DETROIT – General Motors will unveil later today at the New York auto show a redesigned-for-’14 Chevrolet Impala, an entirely fresh take on one of the auto maker’s most venerable but recently neglected nameplates.

Chris Perry, vice president-global marketing at Chevrolet, admits the 54-year-old Impala name briefly knocked at death’s door because the current model grew stale after GM’s bankruptcy delayed the arrival of the 10th-generation model.

Plus, most Impalas sales were to fleet and commercial customers, such as rental agencies, which can tarnish a nameplate.

“But it is such an iconic name,” Perry tells WardsAuto during a sneak peak of the car here ahead of its New York premiere. “We thought there was some equity in that name and we should keep it as our flagship vehicle.”

He promises the new Impala, last redesigned in 2006, will rely less on fleet sales than it does today.

The Impala sold 171,434 units in the U.S.  in 2011, down 0.4% from 2010, according to WardsAuto data. Its best year was 2007, with 311,128 deliveries. Over the years, the marque has accounted for more than 16 million sales and remained one of the best-sellers in the large-car segment.

“The current Impala is more of a fleet vehicle than retail; there’s no hiding that fact,” Perry says. “This model will change that. It will play a different role in the Chevrolet lineup.”

He also suggests that with Impala’s bigger role in the retail channel GM’s overall sales to rental and commercial fleets will decline next year. While less profitable, fleet and commercial typically account for between 23% and 25% of GM deliveries.

The new Impala also will face the challenge of occupying a shrinking segment. Large cars accounted for 1.9% of light-vehicle sales in 2011. Ten years ago, they commanded 3.2%, WardsAuto data shows.

Perry says GM approaches the segment with eyes wide open, acknowledging today’s midsize models have grown in girth and amenities to eat away at large-car sales. But fresh entries from Ford, Hyundai and Toyota will give the segment strength.

“We now have one of the key competitors in that segment,” Perry says. “We’re not establishing any aggressive sales goals. We’re going to build to demand, and with the new vehicle we can attract new buyers and bring (existing) owners back.”

The ’14 Impala marks a significant departure from its predecessor, as it switches from GM’s aging W platform to its Epsilon global large-car platform that also underpins models such as the Buick LaCrosse and new-for-’13 Cadillac XTS.

Epsilon’s front-wheel-drive architecture unquestionably will improve the Impala’s driving dynamics.

GM promises precise ride and handling for greater driver control and passenger comfort, punctuated by the use of new sound-damping technology such as active noise cancellation using the audio system to provide luxury-cabin quietness.

The auto maker also dials up the interior and exterior design, using the Impala to demonstrate a new twist on Chevrolet’s styling philosophy.

Inside, the Impala follows the dual-cockpit theme, but designers strove to create more of a “wraparound’ feel to the driver and front-passenger seating area by using more horizontal lines and pulling the center stack rearward.

Ambient lighting and premium materials, as well as available infotainment technologies such as Bluetooth audio streaming, hint at luxury.

The exterior styling features a long, low, windswept profile to suggest motion, with wheels and tires as large as 20 ins. to convey a powerful stance, says John Cafaro, director-North American passenger-car exterior design at GM.

“It’s the kind of design a designer could make with a just a few strokes of a pencil,” Cafaro says.

Yet, the new model draws on its history while remaining contemporary. The rear fenders, for example, recall Impalas of the past, but high-intensity discharge headlamps with light-emitting-diode daytime running lamps place it in the 21st century.

The Impala’s powertrain entered a new era last year by adding GM’s 3.6L gasoline direct-injection engine, a Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner, and an advanced 6-speed transmission.

The ’14 Impala retains that engine for its highest trim levels but also adds the auto maker’s all-new 2.5L GDI 4-cyl. making 195 hp and promising class-leading fuel economy.

Additionally, GM will make available its 2.4L GDI 4-cyl. mill, another Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner, mated to its eAssist mild hybrid drivertrain for the fuel efficiency of a small engine and the power of a larger one.

The ’14 Impala also boasts available active-safety technologies, including full-speed-range adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and driver alerts when other vehicles enter the car’s blind spots.

The new Impala, which skips a ’13 model, arrives at dealers early next year.

jamend@wardsauto.com