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Author: ptheland Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 71323  
Subject: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/18/2012 3:41 AM
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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.

--Peter
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Author: ptheland Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69213 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/18/2012 5:47 AM
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Well, now. As may be clear to some, I deliberately didn't read any reviews of the Impala before I wrote the above review. I didn't want other people's opinions impacting my own. Call it my personal contribution to avoiding groupthink.

And now I have read some reviews. Seems that in some ways I agree with the professional reviewers, and in some ways, well, clearly I need to get out more often.

Maybe it's just the accountant in me that likes the cheap fleet queen. And certainly I need to drive things that actually handle. My early days of driving an MG one day and a Dodge Coronet with a 383 V8 the next are much too far in the past. And 10+ years of a minivan-only diet must have biased my opinions of handling.

I'll have to work on those shortcomings.

--Peter

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Author: dbruce100 Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69214 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/18/2012 12:40 PM
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There is a major redesign due for 2013. The engine you liked is a new one, and replaced the older version.

The one you liked is pretty old. The engine breathed new life into the car.

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Author: ptheland Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69215 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/19/2012 12:05 AM
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There is a major redesign due for 2013.

Yep. Its coming out as a 2014 model. I think there will be no 2013 model year Impala.

The engine you liked is a new one, and replaced the older version.

I also noticed that in the reviews. Most reviewers seemed to really dislike the engines in the 2011 and earlier Impalas. The current engine looks like something GM is using in other places in its lineup. And from what I can tell, that's a good decision. Better performance AND better economy. It really is a nice motor. Hopefully, it will have good longevity as well.

--Peter

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Author: Milligram46 Big funky green star, 20000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69216 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/19/2012 1:05 AM
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Hey Peter, you actually do have a manual gear selection option. Somewhere hidden on that steering wheel were some paddle shifter buttons, unless the rental agency ordered the Imp with them deleted.

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Author: ptheland Big gold star, 5000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69217 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/19/2012 2:43 AM
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Hey Peter, you actually do have a manual gear selection option. Somewhere hidden on that steering wheel were some paddle shifter buttons, unless the rental agency ordered the Imp with them deleted.

I poked around the owner's manual and see that you don't really have a paddle shifter on the Impala. When you shift to the Low range, you can select the highest gear the tranny can shift into. By default, it will limit it to 4th gear (which is what I observed). There are a couple of small buttons on the left side of the steering wheel which will change that limit.

I suppose you could limit the tranny to 1st gear until you hit the up button to select 2nd. Not exactly what I'd call paddle shifters. More like button shifters. ;-)

Why couldn't they give you something like Acura's system: from Drive, pull the shifter to the left to select manual mode. Then tapping it forward selects a lower gear and pulling it back selects a higher gear. Much more intuitive that some obscure buttons on the steering wheel.

One more interesting tranny bit I discovered. You can have the gear selector in the center console (where a proper manual shifter is traditionally located) or you can get it on the steering column. Where an automatic gear lever belongs! ;-)

--Peter <== has some firmly held opinions about car controls, sometimes based on nothing more than habit

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Author: dbruce100 Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69218 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/19/2012 8:43 AM
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I drove the previous generation Malibu as rental going to Lake Tahoe. The button setup works rather well. I don't remember if it limited how high it would shift etc, but on the mountain roads the buttons did as well as the gear shift setups. The tranny was rather slow to shift, but nothing I wasn't used to in other cars of the time.

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Author: Milligram46 Big funky green star, 20000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69219 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 8/19/2012 12:49 PM
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One more interesting tranny bit I discovered. You can have the gear selector in the center console (where a proper manual shifter is traditionally located) or you can get it on the steering column. Where an automatic gear lever belongs! ;-)

They still offer the column shifter because a large number of Impalas sold each year go to police fleets (NYC uses them is the biggest example). The police departments want the center console open for radios and equipment and they don't like the console shifters.

I would say the holy grail Impala to find would be a 2012 LTZ with a column shifter.

The Impala is the last of the GM W-bodies. The 3.1L and 3.4L early offerings were God awful. The 3.8L V6 can't be killed, but doesn't have the power of the 3.6L VVT. The 3.8L V6 supercharged was also a good motor, but required premium fuel. The Gen II versions of the 3.8L and 3.8L supercharged suffered because of Dexcool issues - the engines themselves are great, it's the Dexcool that sucks. The 3.5L was gutless and coarse, BUT crazy efficient. Baby the gas pedal and you could get 40 MPG cruising on the highway. The 3.9L was better, but still coarse and didn't get great MPG. The LS4 5.3L V8 (yes you read that right) was actually an upgrade from the all iron 3.8L V6 supercharged version. Incredibly, the larger displacement LS4 was lighter than the L67 supercharged motor. However the LS4 was VERY thirsty, brutal on the 4-speed tranny it was attached to and had the steering radius of an oil tanker.

The 3.6L VVT engine in it today really is - perfect for the car. Sadly, GM could have offered this engine all the way back in the mid-2000s. It's a great example of how GM beancounters shoot the company in the foot when the right answer is already in the parts bin. At 300 HP it has the power of the LS4, but not the weight so the car handles better (not nose heavy). It gets great mileage tied to the 6-speed automatic, which isn't completely gutless in the way it was programmed (plenty of power, Camry SE grade but still gets great fuel economy). The engine is refined and smooth, with a satisfying note when you plant the happy pedal down. GM always did tune their V6 exhausts well.

Just goes to show how long the GM W-Body has been around. Seven different engines I can recall off the top of my head. I don't think the 2.8L ever found its way under the hood in its earliest years, but I could be wrong.

TTAC just wrote a piece about the 2012 Impala - not quite with the warmth they hold the Panther Platform but with a same sense of nostalga. No one will ever call the W-Body Impala a "great" car. However when you look at what it was built to do. Carry five people in comfort all all their stuff in relative comfort, in a reliable package, that isn't exactly satisfying to drive but will get you from Point A to Point B without beating you up - the Impala is a great, albeit uninspiring appliance.

Just as the current Corolla is utterly outdated by every measure when compared to the C-segment competition, there is something to be said about boat anchor grade R&D paid for years ago technology. The Impala falls into that same category. Dated in every way, but as reliable as a sunrise and purpose built for what it is.

Funny that as cars reach this pinnacle, its time for the whole chassis to go to pasture.

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Author: makasha Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 69342 of 71323
Subject: Re: 5 days in an Impala Date: 9/11/2012 12:03 AM
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Great review! Now do you have a review of the Washington coast anywhere accessible to Fools? :)

kasha

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