There may be no more ubiquitous automobile for baby boomers than the Chevrolet Impala. If you were born in the second half of the 20th century, you or someone in your family owned an Impala. There’s no getting around it. This fullsize Chevy, introduced as a top-of-the-line model in 1958, soon became the division’s bread-and-butter product. It not only set a record for new car sales (selling 1.2 million annually at one point), but also sometimes accounted for nearly 10-percent of all new cars sold in the U.S.
Of course, as it liked to do in the latter 20th century, GM management screwed the pooch with the Impala. The name was dropped in favor of Caprice in 1986. The Impala SS name was revived from 1994-’96 as an LT1-powered muscle sedan, and that proved popular enough that GM killed the name again for 1997. Eventually, the Impala moniker was resurrected for 2000, with the nameplate slapped on a front-drive update of the Lumina. It persevered in various guises in the new millennium and survives to this day, taking its rightful place as a fleet-only vehicle.
For 2014, Chevy has reintroduced the Impala name on a new fullsize FWD sedan that shares its underpinnings with (among others) the Cadillac XTS. We got to sample one for a week and were shocked by its overall goodness. It may not have a big-block or rear-wheel drive, but dare I say GM actually got it right this time? The chassis is capable, the ride superb. Power from the direct-injected 3.6L engine is robust, and the backseat area is cavernous, with limo-like legroom. The trunk does justice to Impalas of the ’60s and ’70s, too.
More impressive was the quality of the cabin’s materials. True, we had the top of the line 2LZ so they’d better have been good, but the staff was unanimous in its praise: This was an Impala that we could drive on a daily basis without feeling like we’d just visited the Hertz counter at the local airport. Mercifully, the stylists ditched the generic upper-lower grille shared by the last couple of generations of Impala, Malibu, Traverse and Cruze, etc. For a competitively equipped family sedan, it has an aggressive front fascia—quite the departure.
While the market for fullsize sedans isn’t what it was in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, the new Impala gives Chevy a class-leading player to take on the FWD imports and that’s great news for the Bow Tie brand. Those looking for a high-performance, rear-wheel-drive, V-8 powered car will have to wait for the 415-horse, Holden-based Chevy SS, which arrives in December.