Chevrolet has done a face-lift on the 2006 Impala, which offers a new family of engines, including a powerful V8. I tested the Impala LT, one of five trim levels available, with the base engine, an all-new 3.5 liter 211 horsepower V6. With an EPA-promised average of 26 miles per gallon and a price of $22,225 with almost every bell and whistle, the window sticker was as good-looking as the car. Starting at $20,830, Chevys 2006 Impala LT makes big promises, so I went looking for the facts.
First Glance: Chevrolet has done their homework
There is no more important nor meaningful name in the Chevrolet lexicon than Impala. In my father's generation, the Impala was the car of choice for millions of American families., Today it goes up against tough competition in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, even Fords all-new Fusion, gaining popularity in NASCAR. Will it be up the task? Id soon find out.
After reading the press material and doing a walk-around of the vehicle, its obvious that Chevy is taking all they know and finally making a car aimed right at the heart of the family sedan market, dominated for years by imports. The new 2006 Chevrolet Impala LT's sheet-metal gives it the look of a more expensive sedan, and it was hard to immediately pinpoint: Detroit, Tokyo or Stuttgart? Hip reflector headlamps in front give Impala a modern, hungry look. The high rear trunk deck implies muscle under all the bling. All four doors are wide enough to make entry and exit easy, and their stop points make sense. Impala LT utilizes pricey piston rods to hold open not only the engine hood, but also the trunk, deep-sixing cheap-looking, inconvenient and room-robbing hinges. That shows Chevy is listening to what buyers want, and checking the competition.
In the Driver's Seat: Traditional Americana done right
Column shifter (remember those?) gives Impala the ability to seat six in a pinch© Steve Parker
Inside, the all-new interior features power everything. Standard features include 8-way power drivers seat, power windows, door locks and trunk latch, even a remote starting system; a touch of the key fob from many feet away starts Impala LT and gets that heater or standard dual-zone A/C running.
Informative trip and condition read-outs are available from an easy-to-read screen; dash buttons allow the driver to program everything from the volume of warning chimes to the drivers language to how long interior lights stay on after you close the doors.
Not only is the drivers seat comfortable and supportive, but the passenger seat and two outboard rear seats are good for long drives as well. The front center storage console can be folded up to create a sort-of-comfortable bench seat for a third person in a pinch; the rear seat holds three easily and can be folded open in an 80/20 split to handle long trunk-based loads. All gauges are bright, large and familiar to anyone whos ever driven an American sedan.
The audio system was adequate, not special. Drivers over 40 will feel instantly right at home; the transmission shift lever is a stalk exiting the right side of the steering column, just like dads car. And grand dads, too.
On the Road: Racing at the traffic lights
Impala LT provided an immediate, pleasant surprise: The new standard-equipment 211 horsepower V6, mated with a four-speed automatic (the only transmission available in all 06 Impalas), makes the car a threat at the stop light Grand Prix. The 3.5's take-off spunk makes me think that the optional 3.9 liter 242 hp V6 and 303 hp 5.3 liter V8 would be even more useful and enjoyable, even confidence-inspiring, as when getting up to speed on the open highway from a slow on-ramp, or passing a big rig or any slower driver. There was virtually none of the dreaded torque steer
from the front driving/steering wheels; the larger engines might make that more noticeable. Steering felt well-connected to the road, response from input was crisp and predictable. Four-wheel disc brakes were powerful, but anti-lock brakes are not standard on the LT; they come bundled with traction control for $600. Side curtain airbags, however, are standard.
Impala LT showed off its four-wheel independent suspension (coil-over strut in front, coil springs out back) on bumpy highway on-ramps to an advantage by keeping the Impala LT on even keel. Impala LT was extremely quiet at triple-digit speeds, and runs through a car wash revealed no leaks. Its well built.
Journey's End: A serious challenge for Accord, Camry and Fusion
Will Impala bring the Chevy nameplate back to American driveways?© Steve Parker
I thoroughly test a minimum of 50 cars annually, but there's a very short list of cars I would actually buy. This Impala LT for 2006 earns a place on the list, even with its base engine and lower trim level. The new engine made the car go better (and more quietly) than I expected, the large four-wheel disc brakes made it stop like a champ, the new interior, including all gauges and controls, is as comfortable, useful and intuitive as any other on the market, even better than most. Impala LT is terrifically quiet for a vehicle in this price range at speeds above rational, able to seat up to 6 adults when necessary and, at around 3,400 pounds, delivered a real-world city/highway combo 24 miles per gallon, driven hard and pushed at times to the max. Words of high praise. But you might want an aftermarket audio system. Chevy still has some things to learn in that department.
Impala, for the first time in too long a time, seriously challenges Accord, Camry and the new Fusion. Wed say Dodge Charger, but thats a rear-driver, and another ball of twine altogether. Family-size sedan shoppers now have a great reason to visit their local Chevrolet dealer, just like their dad, and their grand dad, too.