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Impala: Stylish redesign, big on function

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Impala: Stylish redesign, big on function

Impala’s big-sedan width makes it a comfortable five-seater with plenty of trunk and cargo capacity.

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POSTED July 3, 2013 11:59 p.m.

Woe was the Chevy Impala. The once iconic flagship had lumbered along in recent years with dowdy styling -- a durable sedan destined for government and rental fleets.

But now with that bankruptcy thing shrinking in the rearview mirror, General Motors has put the tires back on Impala. This is the 10th generation of one of the industry’s most enduring and popular nameplates and the redesign is every millimeter a revolution.

Impala is based on a front-wheel-drive GM vehicle architecture that also is used for the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS sedans.

There is a convergence of these large, mainstream sedans coming to market. Toyota has given its Avalon a sharp redesign, Kia is out with its Cadenza, which shares architecture with the appealing Hyundai Azera, and there is the Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus and Chrysler 300.

Carmakers are betting baby boomers are ready to get out of the family minivan or utility and into a “me” vehicle, something with style and a touch of luxury.

Impala has a breezy air of unpretentious luxury, yet there is still a government-grade base model with cloth seats.

Two engines are available now, followed by a one-mode hybrid, “eAssist,” at the end of the year.

The 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 (with 264 foot-pounds of torque) runs on regular unleaded and has fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city and 29 highway. In today’s LTZ tester, I was getting a combined 31 mpg.

The 196-horsepower Ecotec 2.5-liter four-cylinder (with 186 foot-pounds of torque) is a surprisingly capable engine for light-duty needs.

The 182-horsepower Ecotec 2.4-liter with eAssist (available now in Malibu and LaCrosse) gives electrical assist in certain conditions to help save fuel. Highway mileage is estimated to be 35 mpg.

All engines are matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, with a quirky manual-shift mode on the V-6.

The 2LZ tester was impressively finished with such extras as an expansive sunroof with a skylight over the backseat, heated steering wheel and heated AND cooled front seats. Starting at $36,580, its as-tested $39,510 sticker compares with a loaded minivan or a seven-passenger Chevrolet Traverse crossover.

Despite the sleek styling, there are nearly 40 inches of front headroom (minivan capacity) and plenty of room to place all controls intuitively. Sightlines are good over the shoulder and even better with the rearview camera. There are plenty of smart storage areas, even a slot for a collapsible umbrella in the driver’s door pocket.

A discrete storage area can be accessed by raising the touchscreen in the center of the instrument panel. A “valet mode” also blocks access to cellphone address books and navigation routing, so bad guys can’t get your home address.

Chevy uses the better style of keyless locking (with push-button ignition). A small button in the exterior door handle is pressed to lock or unlock. Some systems use a sensor in the door handle that can be hesitant to recognize the key and lock the door.

Safety features include 10 standard air bags, full-speed-range adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, rear camera and rear-park assist.

Backseat space is American class for width, legroom and headroom. Even the center position has enough width for adult comfort ... for the short term. The seats are raised, there are reading lights, a fold-down armrest, door storage and bottle holders and good thigh support with a comfortable seatback angle.

The trunk is enormous at 18.8 cubic feet, which is expandable with a folding back seat. I loaded seven-foot boards, bins and more. It’s the big-sedan width that makes this such as multi-function car.

Ride quality is big and comfy, almost too soft for me, with some “bounding” over humps in the road. Four-wheel disc brakes have generous 12.6-inch vented rotors front, solid 12.4-inch rear.

The cabin has the full soundproofing treatment with an acoustically laminated windshield and front-door glass, liberal use of liquid-applied sound deadener, sound-absorbing carpet and an isolated engine cradle.

And both four-cylinder engines have active noise cancellation, which processes negative engine noise with counteracting sound waves from the audio system.

The V-6 is the right choice if you will be commuting and appreciate power to get out of dicey situations. And for those of us who actually use the manual shift mode, the simplistic Plus-Minus button at the end of the shifter just doesn’t inspire sporty driving.

The new Impala is an ideal excuse to downsize from the trusty, crusty family minivan or crossover. It has style and layers of function, which may be just enough to get this buyer out of a big, upright box of a vehicle.

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