Another great American nameplate may soon bite the dust.
The Chevrolet Impala nameplate has a rich tradition dating back to 1958. Though it was absent from the lineup for a number of years, it returned in 2000 as a front-wheel drive family sedan, replacing the old rear-wheel drive setup. During its heyday, it was available as a coupe, convertible, sedan and even a station wagon. For its 21st century revival, only the sedan survived – without V8 power. That's right. The once mighty Impala became a traditional, and rather boring, V6-powered family sedan. It fit the times, and those times are likely to end soon.
Last week's report indicating the Impala won't live to see a redesign confirms what we long knew: sedans, of all sizes, are being wiped extinct by crossovers. It's survival of the fittest as far as the auto industry goes. Consumers who used to prefer family sedans for a variety of reasons can find everything they want/need and more with crossovers, and for not much more money on top of that. The Impala is in the exact same situation as its Ford Taurus rival, and it's a shame Chevy's large sedan will likely go the way of the poor dodo bird. How come? Declining sales. In 2010, around 172,000 units were sold in the US. Last year, just 75,877. This year is looking to be worse.
Now, let's compare its closest Chevy crossover equivalent, the Traverse. In 2010, around 106,000 examples left dealership lots. Although there was a slight sales decline a couple of years later, it's surged ever since 2014. A total of 123,506 were sold in 2017. Do the math. Unless a sudden and drastic market change occurs, which we doubt, the Impala business case is no longer there. And that's a shame because the current Impala finally got just about everything right, design especially. Launched for 2014, the tenth-generation Impala rides on GM's Epsilon II FWD platform, also used to underpin the Cadillac XTS.
Larger and more upscale than any of its immediate predecessors, today's Impala comes powered by a choice of two engines, 2.5-liter EcoTec four with 197 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque, and a 3.6-liter V6 with 305 hp and 264 lb-ft. Both are paired to a six-speed automatic sending power to the front wheels only (an eight-speed slushbox might come soon). All-wheel drive is not offered. Clearly the V6 is the preferred choice for those wishing for as much power as possible. What's nice is that this engine can be had with any of the three trim levels, meaning you can get a 300-hp large family sedan for as little as $28,865. Not bad considering the average new car transaction price in the US is around $36,000 today.
Most importantly, the Impala has ditched that rental car personality. It's a pleasure to drive thanks to a smooth and comfortable ride. Chevy went out of its way to add sound-absorbing and sound-suppressing materials to provide occupants with the quietest cabin possible. Even when taking it around corners drivers will appreciate its well-tuned chassis. It's no sports sedan but it's certainly no land yacht either. Interior space is significant, with plenty of rear seat head and legroom plus 19 cubic feet of cargo space. The dual-cockpit layout is also wonderfully done, notably the wraparound instrument panel, which houses a standard 4.2-inch display with reconfigurable driver information features.
There's also an 8-inch touchscreen with concealed storage. Even ambient lighting is an option. Where older Chevys, previous Impalas included, typically fell short was overall build quality and materials. Both were lacking. Not anymore. Premium is the best word to describe everything inside, making us wonder why some are willing to pay more for the previous gen Buick LaCrosse, another platform mate. Sure, the Buick has a more upscale look and feel, but the Impala is nothing to laugh about anymore. Need further proof? The exterior design. It's lovely. It doesn't scream muscle car wannabe, nor does it have to. It's very much a contemporary look and you can tell a lot of attention was paid to details.
There's a sculpted, but not over done look that just feels right. It fits the car perfectly. Do notice there's some classic "Coke bottle" styling there as well. If we have one overall negative, it's this: The Impala has literally gone unchanged since 2014. Could that be one reason for its slumping sales? Possibly, but it probably wouldn't make much of a difference given the current crossover frenzy. How much time does the Impala have left? Given no serious refresh took place and the current model will turn five next year, we doubt it'll last beyond 2020. Once again, another great American nameplate could bite the dust, just for being a sedan.