HALIBURTON??That?s a General Motors car??
Be prepared for comments like that when your neighbours see your 2014 Chevrolet Impala, but can?t spot the big Chevy bow-tie badge on the front.
Imagine! A handsome full-size Chevy sedan.
It?s a fitting continuation of the 55-year, 10-generation lifespan of the Impala nameplate, on sale now for $28,445.
In recent years, Impala has fallen deep into fleet-car status, with about 70 per cent of sales so designated. Fleet sales are the crack cocaine of the car business: very addictive, but not healthy in the long run.
The way out of the fleet penalty box starts with being a desirable car, and that starts with the aforementioned styling. Chevrolet believes the fleet/retail ratio will be reversed with the 2014 edition.
The styling works aerodynamically, as well ? it is 14 per cent more fuel efficient than the 2013 model.
Structurally, Impala is based on the global Epsilon II Long platform. To call it a stretched Malibu is neither far wrong, nor an insult ? the Malibu is a pretty nice car, too.
Impala is roomier than before, a 30.5-mm increase in wheelbase yielding a 90-mm gain in front legroom, and a 56-mm hike in the corresponding rear dimension.
The rigid body structure is the starting point for this being the quietest Impala ever. Acoustic-laminated windshield and front side windows, baffles in body cavities, sound deadener on the floor pan and trunk, and, in four-cylinder cars, active noise cancellation also contribute to the sound of silence.
MacStrut front and four-link independent rear suspension, electric power steering and four-wheel-disc brakes are the chassis basics.
One interesting detail is Duralife brake rotors, a patented process invented at GM?s Canadian engineering centre. An FNC (Ferritic Nitro Carburizing) coating process bonds a nitrogen-rich layer to the rotor surface, which strengthens the rotor and makes it more resistant to corrosion.
This improves appearance, reduces brake shudder if the car has been sitting for a few days, and doubles expected lifespan from 60,000 to 120,000 km.
Three engines are available. The cars we tested were all fitted with the 3.6-litre V6, also used in the Cadillac ATS. Its 305 horses makes Impala the most powerful car in the domestic full-size sedan segment.
Shortly, you will be able to get a new 2.5-litre four, which has similar power and torque to the V6 in the former Impala, but delivers much better fuel economy.
Later in the year comes the third option, a 2.4-litre four with the eAssist mild hybrid system, also used in Buick Regal and LaCrosse. It generates the equivalent of 182 horsepower with a highway fuel rating of just 5.6 L/100 km.
All engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Impala comes only with front-wheel drive. GM says the ?take rate? for four-wheel drive in Ford Taurus and Dodge Charger is so low it just doesn?t make it worth the engineering effort.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in Impala over the previous generation is vastly improved interior design, fit and finish. The seats are comfortable, there?s lots of room in all directions, and it is just a very pleasant place to be.
The one drawback to the interior is something Chevrolet is far too proud of: the MyLink touch screen for infotainment, sat-nav, phone, etc.
Maybe the market does demand these things, but they shouldn?t ? they simply aren?t ready for prime time. They?re too hard to operate while driving, fingerprint build-up and reflections on sunny days make them unintelligible far too much of the time, and the voice-activation systems are nowhere near good enough.
Sadly, you can only get an Impala without MyLink if you stick with the base level LS trim level. Which means you won?t have the option of the V6 engine.
You still get a well-equipped car, though, with a premium sound system, power driver?s seat, Bluetooth and a bunch of other worthwhile stuff.
If you can stomach MyLink, a wider range of goodies becomes available, including adaptive cruise control, usually offered only on much more expensive cars.
Driving the Impala also gives you the feeling of being in a premium car. The ride is quiet and well-controlled, the steering is light but reasonably precise, the V6 performs well and the automatic transmission shifts smoothly.
It may not be the sports sedan that Impalas of old aspired to be, but the handling is more than competent.
Impala is being built in both Oshawa and Hamtramck, Mich. In Oshawa, it?s sharing GM?s flexible production line with the Buick Regal, the Cadillac XTS and, for now, the Chevrolet Camaro.
I know Oshawa workers are sad to be losing the high-image Camaro when production of that car shifts to Michigan after the next model change. But since the market for Impala will be larger than Camaro?s, their jobs should be safer than before.
According to GM Canada, the company already has the best-selling, full-size car in Canada, with the Buick LaCrosse nosing out the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger (interestingly, also both Canadian-built cars) for retail sales in 2012.
With its handsome new look, high-quality feel and strong price-value proposition, Impala should soon be fighting it out for top spot with its corporate cousin.
2014 Chevrolet Impala
ENGINE: 2.5-litre inline four, 3.6-litre V6
POWER/TORQUE: 2.5 L: 196 hp/186 lb.-ft.; 3.6 L: 305/264
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 2.5 L: 9.9 city, 6.3 hwy.; 3.6 L: 11.1/6.9
COMPETITION: Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus
WHAT?S BEST: Handsome styling, roomy and classy interior, smooth, quiet ride, excellent value proposition.
WHAT?S WORST: MyLink is no better or worse than every other such system, ability to escape the fleet penalty box yet to be proven.
WHAT?S INTERESTING: A 55-year-old nameplate is trying to recapture some of its past glory.