2008 Chevrolet Impala Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Big, roomy and practical.
The Chevrolet Impala is a big, roomy sedan. While classified as a midsize sedan, it's large for that class. Close in size to the Toyota Avalon, competes with mid-size and full-size cars. Among them: the Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, as well as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.
We find the Impala's neat, clean lines pleasing to the eye. Its styling looks fresh, and it is, having been sharpened when the Impala was last redesigned for 2006. Other people think so: the Impala is among the top-10 best-selling cars in the U.S.
This is a roomy car, in the front as well as the back seats, and getting in and out is easy. The Impala has a big trunk with a big trunk lid that makes loading cargo easy, and it has a healthy cargo capacity. Optional flip-and-fold rear seats are exclusive in its class, and provide not only holding wells for groceries but a flat cargo floor that expands the trunk for long items.
On the road, the Impala is very stable, a nice cruiser. There's lots of low-end torque from the larger of the two available V6 engines, a 3.9-liter V6 with advanced technologies. Step on the gas and it goes. Given its size, the Impala handles well, and surprisingly so.
Several models are available, ranging from strong, reliable, fuel-efficient family sedan to sleek and powerful performance car. The mid-level Impala LT probably best exemplifies the model line. We like the LT with the optional 3.9-liter V6, which features GM's Active Fuel Management to improve real-world fuel economy. The LTZ adds a heavy-duty suspension, leather interior and convenience features. The SS comes with a small-block 5.3-liter V8 engine that sounds great and delivers strong acceleration performance.
Chevrolet continues to improve and upgrade the Impala. We highly recommend the StabiliTrak electronic stability control. The audio system has been upgraded for 2008, and XM Satellite Radio is standard on all models. OnStar is standard, and in its latest version it will automatically communicate the nature and severity of a crash as well as its location to the 911 centers.
Overall, the Chevrolet Impala is a comfortable and convenient car, practical and enjoyable to drive. It also offers low prices.
The 2008 Chevrolet Impala spans a broad model range that includes the base LS, the mid-range LT, the loaded LTZ, and the high-performance SS.
Impala LS ($21,255) comes with a 211-hp 3.5-liter V6, a four-speed automatic transmission, cloth upholstery, a 40/20/40 front bench seat with six-way power for the driver, air conditioning, power windows, programmable power locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with six speakers, XM Satellite Radio, OnStar, cruise control with buttons on the tilting steering wheel, 16-inch steel wheels, and a tire-pressure monitor. Four-wheel-disc brakes are standard, also; anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and traction control are optional ($600). The clever flip-and-fold rear seats are available ($295); so is an engine block heater ($75). A flex-fuel version of the V6 can burn E85 ethanol; it's standard in most states, optional in others.
LT ($21,865) upgrades to dual-zone air conditioning, eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, dual exhausts, fog lights, 16-inch aluminum wheels, a compass, and more interior conveniences. The standard engine is still the 3.5-liter V6. Options include the complete LS list plus leather upholstery ($1125) on bench or bucket seats, a premium audio system ($295), eight-speaker Bose system ($495), sunroof ($900), universal garage door opener ($100), and rear spoiler ($275).
The LT Luxury Edition package ($2,070) includes leather trim, an upgraded OnStar with Directions and Connections and Turn-By-Turn Navigation, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, flip-and-fold rear seat, ABS/EBD with traction control, and a rear spoiler. The 2LT package ($2675) includes the 3.9-liter V6 with Active Fuel Management (formerly called Displacement on Demand) and 233 horsepower; as well as the premium audio system, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, flip-and-fold rear seat, ABS/EBD with traction control, rear spoiler, and 17-inch vented steel wheels with chrome wheel covers.
LTZ ($26,830) comes standard with the 3.9-liter V6 and, for 2008, the same FE3 performance suspension as the SS model (see below). ABS/EBD and traction control are also standard. Inside you'll find leather upholstery, heated seats with eight-way power, upgraded audio with eight speakers, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. Standard wheels are now 18-inch five-spoke machined alloys wearing W-rated P235/50R18 performance tires.
The SS ($28,235) boasts a 303-hp all-aluminum 5.3-liter V8 designed specifically for front-wheel-drive applications. It also features Active Fuel Management and drives through a heavy-duty four-speed automatic. The SS comes with 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels, P235/50 W-rated performance tires, FE3 performance suspension, and leather-appointed bucket seats, although cloth-upholstered buckets are available for a credit ($1125).
Safety features that come standard on all Impalas include dual front smart air bags and side-curtain roof-mounted air bags for front- and rear-seat passengers. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and traction control are standard on 2LT, LTZ and SS, optional on LS and LT. StabiliTrak is offered for the first time on an Impala and is standard on 2LT, LTZ, and SS. A tire-pressure monitor is standard.
The 2008 Chevrolet Impala presents a clean, neat, pleasing design that's not so homogenized as to be boring. It's an attractive car.
Most recently re-styled for 2006, the current Impala features smooth lines. The big headlamps have a premium, jeweled appearance with three independent lighting units and are smoothly integrated into the front end. The tail lights are nicely integrated as well. These details complement other quality attributes, such as tight tolerances of 3.5 mm or less between body panels and substantial grab-style door handles that won't pinch your fingers or snap away from your hand on a cold morning. Flat-blade windshield wipers provide consistent pressure on the glass, which helps eliminate streaking and wind noise.
The LS, LT and LTZ are distinguished by exterior trim but share one front end design, while the SS sports a unique grille with SS-signature black-diamond crosshatch pattern. The Impala SS also features Corvette-inspired bright exhaust tips. A rear spoiler is standard on LTZ and SS models, and is available on LT.
The 2008 Impala has a lot going for it inside as well. Like the exterior, the cabin was completely redesigned for 2006, and has remained comfortably the same since then.
The standard seats have firmer cushions and increased lumbar support compared to previous models. We didn't find the SS seats particularly comfortable or supportive. Lumbar support is too aggressive, while there's not enough side bolstering to retain the upper body in corners.
A twin-brow instrument panel wraps around into the doors. Impala LS, LT and LTZ models have wood trim, with brushed silver trim a no-cost option on LT and LTZ. The SS comes standard with unique metallic trim panels, with wood as an option. We found the instrument panel pleasing to the eye, colorful, entertaining and easy to use, with a nice all-of-a-piece unity and style to it. Interior materials are a grade above average.
The dual-zone climate control system that comes on all but the base LS model is a snap to use, with large, round control knobs and good markings. It can support up to a 12-degree temperature difference side-to-side. The optional remote engine start system comes with a 200-foot operating range and automatic climate pre-conditioning to warm or cool the interior. The driver information center offers more than 50 different alerts, depending on the vehicle's equipment. The glovebox is large enough to actually hold stuff.
For 2008, a new family of audio systems features radios compatible with Generation 7.0 OnStar. The base audio system comes with six speakers, AM/FM/CD/MP3 capability, and XM Satellite Radio. It features speed-sensing volume control and a two-line, 32-character display and the capability to select freely between AM, FM and XM. We really liked this system because we could set up all of our favorite stations in one row, for example, allowing us to quickly switch between AM news, XM news, FM music stations, and CDs. Setting these presets is as easy as holding the button down. A big round knob in the center allows quick volume adjustments. Presets for the equalizer let you quickly switch settings from rock to country & western to talk radio. Too many radios nowadays are too complex or have tiny buttons difficult to operate underway. Not so with GM's radios. The Impala sound system is sophisticated yet easy to operate. The optional system adds an in-dash six-CD changer. The premium system is Bose. All radios include a standard auxiliary input jack for external devices such as an iPod or remote cassette player.
The new Generation 7.0 OnStar offers Turn-by-Turn navigation with the optional Directions and Connections service. Turn-by-Turn navigation directs the driver through the route by using the digital readout lines in the radio head. Directions are downloaded by the OnStar advisor to the vehicle and can be played back or paused anywhere from start to destination. Besides being easy to use (all directions are downloaded to the car by an advisor) Turn-by-Turn is less expensive than a GPS navigation system.
The back seat is roomy and comfortable for two adults or three kids, but not three adults. The forward-flipping rear seat cushions reveal a storage tub underneath that can contain spills or transport a variety of items. The tub also serves as a covered storage area beneath the seat with cushions down; and exposes convenient grocery bag hooks when the cushions are flipped forward. A generous pass-through from the trunk can be created by flipping the seat bottoms forward and the seat backs flat.
The trunk is larger than that of most mid-size cars, at 18.6 cubic feet, and a huge trunk opening makes loading easier.
The Chevrolet Impala features a new generation of V6 engines. We found them to be smooth and quiet if not bristling with power. They feature variable valve timing, which changes the orientation of the camshaft automatically, adjusting the timing of the intake and exhaust valves for better performance, economy, and emissions.
The 3.5-liter V6 that comes standard on LS and LT generates 211 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. It gets an EPA-rated 18/29 mpg City/Highway. The FlexFuel version gets the same 18/29 mpg rating on gasoline or 14/21 mpg with E85 ethanol, useful in areas that sell ethanol.
The 3.9-liter V6 (optional on LT, standard on LTZ) produces 233 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It features a variable-length intake system and variable valve timing. It also features Active Fuel Management, electronic software that shuts off three cylinders when full power is not needed. Chevrolet says Active Fuel Management improves fuel economy by up to 12 percent in certain driving situations. Chevy has applied this technology before to V8s (where it was called Displacement on Demand), but this is its first appearance on a V6. The 3.9-liter V6 gets and EPA-rated 18/28 mpg, and it's FlexFuel capable and rated 13/20 mpg on E85.
The four-speed automatic transmission is responsive and was never an issue, though some of the competition now offers more flexible five-speed automatics.
The V8 that comes on the SS delivers 303 horsepower and 323 pound-feet of torque. That's more power than any other entry in the class. To sample that, we slammed the throttle open at a stop in first gear. The traction control system let the left front tire spin wildly for a few seconds before it caught up. We appreciated the extra power and torque available in a kickdown or passing situation, and we loved the brawny, muscular sound of this engine at full throttle. It's a challenge to launch quickly and cleanly at the same time, however. Besides wheelspin, there's a lot of torque steer: Slam down the throttle and you'll feel a significant tug on the steering wheel. The V8 features Active Fuel Management, which shifts between eight-cylinder and four-cylinder operation, depending on speed and load. The V8 is EPA-rated at 16/24 mpg using the more stringent 2008 test procedures.
All Impalas come with a MacPherson-strut coil-over-spring independent front suspension, with gas-charged struts and a stabilizer bar. The rear suspension uses a trailing tri-link setup with gas-charged struts and coil springs. A rear stabilizer bar is standard on all models. LS and LT models come with the softer FE1 suspension, while LTZ and SS come with the performance-tuned FE3 setup. We found a lot of pitch, dive, and roll in the chassis, plus a lot of uncertain driving moments with the added power of the SS. The SS, particularly, drives as though its chassis needed more development time before production. Steering on all models is over-assisted, fairly numb and uncommunicative.
The Impala's four-wheel disc brake system (vented in front, solid in rear) represents an improvement over previous generations. Comprising new front brakes, improved rear brakes, and a new brake booster, the system is designed for quieter operation, longer pad life, and more resistance to brake pulsation. ABS, when ordered, includes Electronic Brake-force Distribution and traction control. On the road we found the Impala's brakes very much to our liking: powerful, direct, and linear, with a nice, progressive ratio of pedal travel to stopping progression.
The Chevrolet Impala LS, LT, and LTZ models are pleasing to drive, whether equipped with the 3.5-liter or 3.9-liter V6 engines. The SS cuts a conservative but dashing figure, with its quiet badging and giant five-spoke, 18-inch wheels.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn, Michigan.
Chevrolet Impala LS ($21,255); LT ($21,865), 2LT with 3.9-liter ($24,540); LTZ ($26,830); SS ($28,235).
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
2LT Package ($2675) includes 3.9-liter V6, premium US9 audio, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, flip-and-fold rear seat, ABS, EBD, traction control, rear spoiler, 17-inch steel wheels; Bose premium sound system ($495).
Chevrolet Impala LT ($21,865).
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