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2006 Chevrolet Impala LT Road Test
Impala impresses on many fronts
By Bill Roebuck
When Chevrolet used 'Evolution' as a keyword in its current print and television advertising programs, it didn't mean much to me -- until I drove the 2006 Impala.
Sure, it's a just lowly family sedan -- nothing like the attention-getting Corvette Z06, which is attracting well-deserved accolades from many sources.
But what a wonderful sedan this is. It's not so exciting to look at from the outside, but when you're a happy driver, who cares? And it's no less interesting a design than a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.
I was so impressed with the Impala, I'm going to use it as my new benchmark for family sedans in future evaluations.
The Impala recently competed in the family sedan category at AJAC's TestFest for the Car and Truck of the Year awards. It's one of the most competitive vehicle segments for 2006, with many manufacturers giving consumers more features while holding the line on prices.
This year's five contenders in the Car of the Year competition included the Impala, the new Ford Fusion, the redesigned Hyundai Sonata (which won the category) and the significantly refreshed Volkswagen Passat and Jetta.
The tested models ranged in price from $27,575 to $32,244. All models in the competition were front-wheel-drive and equipped with ABS brakes and traction control. Fuel economy for the five models hovers around an overall average of 9 litres/100 km.
The six-passenger Impala was the lowest-priced model of the group -- and physically the largest. Completely redesigned for 2006, it offers a very roomy, nicely performing package.
A 2006 Impala starts at $24,685 (plus $1,150 freight) for an LS model with a 211-hp V6 automatic. Standard features include front and rear side head curtain air bags, remote keyless entry, 16-in. wheels, air conditioning, six-speaker CD stereo, OnStar and cruise control.
That's less money than a base Toyota Camry automatic ($24,990 plus $1,160) or a Honda Accord ($24,800 with manual transmission, plus $1,310), and those are both four-cylinder models. The Impala even costs significantly less than comparably equipped domestic models such as the Ford Five Hundred ($29,495 plus $1,150) and Chrysler 300 ($29,995 plus $1,200).
The Impala's list price, surprisingly, is $1,720 less than its 2005 predecessor, even though the new model has $1,500 worth of additional equipment and features.
On the Impala LT tested ($26,900; $27,575 as tested including ABS brakes, electronic traction control, dual-zone air conditioning, compass and a remote start feature), the fit and finish are impressive, standing up easily to Japanese model benchmarks. Body panels match up tightly. Interior materials seem to be very good quality.
Small features like a rubber pad under the keylock on the steering wheel, to cut the noise if keys bounce around, are unexpected but appreciated.
Another such feature is the wide-ranging tempo of the wipers, from as slow as 15 seconds between strokes (ideal for light mist) to a window-clearing 80 strokes per minute for heavy rain.
The radio design is one of the easiest to use on the market. Large buttons and controls are easy to distinguish, and the call numbers of the stations are shown in the display above the selector buttons. The stereo also includes an auxiliary input jack for connecting iPods and the like.
The same easy-to-use simplicity applies to the ventilation controls.
The Impala's 3.5-litre V6 in the LS and LT models produces 211 hp, plenty for a car this size. However, partly because of its 1,649 kg curb weight -- the heaviest in the TestFest Family Sedan group, it showed fourth best in acceleration testing, taking 8.6 seconds from 0-100 km/h. That's still a pretty respectable time, as the fastest model here was only 0.8 seconds quicker.
Optional engines include a 3.9-litre, 242-hp unit that's standard in the $29,840 LTZ, and a 5.3-litre V8 producing 303 hp, standard in the $32,855 SS model. The V8 has a variable displacement function called Displacement on Demand, allowing it to run on only four cylinders when driving evenly. The system is said to reduce fuel consumption by up to 8%.
The four-speed automatic -- the only transmission offered in the Impala -- shifted smoothly and seemed to have no trouble finding the right gear for various driving manoeuvres. It even performed well on the track during AJAC's TestFest, where we push vehicles to their limits.
However, the weight of the Impala does give a heavy steering feel, especially at slow speeds.
Where the Impala failed to shine was in braking distance, running a full 10 metres further in hard stopping from 100 km/h than the best-in-class braker, the Volkswagen Jetta. That's even with its new four-wheel disc brakes with vented front discs. Unfortunately, ABS brakes are an option on base Impala LS and LT models, only coming as standard equipment on LTZ and SS versions.
One area where the restyled Impala came out the leader was in cargo capacity, with its cavernous 526.7-litre trunk, easily the largest here.
A bonus in the cargo department is Impala's optional 60/40-split folding rear seat. These second row seats fold and tumble with the touch of one lever, allowing the seatback to fold down flat, extending the trunk capacity significantly.
There's also small storage compartments sculpted into a plastic liner beneath those second-row seats, though I'm not sure what you'd actually want to keep under there.
The rear seating is quite comfortable, with very good headroom and legroom. There are three rear headrests, although they're not adjustable in height, since they're attached to the rear shelf. This also allows the seatbacks to fold flat with the trunk floor.
Comfort and roominess also apply to the front seats, thanks in part to the standard-issue eight-way power driver's seat.
The ride is very quiet, with only a bit of wind noise from the A pillars disturbing the interior tranquility at highway speeds. The thick A pillars also block visibility to the side slightly, especially when pulling into intersections.
The view straight out the windshield is clear and wide, though, with a low-sloping hood allowing good line of sight out front.
Even though it did not win an award in TestFest, I think, as General Motors implies, the new Impala design is certainly an evolution into one of the best vehicles in its class.
© 2006 Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca