SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Traffic flows freely on East Shea Boulevard in the posh Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale as we head toward Arizona 88 the Beeline Highway driving the latest iteration of Impala, Chevrolet's iconic full-size sedan.
With the big-car cabin space and seats for all in the family, Impala ranks among the best-selling passenger cars in America and it's also the best-seller at Chevrolet in a nameplate tracing through six decades and accounting for 15 million units.
Impala scores a substantial make-over for 2014 models.
The changes include keen new body styling, a revamped passenger compartment with premium options and innovative electronic technologies, and new powertrain choices.
Chevrolet constructs the 2014 Impala in three trim grades encompassing three high-tech engines featuring dual overhead cams (DOHC), electronic throttle control (ETC), direct injection (DI) technology and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT). With direct injection, the fuel goes directly into the engine's combustion chamber and fosters a thorough burn of the mix of air and fuel.
Three trims -- the entry-issue Impala LS, upscale Impala LT and deluxe Impala LTZ -- tote a new Ecotec 2.5-liter cast aluminum 4-in-line engine which develops 196 hp at 6300 rpm and 186 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Two trims -- Impala LT and Impala LTZ -- offer the option of the highest horsepower output in segment from a naturally-aspirated V6: Impala's 3.6-liter 6-pack makes 305 hp at 6800 rpm, with torque to 264 lb-ft at 5300 rpm.
Another version -- Impala eAssist, which arrives at the end of 2013 -- uses a 2.4-liter Ecotec 4-cylinder engine linked to a battery booster. A lithium-ion battery system and electric motor-generator enable the engine to shut off when the vehicle stops but automatically restart when the driver releases the brake pedal.
Combined output for the 2.4-liter Ecotec engine with eAssist equipment amounts to 182 hp at 6200 rpm with torque of 172 lb-ft at 4900 rpm.
Transaxle for the two Ecotec 4-cylinder engines is an electronically controlled 6-speed automatic, the Hydra-Matic 6T40 by General Motors.
The 3.6-liter V6 links to a stronger 6-speed automatic, GM's Hydra-Matic 6T70.
The federal EPA sets out these fuel economy estimates for 2014 Impala powertrains:
* 2.5-liter: 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
* 3.6-liter: 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
* 2.4-liter: 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.
The Impala nameplate first appeared at the 1956 Motorama auto show on a dream-car sedan with fiberglass shell and a honker V8 stuffed below the extended hood. It became a production reality in 1958 as the top Chevrolet with cool coupe or convertible styling, yet other shapes followed with trendy fins and muscular shoulders, and by 1961 a special package forged the Impala Super Sport, first of the souped-up SS breed.
In the Sixties, Impala amounted to a full-size car with iron-block V8 engine exerting massive power on the rear wheels -- but it handled like a floaty barge.
By contrast, the 2014 Impala runs to 201 inches in length with front-wheel-drive orientation and independent suspension components to cultivate a lively personality.
Impala's unit-body structure is stronger and stiffer to control NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) and boost the steering and handling characteristics. And the suspension system -- with front struts and rear multi-link -- includes rebound springs to reduce body roll plus front strut towers to nix chassis flex.
The rack and pinion steering system gets electric power assistance, which contributes to powertrain fuel efficiency.
Brakes include a large disc at every wheel -- ventilated front, solid rear -- linked to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), plus a traction control system (TCS) and electronic skid controls (ESC).
Body styling for Impala 2014 looks slick and sophisticated with an edgy shell featuring Chevrolet's dual-port grille and round headlamp bezels up front, a high belt line on flanks and wedgy LED taillamps in back with the LTZ model adding big chrome exhaust tips.
Layout for the cabin sets a pair of bucket seats up front and a bench for three in back. Interior volume is vast -- 105 cubic feet -- with plenty of headroom and legroom. There are lots of stow spots around the cabin plus a massive trunk measuring to 18.8 cubic feet.
Base model Impala LS provides standard gear like 18-inch steel wheels with 235/50R18 tires, automatic headlamps, a keyless entry device, air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, 8-way power driver seat, tilting/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, OnStar emergency communications, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/USB plus a 4.2-inch color display.
Impala LT adds 18-inch alloy wheels, twin-zone automatic climate controls, leather wrapping the steering wheel and shifter knob, plus Chevy's new MyLink infotainment interface with a dashboard 8-inch touchscreen.
Chevrolet establishes MSRP tiers beginning at $27,535 for Impala LS and rising to $36,580 for the LTZ V6.