We had dinner with the Impala marketing crew, rapt as Cub Scouts as they raved about their tuxedo-black, $27,000 no-option baby. At first, we're thinking sheesh! We'd rather eat a bag of cat crap than cotton to this family barge, mutant offspring from out there on the front-wheel-drive frontier. Then the words begin to make sense.
"We'd love to see you guys put an aftermarket exhaust system and a smaller blower pulley on it, and feed it some cold air." Somewhere between the beer and main course, we'd poured the mold. Raise the boost threshold and free up its breathing some, then find a stock late-model SS Impala and run it dead-nuts against the nouveau SS. Would the pretender live up to its namesake? We never found out. Like a lot of CHP plots, this one fell right through the floor.
There's an all-iron 3.8L engine...
There's an all-iron 3.8L engine under a stylish cover...
Our test SS was a pilot car, and like all such charmers, destined for a short, tumultuous life. Indeed, we wound up being the last magazine hacks to wreak vengeance with the Impala before it disappeared forever. This time, the squelchers were three days of dealership jail combined with an accelerated editorial schedule that messed us up. To make up for it, when the real Impalas arrive in the local press fleet, we'll hang the stuff on one and go prove it at the track.
This driving impression is based on freeway and surface-street real life (often very hairy) making the commute to work, just as you might. All Impalas in SS trim will be black and offset by biscuit-colored leather-covered seats, calm and easy on the eyes--especially when you first get in. Instruments are signature GM, familiar, easy to read, and well placed in the instrument panel.
...that also hides the Eaton...
...that also hides the Eaton supercharger, one of the coolest pieces of factory equipment ever! If it were ours, we'd trash the plastic and run it au natural.
The controls are within easy reach, the seats will do for a few hours at a stretch, you can see rearward fairly well, and when you kick the SS-specific 4T65-E automatic down, for a few seconds the 3,600-pound Impala turns into a vampire rhino. It gets about 25 mpg on average (good thing, it sucks 91 or better). It rates NHTSA's five-star crash rating for both front occupants. So far, it's our best freeway-flyer loaner yet. No problem. We could live with it.
Although the stealthy SS doubles nicely as a family mover, it represents the top-rung of Chevy's performance-sedan ladder. And for Chevrolet, at least, this is the way things will be for a good while longer. The Impala is a good example. It should have had the Pontiac-inspired blower 3800 V-6 (240 hp at 5,200 rpm; 280-lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm) years ago. For its mission in the SS, powdered-metal connecting rods replace the previous cast-steel bones. At full-tilt, the Eaton blower crams about 7.5 psi into the cylinders, so a great passing experience is guaranteed. You can walk it out a dozen feet, but when you nail it, the tires spin 10 feet of rubber when the boost comes in like a lightning bolt. Man, it does and never failed to stroke our reptilian tendencies. At 60 or so, the computer pulls some timing out and the power flattens a little before picking up again with a vengeance. Talk to that computer nice, and you're looking at a high 5-second jolt.
A stiff, twist-resistant body shell provides the foundation for a decent handler. The Impala posts McPherson struts at all corners, coil springs (variable-rate front, and dual-rate rear), and a hollow 34mm front stabilizer bar and 19.5 bar in the rear. The rear trailing link and strut mounts have been tweaked for this mission. This car was equipped with Goodyear RS-A P235/55R17 all-weather skins on cast 7.5-inch-wide wheels. The quick-ratio 13.2:1 rack moves the steering precisely but without much feedback or feel, a trait in most cars that provides both steering and traction (often simultaneously) from the same pair of wheels.
Tasteful 17-inch wheels offset...
Tasteful 17-inch wheels offset the monochrome black and add drama to the overall package.
The suspension is firm and handling (the off-ramp type) is relatively flat. The Goodyears cling like death and do it without making a sound. Reacting to the antics of the freeway population actually gave more of an opportunity to test the brakes than they did the engine. Like all Impalas, the SS poses 12-inch rotors in front and 11-inch ones in back. They could be an inch bigger, but then the tool glued to your back bumper would have a very good chance of leaping through the backlight. Though its 60-0 braking numbers aren't world-class, the system feels better than the stopping distance suggests.
This is a high-performance...
This is a high-performance deal, right? To that end, we have a cluster of meaningful instruments and a real boost gauge.
We know that most of you aren't interested in anything that isn't more than 30 years old, but you don't drive cars like that every day. You need something like the SS for that. And you can always customize the power curve with bolt-ons. But you know what? You probably dig rear-wheel drive too much and you'd buy a truck instead.
0-60: 6.48 sec.
60-0: 126 feet 100-0: 368 feet
300-foot slalom: 62.20 mph
Skidpad: 0.78 g Courtesy Motor Trend