We purchased this car for my wife to replace a 1995 Mazda 626. We have a GM credit card and they offered us substantial bonus earnings (totaling $2,000) towards a new car if we acted before Labor Day. This could be used on top of any other rebates.
We first looked at the Chevy Malibu, which is just slightly larger than the 626. But some research revealed they have had some chronic brake problems. Otherwise it looked pretty good. I asked my wife if she would consider the larger, more expensive Impala. In the past she didn't care for large cars, but she said traffic had gotten so hectic on her commute that she would now feel safer with one.
The dealer only had the LS models in stock, and they were all fully loaded. Normally we couldn't have afforded this, but GM was also offering a $3000 factory rebate AND a $750 GM loyalty rebate because I drive a Buick. Coupled with the aforementioned GM card earnings, discounts and trade in, we ended up paying only about $3000 more than we paid for the Mazda eight years earlier!
Now, on to the car:
I test drove a Buick Century just for comparison. The Impala has a slightly firmer ride than the Buick, but it is much smoother than the old Mazda. It is also pretty quiet, but there is some minor road noise. After all, this isn't a Cadillac.
At first I was a little annoyed by the lumbar support, which I was not accustomed to. It just felt kinda funny. But on a recent road trip, it really helped when I was dealing with a temporarily sore back. I'm quite used to this support now, and I have come to appreciate it.
This car is effortless to drive. It handles better than any car we've ever owned. The steering, acceleration, everything is incredibly smooth. This really helps in heavy freeway traffic by eliminating mechanical distractions so we can keep alert to the outside conditions. As a freeway car it is a terrific cruiser, but it also is very nimble on California's rugged, twisting coastal highway 1. It handles like a much smaller, sportier car on such roads. Braking is solid and reliable.
Over Christmas we took a 1000 mile round trip through busy urban freeways, long boring rural freeways, and dark stormy mountains. In every case we felt very safe, and it performed magnificently in all of these conditions. We were especially delighted to see our highway gas mileage, at almost 34MPG, was slightly better than the old Mazda! WOW!
Visibility is generally good, but the four corners have heavy posts that restrict visibility more than on most cars we've had. It is a bit of a problem when turning left through a crosswalk or when parallel parking.
As I mentioned, this car came fully loaded with more goodies than we would have normally considered. All we really require is automatic transmission, air conditioning, and a reasonably decent stereo.
The stereo includes a CD player and the sound is excellent. However, I noticed on our Christmas road trip that the CD player became quite hot after a few hours, along with the CD inside. This may have been due to the fact that the heater ducts are on each side of the player. We'll have to see how it does when the heater is not running all day. On short trips this has not been an issue.
The car is also equipped with OnStar. It includes one year of the basic "Safe and Sound" plan, which can summon emergency assistance if you need it. They can also diagnose many technical problems if you are having trouble on the road, unlock the car remotely if you lock your keys inside, or track the car if it is stolen.
After a year the basic service will cost about $200 annually, more for features like directions, reservation services, etc. In my opinion, this is a pretty steep for something you will only use on those rare occasions when you get in real trouble. But when we were driving through the mountains of Northern California on a dark stormy night, it was comforting to know it was there. However, I think it would be a better value if the basic service included driving directions when you are lost. (Though I was told by OnStar over the phone that the basic service does include one freebie per year if you get lost.)
We have only used the OnStar once, a few days after buying the car, just to see if it worked. The female voice on the other end was very professional and friendly. She told us all of our car's systems were working properly, and then asked "Are you on Scenic Road?" I told her yes, we were watching the sunset. The GPS correctly identified our location.
One reason we chose this car is for the folding seat backs which allow you to extend the trunk space into the passenger compartment. We had this on the Mazda and it saved us many times. My only complaint is that there is no way to lock the seats. If someone breaks into the passenger compartment, they will also have access to the trunk. The Mazda had locks to prevent this. However, the Impala does have a burglar alarm.
Amount Paid (US$):
2003Model and Options:
LS, automatic, power everything, OnStar, AM/FM/CD