May 30 (Bloomberg) -- You’ve hit that point when you deserve a little leather in your life. You’ve logged countless hours during the daily commute, staring at a hard plastic dashboard, and it’s time to move onward and upward.
You’re not a person of pretensions though. No sports car for you, middle-age crisis or not, and perhaps you’d like to buy American. I have a proposition: A Chevy.
The Impala, specifically: a full-size sedan with a long and storied history, some of it stylish and grand, some not. The new incarnation, the 2014-model year, falls on the good side, mostly. While the base price is $27,500, the 2LTZ is the package you’ll want, with leather and great safety features and a V-6 engine that’ll get you places, starting at $36,500.
The Impala has been totally redesigned, and along the way it filched technology and features from upscale General Motors brethren Cadillac and Buick. While a luxurious Chevy may sound like an oxymoron, the Impala certainly tilts in that direction.
With front-wheel-drive and no option for all-wheel-drive, it’s no sports car. Yet the 3.6-liter V-6, married to a six-speed automatic transmission, has plenty of pull at 305 horsepower, and the overall drive is pleasant.
The sedan is roomy, seating five comfortably. The trunk is huge. And it has a real sense of road presence with masculine lines, a tall hood and authoritative grill.
The fully equipped Impala even has LED running lights at the corners of the fascia, proving that automobile fads are a lot like fashion fads. They begin at the top (in this case, Audi was the first major carmaker to use them as a design element) and eventually trickle downward.
The Impala got its start in the late 1950s, and it was a stylish machine indeed. Various model years had long, extended trunks, with expressive design cues like wild rear fins sometimes described as “bat wings.” By the late 1970s the Impala was downgraded to an entry-level car, its stylish days at an end. (The 2013 model-year Impala? Not a pretty thing.)
Today, the all-new interior is perhaps the best return to form. My test model, pushing $40,000 with options (a ticket of $39,510) had a black and tan color scheme and even at first glance was a surprise. A swathe of tan-stitched leather sat atop the dashboard, spread over soft-touch plastic as if it were a bear-skin rug thrown over flooring. The leather panels were thick, begging to be squeezed.
There was laminated wood on the doors, hide-bound seats and a steering wheel of wood and leather. Chevy craftsman had to work around a number of complicated interior angles, and while the fit and finish wasn’t perfect -- I’m not sure it would pass an Audi inspector -- it was still pretty darn good.
The array of convenience features on the 2LTZ also struck me. It has one-touch power windows throughout, a rear-vision camera, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert (which proved quite helpful when backing out of a tricky parking spot). A power sunroof and second-row skylight are standard on the upmarket model, as are the heated seats. You get 10 airbags, too.
The GPS and infotainment system, called MyLink, is similar to Cadillac’s CUE, with an eight-inch touchscreen.
Unlike the Cadillac, though, it still has buttons and knobs, making the controls far easier to access. You want to turn up the air? There’s a knob with a digital readout inside. Simple and genius.
Still, many buyers might balk at a Chevy sedan at this price. (The Spark, Sonic and Cruze all start at well less than $20,000.) I couldn’t help but compare it to another flagship sedan I recently tested, the Acura RLX. That all-new model starts at just under $50,000 and is about $55,000 with a technology package.
The Acura’s 3.5-liter V-6 has 310 hp, only five more horses than the Impala’s. The RLX, wider and shorter than the Impala, has a more athletic stance. And it gets better gas mileage (20 city, 31 highway, versus 18 and 28).
In terms of overall comfort, luxury and drivability, in many ways I preferred the Impala. Both are front-wheel-drive. The steering and feel of the pedals were firm on the Impala and far too slack on the RLX. The Impala’s exterior was more interesting than the RLX’s generic lines.
And ultimately the Chevrolet is less expensive. There’s value at that $36,500 price, making it a pretty good way to introduce some leather to your daily commute.
The 2014 Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ at a Glance
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6 with 305 horsepower rand 264 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 18 city, 28 highway.
Price as tested: $39,510.
Best feature: Array of convenience items.
Worst feature: Less-than-smooth six-speed automatic transmission.
Target buyer: Driver who wants a little leather in his life.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on European art and Rich Jaroslovsky on technology.
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
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