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Chevrolet's Impala SS Adds Some Pizzazz to the Generic

February 13, 2004

With little notice amid a flood of new models last year, Chevrolet began offering a version of the Impala that goes a long way toward spicing up the generic rental car look and feel of the big sedan.

It's called the SS, it's a 2004 model and it'll cost you perhaps more than you'd want to pay for a Chevrolet. It also rides rough.

But if a desire for a little more pizzazz is all that's keeping you from buying the otherwise pleasant and practical Impala, the SS might be worth a look.

It's a pretty good substitute for the last Impala SS sedan - the rear-drive, V-8 models from 1994 through 1996. And the Impala is highly ranked for quality by market researchers J.D. Power and Associates and highly rated for overall appeal by Consumer Reports.

The SS package begins with a supercharged engine, a 3.8-liter V-6 that delivers 240 hp. and 280 pounds feet of torque. This is a quick car, though I couldn't find a zero to 60 mph time I'd trust. The chassis handles the torque quite well, unless the driver gets crazy and floors the gas pedal when the light turns green. In that case, the traction control will jump in or, if the system's been switched off, a tire will spin.

The engine needs premium gas.

The Impala's four-wheel independent suspension gets stiffer springs and thicker stabilizer bars in the SS version, which helps keep things on an even keel but also produces a ride that some might find objectionably stiff. The SS's extra wide, lower profile W-rated (168 mph) performance tires add to that. They're P235/55R17 and they perform well on dry pavement and in the snow and ice that predominated during my week with the tester.

No stick shift is available in this model and the heavy-duty automatic is only a four-speed, not the five or six found in a growing number of performance cars. The Chevy's unit can be shifted manually but it's really not designed for it, as are many modern automatic shifters. The SS has a floor-mounted shift lever; some Impalas have them on the column.

The SS also has a black-on-black exterior - the only color available this year - with a lowered front air dam and rear deck spoiler.

Steering, unfortunately, is leaden, offering less assist than systems found in most family sedans but not much road feel in return for the extra effort required.

Front seats with more side bolstering would be welcome also, as would fully powered seats that don't require an awkward manual adjustment for the lumbar support or backrest angle. The rear seatback folds forward in two sections to increase cargo room, always a welcome feature.

A large and nicely readable gauge cluster in the SS version includes oil pressure and turbo boost readouts in addition to the speedo, tach, fuel and coolant temperature indicators.

The Impala's interior is a spacious, quiet and friendly place, although very plastic in its aesthetics. Controls for stereo, lights and heater/AC are large, well marked and self-explanatory. A separate windshield wiper/washer control stalk probably would be an ergonomic improvement over the twist knob and lever on the turn signal stalk, but that's nitpicking. A center console has deep covered and open storage space and two large cup holders. Rear seats have generous legroom.

Impalas are available with General Motors' OnStar roadside help and travel concierge system. The tester also had satellite radio, which features more than 100 channels of programming for seemingly any listener's tastes.

Impalas come in three progressively more expensive versions: base, LS and SS. The base model starts at $22,060 with freight and has a 180-hp., 3.4-liter V-6 and air conditioning, power mirrors, windows and locks and a front bench seat rather than buckets.

For $25,165 to start, the LS substitutes a nonsupercharged version of the 3.8-liter engine, rated at 200 hp. and substitutes a "sport touring" suspension for the base model's "touring" setup. It also adds traction control, antilock brakes, cruise control, dual zone heater/AC, a power driver's seat, and a few other conveniences.

The SS begins at $27,995 with freight and, in addition to performance items described above, dual exhaust tips, leather seats and body side and rocker panel moldings.

A thorax protection side-impact air bag is available for the driver's side only ($350), and no curtain bags are offered - both signs of this model's advancing age. The Impala did very well in the federal government's frontal crash test, however, earning the highest rating of five stars. It earned four of five stars in the side- impact test, with and without side air bags.

Considering that, the SS price seems on the high side, but there is a $3,000 rebate available on Impalas, at least through the end of this month

Against the competition in this price, the SS has the advantage of roominess and sporty handling. The Nissan Maxima, for example, starts in this range and offers even more horsepower - 265. But its trunk is smaller than the Impala's and its rear seat offers about 2 inches less legroom. The Impala's exterior width translates into more hip and shoulder room as well.

Another sedan contender in this price range, the Toyota Avalon, offers even more rear seat legroom, but it, too, is narrower than the Impala and has a smaller trunk - and a personality that would bore your grandmother.

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For the record: I think that "leaden" steering feels great, though I definitely prefer higher steering effort.

AND, the Gen II 3.8 SC in the Impala SS -can- run on lower-octane gas, at a sacrifice in performance.

Overall, as I posted in my review, I think the Impala SS is a great driving, great handling, and exceedingly comfortable car. As I've also posted before, I -do- prefer the tactile language of FWD over RWD, though I currently drive a RWD, and on this forum I'm in the minority. The current interior doesn't bother me (again, I drive an F-body), though the pending refresh intrigues me. The rear seating, especially the headroom, is its advantage over other sedans.

We've done well with the Impala SS. It looks good, if a bit dated. The Regal GS is nicer inside, and the GP-GTP is nicer outside, but this W-body doesn't dissatisfy.

Ghrankenstein
 

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I sat in an Impala SS when I went to play the GM Hot Button game. My impressions? Not good. It was only OK inside. Uninspiring and a lot of hard, cheap interior pieces. For the money, I'd rather take a Malibu with that nicer interior. Heck, the G6 seems like an even better deal!
 

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Originally posted by RCtennis3811@Feb 13 2004, 11:48 PM
I sat in an Impala SS when I went to play the GM Hot Button game. My impressions? Not good. It was only OK inside. Uninspiring and a lot of hard, cheap interior pieces. For the money, I'd rather take a Malibu with that nicer interior. Heck, the G6 seems like an even better deal!
Two words: Drive one. You'll regret saying you'd rather have a Malibu the moment you punch the gas.
 

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Well then I'll wait for the G6. Impala ain't that great, especially since their basically airport rental cars.
 

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Originally posted by chev454ls+Feb 14 2004, 12:10 AM--></div><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (chev454ls @ Feb 14 2004, 12:10 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> <!--QuoteBegin-RCtennis3811@Feb 13 2004, 11:48 PM
I sat in an Impala SS when I went to play the GM Hot Button game.  My impressions?  Not good.  It was only OK inside.  Uninspiring and a lot of hard, cheap interior pieces.  For the money, I'd rather take a Malibu with that nicer interior.  Heck, the G6 seems like an even better deal!
Two words: Drive one. You'll regret saying you'd rather have a Malibu the moment you punch the gas. [/b][/quote]
Amen! I drove both and bought the Impala SS in a second.
 

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I'd much rather wait for the G6 GTP with the 240hp V6 and DoD. Seems like a much better executed car overall...and from the pictures, the interior looks great!!

The Impala is much bigger in overall interior volume, but with the exposed screw heads everywhere, cheaper looking hard plastic and other inferior touches still leaves me feeling I'm in the "cheapest" GM version of the W body. But for someone who needs the room, especially large rear doors to access the back and a large trunk, for the price an Impala is hard to beat.....and the 3.8 is ancient but bullet-proof!
 

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Originally posted by killerrd2@Feb 14 2004, 10:42 PM
I'd much rather wait for the G6 GTP with the 240hp V6 and DoD. Seems like a much better executed car overall...and from the pictures, the interior looks great!!

The Impala is much bigger in overall interior volume, but with the exposed screw heads everywhere, cheaper looking hard plastic and other inferior touches still leaves me feeling I'm in the "cheapest" GM version of the W body. But for someone who needs the room, especially large rear doors to access the back and a large trunk, for the price an Impala is hard to beat.....and the 3.8 is ancient but bullet-proof!
Very, very true! :lol:
 

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Originally posted by eshealy@Feb 14 2004, 12:09 AM
Um, basicaly it is the Grand Prix GTP only 7 years late.
I agree... Pontiac just likes to poop on Chevrolet. :flush:
 
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I'm wiating for the Impala to deserve the chrome emblem that goes on it. Sure, when the Malibu first came out in the early 60's it was just a basic commuter car. But when we see one of those 'bad boys' at a car show, boy, don't our hearts go pitter-patter?

I would like to see a Malibu 'California Special' in the future, but only if it perfoms better, and really has 'kick-a$$' styling. Hopefully, this version of the Malibu which was designed via 'focus groups' will quickly disappear, to be replaced by a 'kick a$$' version. Give us something that can sit next to a Maxima and blow it away, from styling to performance.

One of my managers here at work keeps asking me if I'm going to buy an SSR. I think he just wants to make conversation. But after a recent hallway conversation, he said the only way he would buy a Chevrolet was if the 'style' come back.

Get that managers within GM?!! Design 'from the gut'.

<_< <_< <_< <_< <_< <_< <_<
 

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First of all I love Chevy. Well at least I used to love Chevy some time ago. I went to the local Auto show last NOVEMBER and examined the Impala SS/Monte SS head to toe. They are nice cars if you are someone who did not grow up in the era when SS on a Chevy meant something. Putting the SS emblem on these bleepmobiles is a mortal sin. No wonder the **** have kicked GM/Chevy's *** for a quater century. Please, if this is the best Chevy has at least wait until those of us who remember what SS really meant are dead. Then you can sell this shi* to the ignorant.
 

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Originally posted by yoblues@Feb 15 2004, 03:48 PM
First of all I love Chevy. Well at least I used to love Chevy some time ago. I went to the local Auto show last NOVEMBER and examined the Impala SS/Monte SS head to toe. They are nice cars if you are someone who did not grow up in the era when SS on a Chevy meant something. Putting the SS emblem on these bleepmobiles is a mortal sin. No wonder the **** have kicked GM/Chevy's *** for a quater century. Please, if this is the best Chevy has at least wait until those of us who remember what SS really meant are dead. Then you can sell this shi* to the ignorant.
YoBlues, when we're you born? I'd really like to know.
 

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Lets put it this way I am old enough to have once owned an Impala SS 409. When I bought that Impala nobody I knew drove a foreign car. I sold it in the late seventies and have never forgiven myself because it was at about that time that GM started to go in the toilet with thier cars. I replaced the Impala with a Pontiac Catalina Coupe that looked spectacular but was an absolute piece of crap. My wife bought a Buick Skylark two years later that was an absolute piece of crap. We unloaded both of them and have not owned a GM product since. GM once lead the world in performence, design and quality. In other words GM was once Toyota/Honda. For twenty five years their management has been a bunch of risk adverse cowards that ended up losing half their auto market share. They had to recruit a guy that is in his 70's (Lutz) to infuse youthfull ideas into the company. That itself says something. I rant and rave because I hate what happened to that company and the incredible cars it used to make. As for the future, as long as Lutz keeps breathing things look promising, BUT, the jury is still out and the compitition is getting stiffer.
 

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my parents own a 2003 Impala LS. I used it all summer last summer. I really enjoyed the car. The steering felt great. I dont like the heavy weight steering wheels that are found in alot of german cars. Like my grandfathers 1996 Jetta, i get a work out everytime i drive that car. I like everything about the Impala, its really simple, straight foward, great brakes. The least torque steer of all the fwd cars i have driven. But i do get a feel of understeer on high speed turns. Its got plenty of power and lots of torque. Enough torque to get the tires spinning pretty good. My dad still is confused why the tires are so worn out at 7000miles. hehe

Alan
 

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Originally posted by Ming@Feb 14 2004, 03:34 AM
good lord! no car that large deserves to look that good! i LOVE the above picture. what a powerful stance. great wheels... nice exhaust... overall the car is perfectly understated. i'd drive that in a second. aveo / optra / epica might help make a few bucks, but the impala SS is REAL chevrolet!
 

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Originally posted by paul8488+Feb 16 2004, 08:29 PM--></div><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (paul8488 @ Feb 16 2004, 08:29 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> <!--QuoteBegin-Ming@Feb 14 2004, 03:34 AM
good lord! no car that large deserves to look that good! i LOVE the above picture. what a powerful stance. great wheels... nice exhaust... overall the car is perfectly understated. i'd drive that in a second. aveo / optra / epica might help make a few bucks, but the impala SS is REAL chevrolet! [/b][/quote]
So when you say "real Chevrolet", do you mean cheap interiors too?? :lol:
 

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sadly, yes, sub-par interiors are what chev has been dealing for years. but i could handle a dated dash and big, flat seats in the case of the SS... i actually feel excited when i look at that impala pic. few cars do that to me... so chev deserves applause!
 

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This picture highlights what I've always thought was a weakness of the Impala's styling - the "speed" lines trailing back from the wheels. I know they are supposed to reference the '69 Camaro, but on that car they were the main side body highlights and worked well with the overall design. On the Impala, they add a second set of body lines (below the main defining line that runs from nose to tail) that, IMHO, makes the car look far too cluttered.

In photos like the black one posted, these lines disappear, leaving the nice overall shape of the car. Too bad GM doesn't redo the interior and clean up those line - the result would be an affordable, very nice looking car. Add a small V8 to the SS, and you'd have a uniquely American alternative to an Altima or Accord.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Originally posted by Tone@Feb 17 2004, 01:20 PM
Add a small V8 to the SS, and you'd have a uniquely American alternative to an Altima or Accord.
Or a 3.9L V6

I just think it is sad that GM would need a V8 just to compete with V6-mobiles.
 
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