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First Drive: Come for the nostalgia, stay for the tech smarts in Chevy’s 2014 Impala

2014 chevrolet impala navy front right angleFew nameplates carry such a rich heritage and evoke such fond memories as the Chevrolet Impala.

Introduced in 1958, the Impala has been an iconic car not only for the Chevy brand but for multiple generations bred on American muscle and bold, often unapologetic, automotive styling.

However, American muscle is no longer the selling point it once was and bold styling can be seen across multiple segments. Just look at the gorgeous Ford Fusion or almost anything from today’s current automotive fashionistas: the Koreans.

For 2014, Chevrolet has flipped the script, producing an entirely new breed of Impala, one that is irrefutably sexier than ever before. But more than just a pretty face, Chevrolet has demonstrated its commitment to technophiles the world over by packing the 2014 Impala with more techie DNA than a Star Trek convention – sans the pimples and Vulcan ears.

Looking to escape winter’s lingering chill on the Pacific Northwest, we headed down to sunny San Diego to ‘holla’ at the new Impala.

Can I holla’ at ya?

Admittedly, were growing tired of cars being described as “athletic” and “aggressive” so we apologize up front for succumbing to such sterile automotive adjectives, but the truth is there really aren’t many alternatives that adequately capture just how good-looking the 2014 Chevy Impala truly is.

2014 chevrolet impala red left side full

At its face, the front fascia has been reworked, lending it a more Camaro-esque mug. Chevy has penned a rather intricate domed hood with accent marks rippling heavily throughout. Look closely and it almost looks like the car is mean muggin’ you, ready to throw down at any given moment.

There’s also a hint of Lexus LS styling underneath the windswept headlights courtesy of some smart-looking LED daytime running lights featured on the range-topping LTZ models. One could argue that the designer had trouble lifting pen from paper but for as busy as the design can be, it all seems to flow organically.

Around the sides it’s more of the same. Two character lines shoot across the front and rear doors with individual lettering spelling out Impala toward the bottom (a feature Chevy explained was quite painstaking but done out of love for the nameplate).

Like its South African namesake, the side haunches flair out noticeably above the wheels and feature a sinewy characteristic, especially toward the rear of the vehicle. Speaking of wheels, drivers will be able to choose from 18-, 19-, and 20-inch varieties.

At the back, the taillights wrap around ever so slightly, pinching downwards and joined by a strip of chrome brightwork below the decklid, while a set of dual chrome exhausts tips help bring it all together sharply.

Full-size comfort

On the inside, the 2014 Impala is equally impressive. Chevy’s signature dual-cockpit is once again employed with particular attention given to improved styling touches. The center console separates the driver and passenger seat, while the entire dash actually wraps around the cabin from front to back, with the front dash in particular receiving some dramatic lines and chrome piping separating top and bottom.

Chevrolet has gone to great lengths to increase the Impala’s spaciousness — and it shows. Legroom has increased by 3.5-inches over last year’s model, while backseat room has increased by 2.2-inches. Whether we were driving, riding shotgun, or relegated to the rear, we never felt scrunched or suffocated.

The 2014 Impala also provides a great deal of cargo space, so anything from weekend getaways to trips to the store will be happily swallowed up by its 18.8 cubic-feet trunk.

An Impala with an education

The 2014 Chevy Impala marks the introduction of the company’s next generation MyLink system, which we had time to briefly play with at last year’s LA Auto Show. And while it’s not exactly the quantum leap we’d hoped for, it’s a considerable improvement over its predecessor.

In addition to the standard interface tweaks, MyLink 2.0 offers some rather nifty enhancements including natural voice recognition, which essentially amounts to a system that will recognize speech directives given in a far less robotic manner. Instead of going through multiple strings of input, drivers can now speak naturally.

2014 chevrolet impala climate control navigation screen

The system integrates with a number of key features like navigation and music selection. For example, during our drive we were able to search for an address by simply saying “I’m looking for directions to the Andaz hotel.” Likewise, the next-generation MyLink will allow you to pull music from your phone or MP3 player by simply saying the track, album, or artist name. It might sound rudimentary, but the fact that it worked so seamlessly with nary a hiccup proved it worthy of its next-gen moniker.

Customization also plays a large role inMyLink’s presentation. In fact, if you’re familiar with a tablet or smartphone, you’ll be familiar with MyLink. Ripping a virtual page of out of Apple’s playbook, MyLink allows users to shift icons around its standard 4.2-inch touchscreen (or 8 inches if you upgrade). Not only was this user-friendly, but intuitive to boot. We had no trouble swiping, flinging, and dragging our way through its various menus.

Additionally, a row of favorite songs, destinations, and contacts can be placed on a favorites list for easy access while you’re inside different menus. Say you’re Mobile Editor Jeff Van Camp and want your vast collection of Nickelback albums on tap with a simple press of a button. Place the artist on your favorites list and MyLink will place it on the homescreen where it will then bring up every Nickelback song stored locally on your device of choice.

Whether it was sun-soaked city streets or the countryside’s slithering switchbacks, the Impala handled each environment with aplomb.

Given how new tech, especially infotainment systems like MyLink, can intimidate users, it appears Chevrolet’s dev team went to great lengths to keep things simple with large, easily identifiable icons. But because customization is so essential to the user experience these days, users can also transform those icons by selecting one of four pre-set themes. Depending on who is behind the wheel, drivers have a choice between Contemporary, Edge, Velocity, and Main Street skins. It’s a small touch that gives the infotainment experience a less anachronistic vibe.

Although we were only able to test out Pandora, MyLink also integrates more readily with a number of apps. Once released, these apps will become embedded into the MyLink and provide vehicle-centric interfaces, allowing them to be control via voice and the touchscreen.

While he could not confirm exactly what apps await down the road,  Jeff Massimilla, Engineering Manager for Next Generation Infotainment Systems, assured us that more were in the works and that we could expect them in the coming months.

Rather than meddle with the center stack, Chevy’s next-gen MyLink allowed for a rather robust user interaction through the TFT display located in the instrument cluster. Here we found it easy to operate the system with the steering wheel mounted controls without having to take our eyes off the road too much.

The 2014 Impala also marks the debut of Chevy’s new MyLink integrated Valet Mode, or as we like to call it: The James Bond Compartment. Here the eight-inch touchscreen doubles as PIN-activated retractable faceplate and storage bin straight out of Q’s arsenal.

Drivers enter a one-time use code (similar to a hotel safe) which then locks the bin and disables MyLink. Chevy says Valet Mode is meant to keep double O agents, er, the drivers, physical valuables and sensitive information found in MyLink (such as home address and contacts) safe from unsavory valet attendants. Because if Ferris Bueller’s Day Off taught us anything, it’s that they can’t always be trusted.

Truthfully, we’re a little amazed this hasn’t been implemented before, so kudos to Chevy for thinking outside the box and offering a truly innovative new feature. We’re not sure how often consumers will valet their Impalas, but we imagine on a basic level, the idea of a secret compartment only accessible via a pin provides some peace of mind when leaving small valuables in the car.

Despite its snazzy new threads and wide array of tech, GM expects the 2014 Impala to resonate with more established (read: older) crowd. In addition to the steering wheel, touchscreen, and voice controls, drivers will also be able to navigate a majority of the system via tactile buttons and traditional dials. A small gesture (no pun intended) indeed, but one that less tech-savvy drivers will undoubtedly appreciate.

Of course,  onboard electronics make up only a portion of a vehicles rapidly growing tech arsenal. In higher level trims (LT and LTZ) the Impala sports an advanced safety package ($890), which includes forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and active blind spot monitoring.

Additionally, drivers can opt for adaptive cruise control, a $1,695 option. ACC works with front-facing cameras and radar, and allows drivers to set the cruising speed and distance the Impala will follow a vehicle in front of it. Once set, the Impala will actually come to a full stop without any driver input. While some will undoubtedly take umbrage with the car’s inevitable march (or is that drive?) toward autonomy, Chevy’s ACC is remarkably smooth and easy to use.

And while it certainly gives a taste of vehicle autonomy, it’s not entirely autonomous. Once the Impala comes to a full stop we had to press on the gas, get the car moving again, and then press the cruise control button on the steering wheel to resume ACC.

Needless to say testing this feature was a little jarring, made more so by our GM reps insistence we use it when driving up to the armed border checkpoint between California and Mexico.

Road-going gusto

When it finally hits dealerships in the coming weeks, the 2014 Impala will be available in three trims: LS ($27,535), LT ($29,785), and LTZ ($34,555). Base prices are for vehicles equipped with Chevy’s 2.5-liter four cylinder engines. However, Chevy is touting its 305 horsepower 264 pound-feet of torque 3.6-liter V6 as the engine of choice. EPA certification already pegs the V-6 at 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

While a number of previous iterations have proven lackluster to say the least, the 2014 Impala shows no such shortcomings.

Our drive time was limited to the LTZ V-6 model ($36,580), however, so we can’t speak to the 2.5-liter’s performance. Chevy says the Impala can sprint to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, not too shabby all things considered. However, due to our strong penchant for following local traffic laws we were unable to confirm this during our drives. Nevertheless, there is no denying the Impala was quick off the blocks.

It’s not all about va-va voom V6s, Eco-minded buyers can take heart as a 2.4-liter eAssist Impala will debut by the end of the year, which Chevy says will earn an estimated 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the freeway.

While there is certainly a lot to like about the 2014 Impala, a number of features stand out and contribute to a thoroughly pleasing ride.

San Diego is often the spot manufacturers go to in order to test their rides and the Impala drive event was no different. Whether it was sun-soaked city streets or the countryside’s slithering switchbacks, the Impala handled each environment with aplomb.

Despite its front-wheel drive setup, cornering was particularly impressive, especially at speed where the Impala kept its composure and managed body roll to great effect. Chevy credits this to the Impala’s MacPherson-strut front suspension design, which is meant to deliver greater stability and control with rebound springs internal to the struts.

Part of the credit must also go to the Impala’s superbly tuned electronic power steering, which automatically adjusts at lower speeds, requiring minimal driver input. Alternatively, traveling at greater speeds will tighten up responsiveness, making freeway jaunts much less taxing.

Conclusion

If Chevy has proven anything in the past with the Impala nameplate, or a lot of its nameplates to be honest, it’s that it isn’t above an automotive snafu or two. While a number of previous iterations have proven lackluster to say the least, the 2014 Impala truly shines.

But perhaps more poignant than any words we can muster here, the truth — as they say — is in the pudding. Everywhere we drove the Impala, heads would turn. Even during our brief trip we were constantly accosted by individuals, some admittedly more cognizant of reality than others, who just had to know what we were driving. And that’s before they learned about how well the 2014 Impala handles, how smoothly it rides, and the excellent implementation of tech and driver assistance technology available.

While our time with the Impala was altogether too brief, we walked away thoroughly impressed. We won’t know for sure until we get one in for a full review, but so far the 2014 Chevrolet Impala is looking like one beast we wouldn’t mind having in our garage.