Chevy Impala gets flagship makeover
Design is bolder, but hefty stickers will be a marketing challenge
SAN DIEGO -- General Motors has done an ambitious make-over of the Chevrolet Impala for its 10th generation, transforming the car from basic transportation for value-conscious buyers and rental companies to a stylish flagship. Now it needs an equally ambitious marketing effort to persuade retail buyers to spring for a considerably steeper price.
GM hopes to win the consideration of a new breed of Impala buyer with lots of technology and a bold design that turned many heads even here in import-heavy southern California, where Chevy held a media test drive event last week.
The basics: The 2014 Impala will begin arriving in showrooms in mid-April. For the first few months, GM will ship only models with the direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 that carries over from the outgoing Impala and also does service in a slew of other GM cars, including the car's platform siblings: the Cadillac XTS and Buick LaCrosse.
GM expects more than half of Impala volume to come from V-6 versions, which goes 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds while maintaining a surprisingly quiet cabin.
Two four-cylinder options will be added to the engine lineup: a 2.5-liter, which will be the base engine and arrive by early summer, and a 2.4-liter, which will be teamed with GM's eAssist mild hybrid system and arrive later in the year.
The base price rises $850 from the outgoing model, to $27,535, including shipping. But sticker prices on most trim levels jump considerably more. The LTZ stickers for $36,580 including shipping, or more than $5,000 above the same trim on the outgoing Impala.
Notable features: The sedan's fastback, sculpted styling and refined interior are the highlights.
The front end features a wider grille and swept-back headlamps, a move away from Chevy's signature twin-port grille in a bid to give the sedan "a premium, stand-alone face," lead designer John Cafaro said. LED daytime running lamps on the high-end LTZ model add to the upscale appearance.
A bold crease runs from the power dome hood along the side of the car to the rear door handle, where it gives way to a rear quarter panel crease that plunges forward into the rear door. Cafaro said the treatment is a nod to bygone Impalas such as the 1958 or 1965 models.
The interior deploys Chevy's dual-cockpit design and is much more refined than the current Impala, with light blue ambient lighting and plenty of stitching and soft-touch materials.
The center stack features an 8-inch touchscreen with the latest generation of Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, which debuts on the Impala and will be rolled out across other models. Compared to the current MyLink system, it has a cleaner layout, clearer graphics and a voice-recognition system that understands natural-language commands. The system comes standard on LT and LTZ models.
The screen lifts electronically at the push of a button to reveal a storage compartment that includes a USB port. The compartment can be locked with a four-digit code entered on the MyLink screen.
What Chevy says: "We think the new Impala will attract a lot of people who never would have thought about a large car before, because of its styling, technology and safety features," said Russ Clark, Chevy marketing director.
Compromises and shortcomings: Higher trim models are pricier than some rivals despite the perception problem that the Impala faces. A fully loaded LTZ model can top $40,000. The four-cylinder models, not yet introduced, could be hard-pressed to offer enough power for a big sedan.
The market: Competitors include the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera and Chrysler 300. The large sedan market has eroded over the last decade as buyers choose SUVs and crossovers. Segment sales last year edged up 1 percent to 560,611 units while the total market rose 13 percent, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
GM did not give a sales target but said it expects retail buyers to account for about 70 percent of 2014 Impala sales. In contrast, three out of every four of the 169,351 Impalas sold last year went to fleet buyers and rental agencies.
IHS Automotive forecasts both retail and fleet sales of 80,000 units next year, with sales of another 15,000 units for the current Impala, which GM will continue to sell as a fleet-only model.
The skinny: The redesigned Impala is a leap forward in interior refinement and ride and handling, with styling that gives it a road presence that could appeal to big sedan buyers. A solid marketing campaign should help re-establish the Impala as a worthy flagship for Chevy's car lineup.
You can reach Mike Colias at firstname.lastname@example.org.