Pros: Styling, powerful engine, exterior.
Cons: Cheap interior plastic molding
The GM 24 hour test drive. You have to love it when a car company gets so desperate to sell automobiles that it allows you and me to take them out for 24 hours of joy riding and abuse at the hands of its potential customers. Since my spouse and I are in the market for a new car, this felt like the opportune time to really give a few cars a meaningful test drive, to do more than just kick the tires.
The 2003 Chevrolet Impala is actually a car we have been looking at for quite some time. I drove a base model as a long term rental about six months ago, and I was not overly impressed, but I wasnt disappointed either. Through the Internet, I researched the Impala LS and finally reserved one with all the bells and whistles to test for 24 hours. I was given a black Impala LS for my test drive.
This car looks sharp, especially so in tried and true Black, and Bronzemist Metallic! Mean, aggressive, sleek. I regret that Forest Green, or another shade of green is not offered, since that is my color of choice, but I can live with one of the other two. The lines flow smoothly from rounded edge to rounded edge. Standing still, to me its a beauty from any angle. The nose is slightly down and the rear raised on 16 inch Goodyears, giving the impression of an animal about to pounce. The LS adds a rear spoiler, the tail, and fog lamps to the front as standard equipment.
Other colors include Galaxy Silver Metallic, Sandrift Metallic, Superior Blue Metallic, Victory Red (not a color I would choose), Cappuccino Frost Metallic, Berry Red Metallic, and White.
I have read a number of reviews by established automobile websites that have derided the styling of the Impala. They speak longingly of the large Impalas of the mid-nineties, missing the point that Chevrolet is trying to position the Impala to compete against comparable family sedans from Honda, Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen, and Daimler-Chrysler. These offerings do not boast large thirsty engines, thick road hugging tires, and race-inspired engineering; they are family cars, and as such, practical. The Chevrolet Impala, while not breathtakingly beautiful, is far from an ugly duckling, it holds its own in my opinion.
While the Chevrolet Impalas interior will not inspire, it is by no means dull. The seats in the LS are comfortable, but lack adequate lumbar support. The controls for the radio, heating and air conditioning are well laid out and easy to reach. Separate controls for the radio are located on the steering wheel (a nice touch). Controls for the manipulation of the cruise control are also embedded in the steering wheel.
The gauge cluster is bright and easy to read, and endowed with all of the essential information displays. The stalk controls for the windshield wipers/cruise control are positioned on the left hand side of the steering wheel, and are reasonably easy to get to. The stalk controls for the turn signals is of course on the right. While the controls for the outside mirrors and windows are located within easy reach on the drivers side door panel, the lighting controls are hidden in no mans land behind the steering wheel. Not that it mattered since the lights come on automatically as dusk approaches. The fake (plastic) faux wood which marches down the center of the dash is out of place, and looks cheap in a car that can cost upwards to $29,000; it seems the folks at Chevrolet made little to no attempt to make it look real.
The radio which ships with the LS is a piece of work. It features an automatic volume control that adjusts the volume upward, or downward, according to interior and road noise. At time this can become annoying as the volume drops when you least expect it. However, under normal driving conditions, this feature can be useful. The sound quality is laudable, although I found myself wishing that two A-pillar (beams along the windshield) speakers had been included, to lend a bit of class, and improve the sound quality.
This test car came with XM satellite radio, and I have to say I was impressed! The digital sound quality was without peer; it the purest music I have heard bar none. No hiss, no static, no interference, no bleed, no frequency hopping, no fading, just pure uninterrupted (commercial free) crystal clear music. And with 100 channels, there is sure to be something to please even the most discerning of musical palates. It is a must have!
The trunk is large enough to swallow several large suitcases with ease and the rear seat pass-through effectively doubles the space. Speaking of the rear seats, they are equipped with a center folding console which house two cup holders for those so inclined. Important to me, because I have children and we occasionally eat on the run.
The LS comes stocked with a 200-hp, 3800 V6 engine, with 225 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Acceleration was quick and smooth even at highway speeds, but dont look for neck snapping torque thrust even from a stand still. I found the constant whine from this engine even at idle, quite annoying. And as the engine accelerates through the RPM band, the whine only increases, although with the radio on, it does fade into the background. The transmission is equally as smooth, and switching through the gears was noticeably free of jerks, and constant searching.
The tires do tend to transmit road noise into the cabin, and perhaps a little more attention could have been paid to overall cabin quietness. However, like the engine whine, the road noise tends to disappear one the radio is on. And even with the radio off, the road noise is tolerable.
The Chevrolet Impala LS, comes stocked with traction control, a must have in Chicagoland. And it does make a difference. It rained almost the entire time I had the Impala, and the car never skipped a beat. From a standing start, there was no tie slippage or spin, no matter how hard I mashed the gas petal. Thought you can disengage the traction control, it doesnt remain disengaged; i.e. it turns itself back on every time the car is started.
An Anti-lock braking system is attached to all four wheels disc brakes on the LS and features a tire inflation monitor which signals the drive via an instrument panel light if there is a significant tire pressure difference in any of the tires. Braking on the LS is sure and swift. I detected no fade and no noticeable feedback through the brake petal even during hard stops.
The tires grip the road tightly, and although the car rolled a bit on tight curves, I never lost confidence in my ability to control the big Impala. Steering is tight and responsive; diving in and out of traffic at highway speeds presented little apprehension that I would lose control, hiking the fun to drive quota considerably. I like the fact that a mere tap to the steering wheel will not send the Impala in a direction I did not want to go.
Visibility is good overall. The outside mirrors are the best I have driven with. Usually I have to install wide angle mirrors on my car in order to cover the blind spots to either side, but on the Impala this will not be necessary, the mirrors hold the car to either side until my peripheral vision is able to pick them up. The view from the rear view mirror is somewhat obscured by the spoiler, but I quickly got used to it, although the mirror itself could stand to be a bit larger.
I like this car! Despite some minor flaws, the overall package is very appealing to a man on a budget. The 2003 Chevrolet Impala represents the right balance of the luxury, roominess, convenience, power, and exterior beauty. Couple that with the powerful V6 engine, nice amenities, respectable gas mileage, and surefooted handling, and Chevrolet has produced an automobile well worth my time and money.
Well after much consideration and further testing we decided to purchase the Impala. Ours: a 2003 LS in Bronze Mist Metallic with OnStar. And after a week back and forth to work and other tasks, I can announce that I am happy with our new purchase. Gone is the annoying whine that so marked my experience with the test vehicle, leaving behind all of the positive attributes.
Fit and finish are not what I would expect in an automobile at the price-point; i.e. some jagged edges can be seen here and there marring the interior. We have a neutral (almost white) finish leather interior which goes well with the fake (plastic) dark colored faux wood I so detested in the test vehicle.
Like the test vehicle, I love the ride of the Impala, and the spouse has more than enough room to stretch out her long, long legs, and have yet to feel overly tired or strained while driving.
I am still getting acquainted with the Impala, and I will periodically update this review as things evolve.
We have moved past the 13,000 mile mark and I am happy to report that the Impala is still trouble free. I have taken the car to the shop once for periodic maintenance; i.e. an oil change. Out side of that, nothing to report.
I put an average of 325 miles a week on the car, driving back and forth to work and running errands, and so far the gas tank only need replenishing once a week. This is with a mixture of highway and street driving. The odometer reads 200 miles on half a tank and some 300 miles before the gas warning light comes on. All and all, just what I expected and hoped for when we purchased the Impala.
I have notice no fade in the brakes, and I can report that the traction control works was advertised. Normally, on wet surfaces the Impala starts with no wheel spin, but on this particular day the front tires started to spin, and the traction control kicked in, and a message popped up on the message center telling me so. Cool!
Over all I am still loving this car!
We are now at 22, 333 miles and I am please to report that our Impala is still relatively trouble free. Since my last update I dutifully took the car for one oil change, but I decided to let the car tell me when the oil needs changing next; the Impala is equipped with a computer that estimates when the oils should be changed based on real-world driving conditions and not an arbitrary one size fits all number.
I still put and average of 325 miles on the car a week and the gas tank is still needs filling at least once a week. With my mixture of highway and city driving, my current 200 miles at half a tank full is as much as I can hope for.
The Impala survived the winter in very good form. Though this past winter was mild for Chicago, there were plenty of opportunities to use the traction control, one black ice and freshly fallen snow. When engage the traction control keeps the Impalas front end pointed forward, though the back end can bow left of right under really serious conditions, but not enough to make control of the car impossible. The optional seat warmers did their jobs exceptionally well, and the heated outside mirrors were certainly appreciated, when snow and ice made viewing challenging.
The interior has held up well, despite little people carelessly tracking snow and mud inside. The drivers side mats did get a little messy, so next winter I will buy wet mats. The huge trunk is a God send and seems to swallow everything, and the fold down seats increases the cargo carrying capacity tenfold.
Still loving this car...more in the Fall