Pros: Roomy, smooth, great gas mileage, and a good price.
Cons: Not much, except for the poor quality interior materials.
Update January 2007: The car now has over 50K miles on it. I've been driving about 300 miles a week with no problems. The car remains quite and comfortable, without rattles or squeaks. The only maintenance I do is oil changes about every 5K miles and air filter change. Very happy with the car.
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The Impala is an impressive car for what it costs. Of course, a part of the cost-benefit equation is the fact that GM always seems to have lots of discounts, including $1500 off for GMAC financing. Regardless, it is a good car for the money. I went after an Impala because it was one of the few large cars out there that get good gas mileage and use regular unleaded gas. First a little perspective: my recent long term experience with cars includes a 2003 Lincoln LS, 2002 Acura RL, 2002 Infiniti G35 and three versions of 300ZX (1983-1991). So, compared to these cars, the Impala is not luxurious, not sportive and not as powerful, but surprisingly it is very enjoyable to drive, especially if you want a comfortable, leisurely, long distance drive.
Excuse some of the apparent typos where apostrophes are supposed to be used, but the Epinions site does not like apostrophes and replaces them with garbage.
The Impala exterior styling is elegant and unpretentious. Granted, styling is a subjective matter, but the car!s styling (for the most part) could have been used on any luxury car. It has style, without being bland. It does have some negatives in the rear end: there is this large reddish-black piece of plastic that covers most of the back end and frames the tail lights. I am not sure what the logic was, other than it was a cheap way of wrapping up the styling exercise and pushing the car into production. Another slight blemish in the rear is that the exhaust muffler hangs down a bit too low and is easily visible from the back. The LS model has yet another distraction in the back with its unnecessary rear deck spoiler. The spoiler has a tendency to block the driver!s view out the back. But the rear spoiler is fastened with a couple of bolts to the trunk lid and can be removed easily, if you figure out how to cover up the bolt holes. The radio antenna is embedded in the back window.
From the side view, the rear end is distinctly higher than the front, giving the car a wedge profile. There is a little too much open space in the wheel wells, but that should allow putting larger wheel/tires on the car. The car comes in many attractive colors and color is very noticeable on this car. Note that the Sedan (model) has black moldings all around the car and the LS has body color moldings. Personally, I prefer the styling of this out-going Impala compared with the new 2006 Impala coming this fall.
There is lots of glass space, helping visibility. The doors are large and open wide to help entry and exit. Nothing distinctive in the front, other than the head lights are not too bright but that seems to be a GM trait if you do not have HID lamps.
The trunk is huge (deep and tall). You can get even more storage space by folding down the backs of the rear seats. The spare tire is in a space under the truck floor. An elegant touch for this class of car is that the trunk lid opens on struts and hinges do not intrude in the trunk space. While back in the trunk area, you notice that there is no easy access to change the tail lamps and backup lamp. In fact, to change the rear lamps you need to take off the entire rear plastic (reddish black) trim piece, undoing about 8 nuts.
At the other end of the car, the engine compartment is clean and well organized, with lost of open space, unlike many of today!s stuffed engine compartments.
If you look under the car, you will notice that this car is built with industrial intent. In fact, the car was built to withstand taxi and police duties.
The interior is not made out of luxurious materials. The surfaces are of durable plastics and cloths, but they are leftovers from a previous generation of automotive materials. There are two interior colors: beige and grey. The beige looks much better, especially against the fake wood trim that is on the doors and dash. There is plenty of room in this car, both front and back. There are three types of front seats. The standard split bench cloth seats are fairly comfortable and include a built-in center console (with storage) on the seat. The bucket cloth seats, which come on the LS model are narrow and hard and not very comfortable, especially for a wide person. If you get leather seats with the buckets, you will get different seats which are wider and more comfortable. The most comfortable seats are the leather buckets.
There is adequate storage space inside the car. The glove box will hold the owner!s manual, a flashlight and a few of things. Unfortunately, the shape of the glove compartment is weird, with a smaller section in the front and a larger section at the rear. When you close the glove box door, stuff you put in fall back into the rear section of the glove box. There are door pockets on the front doors and a map pocket behind the passenger seat (no pocket behind the driver seat). There is also storage space in the center console or within the armrest (depending of the seat type). If you get the bucket seats, there is additional storage space at the front of the center console, ahead of the transmission selector.
The rear seat has lots of leg room, but the cushion is a bit too low and short. There is a fold-down center arm-rest with two cup holders for the rear seat. There is also a power plug (cigarette lighter) for the rear.
The standard radio is nothing to write home about, but it is decent. Of course, you can spend more money and upgrade it. This is one of the few cars remaining in which you can get both a CD player and a cassette tape player. This is a great advantage, because my tapes have not disintegrated yet.
As far as the bells and whistles go, you can equip this car with most features that you would find in a luxury car. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to list comfort features that distinguish a luxury car from a proletarian car. You can probably read all about the available options on an automotive Web site, but most of these cars come standard with power windows (express in the front), power locks, power side mirrors, dual zone AC, power driver seat (with lumbar), built-in alarm, intermittent wipers, cruise control, traction control, ABS, disc brakes, On-Star, etc. There are four hand grips, one over each door, which is a nice touch for a car in this class. The sun visors have extenders built into them, but are rather short and leave a gap between the visor and the A-pillar, through which the afternoon sun can get you.
This car!s simplicity is a virtue and one of the attractive features for me. The dash is well-organized and there isnt anything gimmicky. One thing I appreciate is the manual A/C system - I can set each A/C control independently the way I want and no computer decides it knows better. Another lack of computer intrusion which I like is not having a fly-by-wire throttle pedal. I also like the lack of metallic-grey colors and trims in the cabin, which now an epidemic in almost every vehicle made. I will be glad when the metallic interior fad dies out.
On the negative side, there is the poor quality of the interior materials: On rough roads, some of the plastic parts can squeak. Otherwise the interior is quiet. The steering wheel is a little too large in diameter and the rim is too thin, but that may just my bias.
Also noticeable is the fact that the car does not come with floor mats and GM does not even make carpeted floor mats for this car only rubber mats. One problem with this is that most of the generic floor mats found in auto parts stores are too narrow for the 20-inch floor width of the Impala.
On the Road
This car!s ride is an updated version of the classic American car ride. That is, it is soft and cushy, but well controlled and not nautical. In fact, the car is very comfortable, particularly with the leather seats. There isnt much float on the streets or freeway and it takes corners very well for a large car. Of course, all this is relative. This is no G35 and you may not want it to be, unless you like a hard, jittery ride. Braking is also strong and smooth. To sum up, the one word that best describes the Impala!s performance on the road is smooth.
Road noise is muted and bumps are suppressed without any fuss. A side comment on road noise: most of the road noise comes from the tires on the road. Both the tires and the type of road can make a big difference. For example, driving on concrete freeways can be deafening, whereas driving on rubberized asphalt can be a Lexus-quiet. Certain tire types and brands also generate more noise than others.
The car has a great turn radius again for a large car. It can easily complete a turn within three adjacent lanes (start in one lane, skip one and end in the third lane). Going uphill for an extended distance is also not a problem. On about a 5% grade, the transmission does kick into a lower gear, but it maintains it without hunting.
There are two engines for this car. The Sedan gets a 3.4L V6 and the LS gets a 3.8 V6. There is a 20 horsepower difference between these engines (180 vs 200), but from a practical perspective you can feel the difference. The car accelerates nicely and smoothly, although when you stomp down on the accelerator it does not give you a big thrust but then again, it is no sports car. Passing other cars at highway speeds is not a problem and the car is very (again) smooth at higher speeds (so far, I have gone up to 90MPH).
This last generation Impala has served its purpose very well. It offers lots of features at competitive prices. Its biggest drawback is the cheap looking interior. Regardless, if you put the car in the proper perspective, the car makes a great computing car and a roomy family car. For its size, it has got great gas mileage. The advertised mileage is 20/30 for the 3.8 engine and I have managed to get 27 MPG in mixed driving. The 3.4 engine is supposed to get better gas mileage. If size and good gas mileage are shopping criteria, then there is little else out there, especially if you also constrain the price. The Ford Crown Victoria, Dodge 300 or the older Intrepid all get lower mileage and are more expensive. And I would not touch the Taurus just because of its too ugly. Foreign cars that come close would be the Altima, which is somewhat smaller, and the Camry. Granted, one would expect better qualities in the Japanese cars, but they are more expensive and unless you get the 4 cylinder, you get worse gas mileage. Besides, compared to the Camry, the current Impala looks much better.
A few words about the upcoming 2006 Impala: I am sure that in terms of quality the new Impala will be better. If the Cobalt is any gauge, then the interior and overall fit and finish should be on par with the Japanese. But the styling leaves lots to be desired. Not that its bad, but it is almost a copy of the Ford 500, which is very similar to the VW Passat, which isnt much different from the Altima styling. And unfortunately, that overdone metallic-grey trim is now used in the interior to make it look modern.