- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

You could argue that the Chevrolet Impala is the Rodney Dangerfield of family sedans. It doesn’t seem to get much respect. When the subject comes up, you hear mostly about the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, and sometimes the Nissan Altima. All three are Japanese midsize brands.

That’s understandable. The Camry is the United States’ most popular family sedan, with sales in 2006 of 448,445. In second place was the Accord, with 354,441.

But obviously a substantial number of people respect the American Impala. It’s in third place, with 2006 sales of 289,868. Though technically a large car by the government’s lights because of its total interior volume, it falls into the family sedan category, along with the midsize Chevrolet Malibu.

And if you combine the Malibu’s sales of 163,853 in 2006 with the Impala’s, you get 453,721, which is more than the Camry or the Accord. The Altima is a distant fourth in sales behind Camry, Accord and Impala, with 232,457 cars sold in 2006.

This exercise in numbers calls into question the oft-repeated criticism that U.S. vehicle manufacturers are not making cars that people want to buy. While the Impala comes up short in some areas in a fender-to-fender comparison with the leading Camry and Accord, it is a decent family sedan taken on its own terms.

Though classified as a large car, at 16 feet, 8 inches long, the Impala doesn’t feel bigger than the Camry and Accord, which are 11 inches and 6 inches shorter, respectively. The Impala does have a gigantic trunk with 19 cubic feet of space, but the car would have been better served if the designers had cut into that to improve back-seat room, which is cramped for a big car.

Where the Camry and Accord offer four-cylinder and V-6 engines, the base engine in the Impala is a V-6, with a V-8 optional. The test car was the 2007 LTZ model with Chevrolet’s 233-horsepower, 3.9-liter V-6 engine. It delivers 20 city/29 highway miles per gallon on the government’s new city/highway cycle.

It’s linked to a four-speed automatic transmission, where competing vehicles offer five- and six-speed automatics. However, the four-speed shifts easily, and the difference likely will not be noticeable to many buyers unless they do side-by-side comparison drives with competitors.

Acceleration is strong, with zero to 60 miles an hour in less than eight seconds. The engine is a bit raucous under hard acceleration, and there’s some wind noise at freeway speeds, but otherwise the Impala is a quiet runner.

Handling, while not that of a sports sedan, is competent, with little body lean in curves, and the ride causes no distress. The 2008 LTZ comes with a stiffer, performance-oriented suspension system.

Inside, the eight-way power driver’s seat offered plenty of adjustments to suit most drivers, and the seat was cushy, though with little lateral support. The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope. Faux wood trim, mostly on the dash, was tastefully applied, and the instruments had daytime lighting.

Among minor shortcomings: The dual-zone climate control has no markings, so you have to use the by-guess-and-by-golly method of setting the temperature.

The 2008 Impala is essentially the same as the 2007 model, except that stability control now is part of the standard equipment, along with flex-fuel capability, meaning that the Impala can run on E85 ethanol fuel as well as gasoline.

In addition to the performance suspension system, the LTZ also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, traction control, tire-pressure monitoring, side-curtain air bags, heated outside mirrors, fog lights, remote starting, leather upholstery, XM satellite radio, audio system with CD player and MP3 capability, and the General Motors OnStar communications system.

The suggested base sticker price for the LTZ was $27,515, which is in same ballpark as most of the similarly equipped competition.

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