, FM, and AM stations to your heart's content. The XM radio seemed to dropped out frequently. I'm not sure if that's a function of XM in general or the specific unit, or perhaps even the terrain. There was a CD player and the requisite port for an mp3 player.
The climate controls were rudimentary compared to my 11 year old Chrysler. Manual controls for the fan and air delivery, with separate manual controls for driver and passenger temperature. Those were really bad. The temp controls moved up and down and had very little resistance. So if you go over the smallest bump while adjusting the temperature, you will move the lever much farther than you intend. Fine adjustment were all but impossible while moving, and difficult even when stopped.
The steering wheel has plenty of buttons to keep you busy. Cruise control, stereo volume, and integrated bluetooth telephone controls are all there and fall to hand quite well.
But enough of the superficial stuff. Let's talk about the driving.
I absolutely fell in love with the 3.6 liter V6. It turns out 300 hp at it's red line of 6500 rpm. So it pulls very strongly all the way until the tranny upshifts. I had a blast on the 2 lane part of our travels, blowing past anything remotely slow. I found myself at 90 MPH pretty quickly while passing. It was especially fun on the uphill sections with passing lanes. Even with 3 people and all our luggage it was trivial to get into extra-legal speeds.
The 6 speed automatic tranny was also good, but not outstanding. Your only forward gear choices are Drive and Low. There's no option to select your own gears. I never found much use for the Low range, as it downshifted quickly as needed when I mashed the gas pedal. Perhaps it would come in handy for long downhill stretches to keep your speed in check.
In spite of the performance, I also got decent fuel economy for a large car. The info display claimed an average of 23 MPG for the entire time I had the car. Assuming the car was actually full when I got it, I averaged about 25 MPG in a mix of mostly 2 lane highway and city driving. That compares well with the EPA estimates of 18 city and 30 highway.
The steering gave me a lot of confidence. It was precise without being touchy. My only complaint would be that the car never really seemed to want to go straight. I couldn't find a spot where I wasn't constantly moving from one side of the lane to the other. That might be an indication of some alignment issues - not entirely unexpected in a rental car.
The ride was smooth and comfortable, yet without excessive body roll in corners. I never pushed it too hard (my wife doesn't appreciate that kind of driving), but the Chevy felt much smaller that it was in corners. (Then again, I'm used to driving minivans on a daily basis, so take that with a grain of salt.)
Now for the dreaming.
My major complaint is with the marketing. I'm sure I saw it called a Sport Sedan somewhere in the Chevy advertising, but I can't find that now. With the limited ability to select gears and front wheel drive, I have to disagree with that claim. I'd love to see the Impala label on a proper rear drive sedan. How about the platform under the Cadillac CTS? Keep the rounded styling and simple interior of the current Impala, but hang that on Caddy's platform. The current V6 engine would be a great motor for the base models, but Chevy could also have a V8 option - like the LS3 from a base Corvette. Now THAT would be reminiscent of a 60's Impala. Can you say SS? If Chevy could deliver that car for not much more than the current Impala, I think they'd have a nice full-sized Chevy back in their lineup.
All in all, I was very impressed with the Impala. It was a pleasure to drive, delivering a good combination of a comfortable ride with enough sportiness and power to keep it from being boring.