New Car Review: 2014 Chevrolet Impala

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Chevrolet Impala

By now, you've no doubt heard that Consumer Reports has gone gaga over the 2014 Chevrolet Impala.  I mean, the Amish have heard.

When CR takes a first-year American sedan and leapfrogs it over everything but the Tesla Model S and the BMW 135i, giving it a rating of 95 out of 100, that's news.  Especially when last year's model got a 63.  That's the difference between "buy now" and "kill it with fire" in Consumer Reports-speak.

But CR also said it considers the Impala competitive with the Audi A6, the Lexus LS460L, the Acura RLX and the Jaguar XF.  Which makes me think that Consumer Reports, long the dullest, dryest read possible when it comes to cars, has found its inner hype machine.  They should schedule a lunch with Motor Trend to talk about the possible long-term effects should the product not live up to all that (Car of the Year 1971: Chevrolet Vega....1974: Ford Mustang II...1976: Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare...1980: Chevrolet Citation...1983: AMC Alliance)

So, here's the rational counterpoint to Consumer Reports.

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Chevrolet Impala

The 2014 Chevrolet Impala is a very good big sedan.  It's certainly light years beyond the last Impala, and the best since at least the 1970 Impala.  Beyond that, we need to haul out our yardsticks and agree on what we're measuring.

Is it as iconic a styling statement as the 1958, 1959-60, 1961-1964 or 1965-1970 Impalas?  Is it as stunning as the 1967, which many consider the high-water mark and which clearly was the inspiration for it's sweeping roofline?

It's purely a matter of opinion.  Mine is no.  It's nice, it's well-drawn, well-proportioned. But if you took the badges off of it,  you  wouldn't say "Impala" the first time you saw it, or even "Chevy".  And a note to the stylists regarding the front end...you kept it remarkably subtle...but not everything has to have a Camaro influence.

So let's address the Impala in purely 2014 terms.

Our tester was a mid-line 2LT...base price $29,950.  There's a 305 horsepower, 3.6 liter V6 engine and a six speed automatic transmission standard (lower trim levels have a 2.5-liter 4 standard).  The EPA says 18 city/28 highway, which is a little less than the competition (Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon, Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza) are rated.

Standard equipment includes an electric parking brake, cruise control, a full complement of airbags, anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, a six-month OnStar subscription, automatic headlamps, 18-inch painted alloy wheels, halogen headlamps, power windows, power driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a tilting/telescoping steering column, steering wheel controls, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-speaker premium sound system with AM, FM HD Radio, SiriusXM, MyLink, USB, Auxilary and Bluetooth, and a color display for the driver information center, which slides up to reveal a convenient cubbyhole for stashing whatever you want out of eyesight.

2014 Chevrolet Impala interior view

The press fleet folks packed on another five grand in options:  The LT Convenience Package...rear park assist with camera, auto-dimming inside rear-view mirror, remote start, premium carpeted floor and trunk mat ($940)...The Premium Audio and Sport Wheels Package...a 120-volt power outlet,  19-inch painted aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler, an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround sound audio system ($1,140)...The LT Navigation Package...MyLink Radio,  navigation, keyless access and start ($1,095)...the Premium Seating Package...heated driver and front passenger seats, an 8-way power front passenger seat and a convenience net for the trunk ($945) and the Advanced Safety Package...forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and side blind zone alert ($890).

With $810 delivery, the tab was $35,770.  Which is right in the ballpark for this size vehicle with this level of equipment.

And behind the wheel?  Well, it's been a long time since any American sedan has felt this solid, this composed, this quick...since there wasn't an excuse to be made either for the acceleration, the handling or the materials surrounding you in the cabin...or maybe even all three.

Nope.  The Impala simply hit all the sweet spots...met every expectation of what a big sedan priced in the mid-30s should look like, feel like, drive like and be.  Which may make it the best sedan in its segment and at its price point but it's by no means the best sedan in the world.

Is it better than the Charger?  Yes.  The Taurus? Yes.  We haven't driven the new Avalon yet, nor the Cadenza.  We'll go ahead (spoiler alert) and say here that it's better (though not by a lot) than the Hyundai Azera that will be reviewed in this space in a matter of days.

But to do what Consumer Reports has done and put the Impala up against the Audi, the Lexus, the Acura and the Jag....you're in another segment of the market with a different set of priorities and expectations that the Impala simply doesn't attempt to meet.  If you're going to say the Impala belongs there, then you have to say the Cadillac XTS, with which it shares architecture, belongs there, too.  And as much as we like the XTS, it just doesn't.

Bottom line?  The Impala is a breakthrough, for the Impala nameplate, for Chevrolet as a brand, for General Motors as a company and for America as a carbuilder that used to rule when it came to this kind of car.  If it proves to be well-made, if it holds up under use...if it's reliable (you know, all the things Consumer Reports used to monitor carefully before recommending vehicles), then it's absolutely a winner.

It also won't go unanswered by the rest of the automakers.  As good as the Impala is, it needs to be viewed as a start, not as a mission accomplished.