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Venerable Impala gets a V-8 power boost

August 19, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Chevrolet's venerable Impala sedan is set to wow its followers with a cleaner look and a wide range of content and performance upgrades.

The Impala brand has largely been the backbone of Chevrolet's passenger-car fleet for nearly 50 years. During most of that time, and especially since its last makeover in 1999, the Impala's popularity has been strong. Sensibility, economy and ample room are the three main reasons. For 2006, you can add power and innovation to the list.

General Motors really had no choice but to make changes since leadership in the family-sedan category is clearly up for grabs. Domestic-based competitors such as the Chrysler 300 and Ford Five Hundred are vying with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima for a bigger slice of the pie. And lately, the newly minted (and enlarged) version of the Hyundai Sonata is serving notice that it intends to muscle in on the action.

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Chevrolet's response is to retool and reformat the '06 Impala and inject plenty of fresh ideas of its own. GM's "bowtie" division has carved out a cleaner and crisper looking model that trades in its previous anonymity for a good dose of character simply by changing the front and rear fascias and integrating new headlamps and taillights. Back in the 1960s, styling was the Impala's strong suit and a genuine effort is being made to recapture some of the car's former glory.

Dimensionally, the new Impala remains nearly identical to the '05 model and rides on the same wheelbase. The one perceptible difference is in height, where the '06 Impala enjoys about a 1.5-inch advantage.

The Impala has also received a revised interior layout that looks cleaner and more contemporary and features a glove box that's 20 percent bigger. The seats have also been improved and all Impalas will come with side-curtain air bags as standard equipment.

A new and nifty option is the flip-and-fold rear seat, an idea adapted from Chevrolet's minivan and extended-length pickups. There's a handy storage compartment beneath the seat bottom for transporting a variety of small items, or larger ones, such as plants, with the seat bottom flipped forward. In addition, the seat back can be lowered, extending the trunk floor into the passenger area. From packing groceries to loading up on camping gear, the flip-and-fold system makes good sense and only adds to the Impala's versatility.

Additionally, changes have been made to the Impala's suspension with the intention of improving ride and handling.

The big news is the choice of powerplants that provide more punch for Impala buyers. Standard on LS and LT models is a 211-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that replaces the base 180-horse, 3.4-liter V-6. Moving up to the LTZ puts you in charge of a 240-horsepower, 3.9-liter V-6. That represents an increase of 40 ponies compared with the '05 model's optional non-supercharged 3.8-liter V-6. Both six-cylinder motors feature variable valve timing, a fairly common system on modern overhead cam engines, but the first such application on a conventional pushrod-style engine.

The SS undergoes the most radical change for 2006 with a 5.3-liter V-8 that delivers a stout 303 horses (63 more than the previous 240-horsepower supercharged 3.8-liter V-6) and 323 lb.-ft. of torque. The V-8 is able to shut down half its cylinders under light-load conditions for a claimed improvement in fuel economy of about 8 percent.

All engines are connected to four-speed automatic transmissions.

The latest Impala shows that Chevrolet is not standing still when it comes to family sedans. Although it is not new from the tires up, there are plenty of significant changes to retain and gain Impala customers, a necessary step to stay alive in the sedan race.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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