The cars we loved.
The current generation Impala is the most polished, best engineered and arguably best looking recent car to wear the deer and twin flag insignia on its flanks. Having said that, you might expect the SS to probably be the most exciting to look at. unfortunately, the Super Sport moniker could easily stand for Subduded Sport compared to some of the storied SS cars of the past. Today’s drivers who are conscious of their carbon footprint, but don’t want to drive dainty hybrids would prefer the quiet stealth of current car compared to the noisy tire smoking drama of the classic Impala SS of the 60’s,70, or even the 90’s. Not to mention the improve comfort, fuel economy and reliability.
After the popular RWD 1994-1996 version, it seemed the fortunes of the Impala would go steadily downhill. Save for the big trick tailights of the eighth generation car, there was little to cheer about with the V6 powered 2004-2005 Impala SS. Performance was ok with its V6, but was far from the high point in the tale of the Impala. The SS story is not all bad, it actually gets better. Now the Impala is well-engineered and its fit and finish levels are better than any Impala before it. Inside is where the biggest improvements are evident. The interior surfaces look somewhat upscale, while the ergonomics look more like products from Japan or Europe. GM clearly did their homework with the finer details of human interaction where the inside is concerned. But the typical buyer for the Impala SS wants the GM equilivant of a Mercury Maurader or Dodge Charger: a big sporty high performance sedan with a classic rear wheel drive layout powered by a large V8 engine. The Impala represents something of an alternative in this shrinking segment of cars dominated by front-engine and rear wheel drive setups. Mercury’s Maurader was ancient and now gone. Despite it’s Mercedes sourced innards, the Charger is exciting but a little on the rough side. It just seemed as if there were not many options for mid range big sedan fans. Ironically, the Toyota Avalon is closer in spirit to the Impala than its traditional Yankee bred competition.
The ninth generation Impala SS like the one before it continues to diverge from this classic formula by offering front wheel drive. Now on the new W platform shared with the Buick Lacrosse, the SS returned to V8 power, the first V8 powered SS since 1996. It was also the first time GM had mated its new LS4 smallbloc V8 to a front wheel drive chassis. With 303 hp, the 5.3L featured a variable displacement system similar to what Cadillac had attempted in the 80’s with the Seville (this time it was perfected). 0 to 60 times were in the low 5 second range, making the SS a formidable sport touring sedan on par with similar products from BMW and Audi but for thousands less.
One of the problems (or benefits) of the current Impala was its subduded appearance. Only to the careful observer would the difference between a LTZ and SS model be noticeable. Larger wheels, a small rear spoiler and of course SS badges were the only major visual distinction between the SS and lesser models. SS models shared a dual exhaust system that appeared similar to the LTZ, further fueling the confusion. In an attempt to further distinguish the SS from other models, Chevrolet offered a RSS package that included a more aggressive wheel/tire package, ground effects and spoilers. The effect made for a more convincing visual statement of performance.
Compared to the usual competition (Accord and Camry), the SS represents and extraordinary bargain. Its V8, room and comfort at around $30k is a step above the V6 powered Japanese competition. Although not matching them in resale value, it easily matches them in overall quality. As for its most direct competitor, the Dodge Charger R/T, it lacks some of the handling at the limits abilities, but in the fit and finish arena, beats it hands down. In real world driving the SS impresses as it negates the potential weight of a V8 with an aluminum block, making it lighter than the V6 engines in many of its competitors. Fun to drive and tossible car in the corners are terms used to describe the Impala SS’s abilities. Unusual praise for a large front wheel drive car, but if there’s anyone who knows how to make V8 powered front wheel drive cars its GM.
The resulting expertise makes for a surprisingly well balanced car with nearly neutral road manners. Comparisons to the Cadilla’c Seville STS ensued, another front powered V8 car from GM. It’s interesting that the current car did not continue as a Caprice while the Impala name in the US was carried on via the Australian built Holden Commodore. In other markets, most notably in the Middle East, the Impala is a slightly disguised Commodore, much like the dearly departed Pontiac G8. Only time will tell if the next version will be a true world car with looks that match its performance. For now we can relish in the value the current Impala SS represents.