The 2013 Chevrolet Impala combines strong acceleration with surprising fuel efficiency, but poor seat comfort and shoddy cabin quality reinforce its rental-car personality.
This is the final model year for this generation of the Impala, as an all-new version is set to hit dealerships next year as a 2014 model (see the details).
The base 2013 Impala LS starts at $26,685 including an $825 destination charge. We tested a midrange LT trim level without any options, which had an as-tested price of $28,210. To see how the Impala's specs compare with full-size sedans like the Ford Taurus, Dodge Charger and Hyundai Azera, click here.
Turbocharged four-cylinders continue to make inroads in the sedan market as automakers try to balance performance and fuel efficiency, but there's still something highly appealing about a powerful V-6 engine. That's what the Impala offers with its standard 300-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6, which debuted in the sedan for the 2012 model year. The V-6 makes nearly as much power as the 5.3-liter V-8 from the Impala SS of a few years ago, and it feels nearly as potent while delivering better gas mileage.
The V-6 pulls strongly whether you're accelerating from a stop, at midrange speeds or on the highway. Generous reserve power lets you overtake cars at will at high speeds, and the engine is aided by the six-speed automatic transmission's willingness to kick down a gear under part-throttle acceleration; it's good at keeping the engine in its best operating range and doesn't let rpm get too low.
When you take into account the Impala's power and full-size dimensions, its EPA-estimated gas mileage of 18/30 mpg city/highway is a pleasant surprise. The six-speed automatic deserves some of the credit, but the Impala is also one of the lighter cars in its class, with a curb weight around 3,600 pounds.
Ride & Handling
The Impala's suspension tuning is on the firm side, but it's still plenty comfortable for commuting on city streets or on the highway. The body floats a little when driving on undulating pavement, and hard cornering brings on body roll, but the Impala takes it all in stride, neither asking much of drivers nor exposing them to unwanted harshness.
The steering tuning is unusual and ultimately disappointing. The system features hydraulic power assistance, but unlike many systems that make it easy to turn the wheel at parking-lot speeds, the Impala seems to offer less assist at low speeds, making the wheel feel heavy. Sometimes cars with weightier steering offer better feedback, but that's not the case here, as the numb wheel doesn't communicate any information about the road.
The car is quiet, though. The body and glass do a good job blocking truck noise on the highway, and wind noise is minimal.
Compared with newer Chevy sedans like the Malibu and Cruze, the Impala's cabin is shockingly outdated. It's a reminder of how much better GM's interiors are today, and also of how desperately they needed renewal at the beginning of the millennium, because this interior was a big improvement for the Impala when it debuted in the 2006 sedan. The interior has seen few significant changes since then, but the upcoming 2014 Impala gets a modern interior that's on par with the best in the Chevrolet lineup.
The biggest problem with the Impala's cabin is in the details; you get the sense that no one really cared about them. Large swaths of plastic trim on the dashboard, center console and elsewhere have a cheap-looking shininess that just isn't common anymore, and the molded-plastic power window switches look second-rate.
More problematic than the dated design are the uncomfortable front bucket seats, which are some of the worst I've experienced in a new car. They're excessively soft and lumpy, without enough support for long-drive comfort. The Impala is the only new car that offers a front bench seat, which increases seating capacity to six. The backseat is big enough to comfortably fit adult passengers, but foot space is restricted by the bulky lower part of the front seats.
The Impala has 18.6 cubic feet of cargo room. That's more than the Charger and Azera offer, as both have around 16 cubic feet of trunk space, but less than the Taurus' 20.1 cubic feet. The Impala's cargo area is free of obstructions that might snag luggage. An optional folding backseat increases the amount of space for cargo, but it uses an older design that requires you to first flip forward the seat's bottom cushion before folding the backrest.
The Impala received an overall rating of four out of five stars in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the car its top rating, Good, for its performance in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, and the next-best rating, Acceptable, for both roof strength and neck protection in rear-end collisions.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes and an electronic stability system, which are required on all new vehicles as of the 2012 model year. Additionally, there are standard side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows.
Impala in the Market
Despite its dated feel overall, the Impala remains the best-selling full-size sedan by a wide margin. So what gives? A closer look at the sales figures holds the answer and helps explain the car's image problem: The Impala is incredibly popular with fleet buyers.
Fleet operators buy all kinds of cars, but of the Impala's nearly 180,000 registrations in 2011, around 73 percent went to rental, government and commercial fleets, according to R.L. Polk data, with rental companies making up 80 percent of all fleet registrations. Competitors like the Taurus and Charger also have a significant fleet presence: Among 2011 registrations, around 48 and 54 percent, respectively, see fleet service.
The Impala's fleet popularity could change with the upcoming 2014 model, which is positioned as both a premium and efficient offering, as it will be available with a mild-hybrid drivetrain. Fleet buyers might be ambivalent about the new Impala, but for regular car shoppers, the replacement couldn't come soon enough.
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