General Motors has broken a lot of hearts in the last three decades.Bad products, bad judgment, lousy quality and other maladies have dispatched generations of loyal customers to the opposition and shrunk the world's largest automaker so much that Ford has a real chance to take away that title. I've been fairly charitable to GM in recent years because I have seen steady progress in each model year's new vehicles. But I have been rethinking that feeling. Other automakers have moved faster to introduce vehicles that are more innovative and stylish. GM is being left in the dust once again. If you look at the cars, trucks, sport-utilities and vans from all of GM's divisions and ask yourself which one you must have -- which one you can't live without -- the Chevrolet Corvette and maybe the Cadillac Seville are the only vehicles that inspire any real passion. Those are what I call "gotta have" cars. If you look hard enough, you can find better or more stylish competitive vehicles for almost all of GM's offerings. That's a pretty sad state of affairs. GM may be making money again, but it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the vast majority of consumers. GM is profitable because of cost-cutting and streamlining, not higher sales. More worrisome for GM is that its sales are barely holding steady in a robust market. It is going to take some really great cars at really great prices to open some eyes and reopen some minds. I think the new Chevrolet Impala is just such a car. Not counting the limited-production Impala SS of 1994-'96, the new Impala is the first truly great Chevrolet sedan I have seen in my decade test-driving new cars. The new Impala is better looking and offers greater value than any version of the Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima or Toyota Camry. Beyond that, the new Impala is far and away the best-built GM car I have tested. For the first time in memory, Chevrolet has delivered a world-class family sedan, one that is excellent in every area. This time there are no excuses and no disappointments. One thing I have learned over the years is that when a car is built right and priced right, it will sell itself. I can see potential customers test-driving the new Impala and saying, "I'll take it." And then feeling great about owning it. My prediction for the Impala: Within two years, if GM's marketing machine still knows how to manage a hit, the Impala will be America's top-selling family sedan, unseating the Toyota Camry or whatever else is in the top slot. Performance, handling Two versions of the Impala are available. The base model comes with a 180-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6. Our LS test car sported GM's workhorse 3.8-liter V-6, an engine that generates 200 horsepower. Both models are available only with a four-speed automatic transmission. Though the 3.8-liter delivers excellent performance and economy, it does make a bit too much noise when the accelerator is floored -- and this is the only thing I can find to gripe about in the entire car. It's not the that engine is coarse, but the Impala's chassis is so stiff and tight that at high speeds the engine's vibrations and sound are transmitted through the car. The 3.8 is an older engine. I'd be willing to wager than when GM's new generation of engines (there's a 4.0-liter V-8 headed for the Impala) are available, the car will be as quiet as a Cadillac. In any case, 95 percent of the time the drivetrain is well-behaved. The 2000 Impala is a front-wheel-drive car. But like the Pontiac Grand Prix, it is so well-engineered that the driver can't tell which wheels are doing the work. Under full acceleration the car tracks straight. The six-cylinder engine has enough muscle to cause the front tires to spin on dry pavement -- something that no doubt will be gratifying to those who still lust after the rear-wheel-drive 1994-96 Impala SS. The new Impala sports a number of firsts for Chevrolet. It undoubtedly has the best suspension Chevy engineers have designed for a family sedan. It's a four-wheel independent affair that delivers the same kind of sporty and civilized ride as an expensive import, such as an Acura or Volvo. Both Impala models come standard with power rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes. The steering is quick and sharp, and the brakes are strong. Overall, the new Impala is a finely balanced automobile that performs well under all conditions. In terms of ride and performance, it has no discernible weak points. It's about time GM built a car like this. Fit and finish When I first saw a photo of the Impala late last year, it did nothing for me. What I learned recently is that the new Impala is one of those cars that doesn't photograph well. It's only when you get close to it and see the subtle styling cues and the proper proportion of its shapes that you realize this is the hottest, coolest, hippest-looking Chevy family sedan ever designed. The rear end, with its enclosed round taillights (a nod to the 1965 Impala), is unlike anything else on the road. The spoiler on the trunk helps give the Impala some of its youthful character. Other nice touches include the built-in fog lights and the accent line that runs from the top of the wheel wells down the car right through the door handles. The car is crisply styled. Like a weightlifter, it has a muscular, chiseled body. There's not a dull line or wasted shape on the entire car. Inside, the design is just as impressive. Functionality and simplicity best define the interior. The dash is uncomplicated and stylish. There's a classy strip of faux wood trim running down the center of the dash. Two levers that slide up and down control the temperature on the driver and passenger side. The AM/FM radio is one of the best I've seen. The buttons are nicely designed and well-labeled. The radio as well as the air conditioner and cruise control can be operated by pressing buttons on the steering wheel. This is an unexpected luxury for a Chevrolet. The analog gauges have an imported look to them. The layout is easy on the eyes. The temperature and fuel gauges are on the left, while a speedometer and tachometer are on the right. The gauges have sporty and expensive-looking red needles. I have not seen this level of attention to detail in a Chevrolet sedan before. The new Impala can seat six when ordered with bench seats and a column shifter, or it can seat five when outfitted with bucket seats and the shifter on the floor. We had the latter setup. The bucket seats are the most comfortable and best-looking I've ever seen in a Chevrolet sedan. The driver's seat has six-way power, plus a built-in heater. The rear seats split and fold forward, exposing a big opening to the trunk. There was enough room to put a bicycle inside the car. Other premium features available on the LS model include traction control, power sunroof, CD player, automatic headligh ts and built-in alarm syste m. Many of these features are not available in any imported cars in the Impala's price range. When I mentioned Impala, many of my friends had visions of gigantic, dumpy looking, old-style American cars. That's out-of-date. The new Impala is more of a midsize car (although Chevy is calling it a large car). Just about everyone I showed the car to was surprised and delighted. The new Impala is light-years away from the old land yachts of the past. It has a light, breezy feeling. The new Impala may be the car that helps ailing GM make a giant comeback. It's that good. 2000 Chevrolet Impala LS Base price: $22,365. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, daytime running lights and side-impact protection. Price as tested: $25,415. EPA rating: 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway. Incentives: None.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Rick Popely||Cars.com National||January 4, 2000|
|Alan Vonderhaar||Cincinnati.com||January 15, 2001|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||November 7, 1999|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||September 23, 1999|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||September 11, 1999|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||July 27, 1999|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||July 15, 1999|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||July 1, 1999|
|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||May 28, 1999|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||May 16, 1999|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||May 12, 1999|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||May 2, 1999|
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