The Impala is back - again. This spring, as Chevrolet resurrects one of the most successful badges in American motoring history, it's betting that 200,000 buyers will want to park the historic marque in their garages each year.
That's a lot of Impalas. A lot more, at least, than the last generation - the Caprice-based, enthusiast-pleasing Impala SS - sold, but only a fraction of the over-1 million it sold at its peak in 1965.
Then again, it's difficult to gauge the 2000 Impala's sales potential against any of its venerable predecessors. It shares absolutely nothing with them from which to compare - except, of course, its name.
Take its driveline layout. The 2000 Impala endures a fundamental shift in driving philosophy, like so many longstanding GM nameplates before it. It sees its drive wheels pushed to the front in characteristically un-muscle car fashion. The car now pulls - like every other car in the GM stable save the Catera - instead of pushes.
Available engines don't compare, either. The 180-hp 3.4L V-6 comes standard, while optionally available is the more-than-worthy 3800 Series II V-6, cranking out a peak 200 hp at 5,200 rpm. Both move the Impala adequately, the 3.8L even a little spiritedly. At this point, GM has no plans to use the supercharged 3.8L, already in use in a number of non-Chevrolet vehicles.
The 1996 Impala SS, by comparison, inhaled power from a 308-hp version of the Corvette's brawny 5.7L LT1 V-8, drawing a direct and palpable comparison with Impala muscle of 30 years prior.
Sure, one could argue that the new Impala weighs almost 700 lbs. (318 kg) less than the Impala SS - and even less than the old '60s models - and therefore doesn't require beefy V-8 power. But on a power-to-weight basis, the new version is almost wheezy with 0.059 hp/lb. (0.13 hp/kg) compared to the SS's 0.076 hp/lb. (0.17 hp/kg).
The sensation of putting pedal to the metal more resembles the loping gait of a sturdy family sedan a laTaurus or Dodge Intrepid than the roaring launch of a '61 Super Sport 409. Not that there's anything wrong with sturdy family sedans; most of the best-selling cars in this country are just that.
And that's the key. GM is positioning the 2000 Impala to be one of America's best-selling family sedans. The No.1 automaker doesn't intend it to be the catalyst for a muscle car revival. It's clear that what's driving such comparisons between Impalas then and now is the car's name. If one ignores the name to take a look at the car, what one will find is a first-rate driving, stylish new sedan - worthwhile on its own terms.
The Impala borrows many of its characteristic body cues from its cousin, the smaller Malibu sedan. Its unique taillights feature four trademark '60s-style round lamps hidden behind a sleek, red mono-lens. Its tightly wrapped sheet metal disguises the Impala's ample 122.1 cu.-ft. (3.5 cu.-m) of interior space, enough to classify it as a large car.
The body sits atop an elongated Monte Carlo platform, a cost-savings move that helps GM consolidate platforms and also affords the Impala its front-drive layout, which GM believes appeals most to American buyers.
Impala's handling is agile and precise. GM attributes the car's nimble handling to an all-new extruded aluminum engine cradle that is 37% lighter than a similar steel component, and yet is extremely stiff. GM says this allowed it to tune the suspension with greater exactitude than it otherwise might have.
Its ride, too, is solid and quiet, but not stiff. One inch (25 mm) more vertical suspension travel than the Monte Carlo means the Impala's ride is comfortable, but the driver never loses a good feel of the road.
Noise from the engine bay is lowered, too, thanks in part to a magnesium beam behind the instrument panel.
The cabin easily seats six. Back seat passengers all benefit from the use of three-point safety belts, while front seat passengers have seat-mounted side air bags in addition to the dual fronts. Antilock brakes are standard.
Overall, the Impala is more than decent, a large car that handles more like a mid-sizer, with six-passenger seating, all for as little as $19,265. But why call it an "Impala?" The folks at GM understand the Impala name alone carries an enormous amount of brand recognition - 13 million vehicles sold over four decades worth. It's simply, Chevy thinks, because a name with that kind of track record is bound to succeed in luring 200,000 buyers a year into Chevrolet showrooms, regardless of which wheels are turning.