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2000 Chevrolet Impala

When it comes down to it, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more competent large sedan for your money.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

The bottom line on recent Wheels test vehicles.

When I test a car or truck, I first want to know if the vehicle is true to itself. Does it fulfill its mission, as defined by the manufacturer and by the market segment in which

it is sold.

All else is secondary.

Let's take the new 2000 Chevrolet Impala, for example.

Bravo! I shout after a week at the wheel of a fully loaded L Strim tester.

Here is a good, honest, comfortable, solid and well-priced family car. You may argue with the styling. An enthusiast may wish for a bit more agility on twisty roads. But, when it comes down to it, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more competent large sedan for your money.

I'm a fan of GM's ancient 3.8 L V6, massaged by engineers to deliver 205 smooth, flexible horsepower. Base cars get a somewhat less silky 3.4 L unit, but either engine is mated to the best four-speed automatic transaxle in the business.

The variable power rack and pinion steering works through a thick-rimmed wheel. Although response to inputs is predictable, the system feels like there's "feel" built into it that comes across as artificial.

The ride is big-car quiet and the suspension filters out all but the worst potholes.

The individual front seats on my tester provide ample room and decent support.

The dash is tastefully designed, looking like a near match of the more expensive new Buick Le Sabre's.

The rear seat will hold three adults without undue discomfort, and the trunk has a wide expanse of flat floor.

My only annoyance came from a plastic bracket at the outer edge of the front seat cushion that would grab my trouser cuff whenever I tried to exit the car.

The Impala is like a set of comfortable walking shoes: the style or sprinting ability won't set your heart aflame, but you'll appreciate it after a long day on the go.

Impala prices start at $24,495. The LS begins at $28,995. My tester's 1SB option package, multi-adjustable front bucket seats, sunroof, trip computer and enhanced audio system raised the total to $33,200, including air conditioning tax and freight charge.

Chevy's advertising tries to make a connection with old-fashioned values. I think reasonably priced, practical, comfortable motoring, delivered in spades here, is something

that never goes out of style.

Volvo S70 AWD: glory in the details

No nonsense rubber, whether the pebbled wheels that run the air vents, the stippled liner on the dashboard shelf or the big flanged floor mats is a subtle part the Volvo S70 AWD's charm.

The message: this is a sports sedan that spurns frills and furbelows. Instead, it rigorously moulds form to function in matters small as well as large.

You can rule out finger slip as you critically adjust a vent.

And Volvo engineers have made darn certain items will stay put on that shelf. And rest assured those mats can handle a Niagara of melting snow.

Once you behold this kind of detailing, how can you doubt the effort the Swedish firm now owned by Ford puts into major systems like the S70's power train and safety gear?

Certainly, my gleaming black 1999 tester, with adaptive four-speed automatic transmission and classy grey leather interior, felt Viking solid.

Under the hood is a five-cylinder 2.4 L DOHC turbo-motor, mounted east to west. It cranks out 190 hp at 5100 r.p.m. and 199 lb.-ft. of torque at an amazingly scant 1800 r.p.m. for serious low-end acceleration.

But this five, overall, was less of a charger than I expected and rougher. Maybe Volvo's safe and green image was the problem. Hammering a car like this makes you feel insensitive.

The turbo-charging is low pressure, as opposed to Volvo's high pressure 2.3 L chunk of turbo-thunder found in the T5 model.

It's good for 236 hp and 244 lb.-ft. of twist.

S70 trim levels and starting prices: base, $34,995; GLT, $41,995; T5, $43,995; AWD, $44,195. The line also includes V70 station wagons.

Mild weather ruled out a real test of my car's all-wheel drive, a fully automatic, leave the thinking to me system. But it's a smart investment, especially for anyone who regularly drives north of Highway 7.

Some rap the S70's sawed-off styling as dated. It still appeals to me. And you can't beat the visibility benefits of a six-window cabin.

The next generation S70, expected about 2000, will use Volvo's new large-car platform, currently exclusive to the S80.

But the present version undoubtedly will cruise Canadian highways far into the future. After all, Volvo claims a median road life expectancy of 17.1 years for its cars.

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