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First Look: 2013 Chevrolet Impala

Can it regain past glories?

by on Apr.04, 2012

Chevrolet's Impala goes through one of its most dramatic redesigns in decades.

It was once the best-selling car in America, in the ‘60s reaching a peak of a million sales a year.  But in more recent times, the Chevrolet Impala hasn’t fared nearly as well.  And of the big sedans Chevy does build each year, most of those wind up going into daily rental fleets.

But the General Motors division hopes to put Impala back in the game with a major remake for 2013 that adds significant gravitas to the design that could help it muscle up against its mainstream competitors – perhaps even draw over some up-market buyers, Chevrolet is hoping as it launches the new model at the 2012 NY Auto Show.

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Hide the bow tie badge, in fact, and one might initially mistake the new Impala for the similar coupe-like sedan design of the far more expensive Audi A7 — though at a fraction of the price tag.

“Our design team was challenged to create a new classic, but that didn’t mean relying on nostalgia,” says John Cafaro, who oversaw exterior design on the new model.

The new interior features such high-tech niceties as the new Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system.

The goal was to create a car – inside and out – that looked much more lavish and high-quality than the flabby rent-a-car Impala that buyers have come to know.  There are significant high-end cues, such as the coupe-like roofline, though unlike the A7 Impala doesn’t get a hatchback.  In part, that’s because 5-door models don’t sell well.  And they also have problems with interior noise.

Chevy – like sibling GM brand Buick – has recognized that while exterior design is one of the first things that, quite literally, catches the eye, perceived quality is something that wins buyers.  And things like a quiet drive keep them satisfied during the so-called ownership cycle.

Another big draw, these days is technology.  And the new Impala will be loaded with it, from safety features like lane departure warning and blind-spot detection to a new state-of-the-art infotainment system.

The Impala has been influenced by the recently redesigned Chevy Malibu, with similar exterior and interior design details – notably including the pop-up LCD screen at the top of the center console that conceals a hidden cubbyhole that can be used to store – and recharge – a cellphone or MP3 players.  Touch a button and it drops into place. It will also retract almost instantly if you shift into reverse, allowing the rearview camera to display.

No V-8, but the 2013 Chevrolet Impala will feature a V-6, a base I-4 and a new mild hybrid syste

The infotainment system includes the new MyLink system, which not only allows handsfree Bluetooth cellphoning but can be used to control smartphone apps, such as Pandora radio.  Chevrolet officials say they are working to integrate a wide range of additional apps over the next several years.

Beyond the high-tech gadgetry, the cabin was designed to be quiet and plush, with much more elegant use of materials, such as chrome and leather, than buyers might typically expect from a Chevy if they haven’t been in one for a while.  That’s a major shift for the maker, which previously put out a corner-cutting full-size sedan designed almost specifically for discounted fleet markets.

The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu – which will be built at both the GM plant in Detroit and another in Oshawa, Ontario – should be available by late summer and though not announced, pricing should not be much different from today’s model.  The new version will no longer have to square off with Ford’s classic Crown Victoria but it will face an assortment of other competitors, including Hyundai’s newly updated Azera and the all-new Toyota Avalon replacement also debuting at this year’s New York Auto Show.

Like Chevy, Toyota is putting a premium on style to help overcome its own reputation for plain-vanilla design.

In its heyday, Impala had plenty of things going for it, including some of the more powerful engines on the market.  But in a surprise move, the V-8 is no longer on the option list for the 2013 remake.  Instead, it will offer a 3.6-liter, 303-horsepower V-8 and two four-cylinder alternatives.  The base engine is a 2.5-liter I-4 making 197 horsepower.

But Impala also will get a 2.4-liter I-4 “mild” hybrid, the same eAssist system first introduced on the Buick LaCrosse and now being expanded into other models including the 2012 Chevy Malibu Eco.  With such fuel-efficient pluses as Stop/Start – which briefly shuts the engine down when it would normally idle, say, at a stoplight – it is expected to push highway mileage up into the 30 mpg range.

That’s the sort of number few traditional Impala owners likely could have ever imagined – and Chevy is hoping it will be one more reason why the 2013 Chevrolet Impala might again become a serious competitor in the American market.

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