Impala SS is Chevy Caprice with sparkle by Pete
Szilagyi (Austin American-Statesman 5/28/94)
With its Humpty Dumpty styling and bland personality, the
Caprice has never caught on with the public as Chevrolet hoped.
But you still see them by the thousands as fleet cars and
taxicabs, and many cities in Texas use Caprice police cruisers.
Chevy has been looking for a way to infuse the Caprice and the
rest of its model line with some sparkle, and, like a call to
911, the Caprice police car rode to the rescue. Someone at Chevy
had a brilliant idea - to pull a few thousand of the heavy duty,
police-spec Caprices off the assembly line and convert them into
mean-looking hot rods.
Designers cleaned up the styling of the police Caprice, added
a couple of performance enhancements, laid a black-on-black paint
job on it and handed it to the marketers to sell as an Impala SS.
At first cynical glance the Impala's creation seems a reiteration
of a tired automobile marketing strategy - slapping a new name
and ad campaign on an existing model that's not meeting sales
Regardless, developing the Impala SS will probably turn out to
be a wise move for GM, and it's Page One news to the guys who
love big, fast, V-8, rear-drive sedans from Detroit.
The Impala SS, which hasn't been sold since 1969, was one of
the hottest muscle cars of the Sixties with Chevy 409 and 427
V-8s that produced as much as 425 horsepower off the showroom
floor. That kind of power in a street car is unachievable with
today's fuel economy and emissions restrictions. But the '94
Impala SS is lively enough for the times.
A detuned, 260-horsepower version of the Corvette's 300-horse,
350 cubic-inch V-8 moves this two-ton, 18-foot sedan from a stop
to 60 mph in about seven seconds. And it is thriftier with fuel
than a vintage Impala SS, although not as thrifty as the 17 city,
25 highway EPA estimates suggest. Moreover, the Impala for the
'90s has modern safety features and amenities like dual airbags,
anti-lock brakes and, if you want, a CD player.
The new Impala SS, made at the General Motors plant in
Arlington, is remarkably sleek and youthful-looking considering
its Caprice parentage. Stylists lowered the Caprice body, added a
modest trunk spoiler, revamped the bumpers and grille, added
black emblems and moldings, subtly reshaped the rear quarter
window, and shod it with 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels and
low-profile tires. The new Impala SS even rated a thumbs-up from
a couple of local police officers while I was driving it.
Unfortunately, the new Impala SS's sporting persona disappears
inside. If it wasn't for the leather-wrapped steering wheel and
Impala SS emblems on the leather bucket seats, this could be your
grandfather's (or police chief's) Caprice. All Impala SSs have
digital speedometers and tachometers aren't available, and all
are fitted with four-speed automatic transmissions with column
shifters. The interior is comfortable but not sumptuous, with
more than enough room for five large adults. Cupholders, plenty
of inside stowage, and a commodious trunk are provided, so this
can be a family hot rod.
All that bulk represents the Impala's major failing as a
sports sedan. The Impala is a jet, but like a football defensive
lineman it's quick off the line and impressive in a
straight-ahead sprint but not light on its feet for those quick
cuts. The Impala SS shock absorber modifications and tires
eliminate most of the standard Caprice's wallow in corners, but
the Impala ride is stiffer than the Caprice's and those huge
tires (replacement cost: $173 each) don't miss many bumps.
The real downside is apparent in narrow city alleys and
Austin's miniature parking lots, where such a large vehicle can
be ponderous to maneuver. The Impala SS is a West Texas highway
kind of car.
Still, the new Impala SS has sound dynamics and it moves
smartly and authoritatively for its weight. And it can lay some
rubber - dark, smoking, stinking patches of it. Bigger disc
brakes than even the police Caprice give the Impala SS impressive
stopping ability, too, but the power steering felt disconnected
from the road and anesthetized.
Waiting for the price? That's the pleasant part, about $23,000
for the base Impala SS and a heavy load of options. The price is
roughly the same as a standard Caprice with leather seats, a
decent sound system and power accessories, and the Impala SS will
probably depreciate slower.
The Chevy plant in Arlington can't get enough of the Impala
SS's alloy wheels delivered, so production will be limited to
about 6,000 units this year, with a goal of 15,000 in 1995. Fact
is, Chevy will be able to sell twice that many.
Base price: $21,290
Options on test car (including power seats, remote entry, rear
defroster, power antenna, automatic headlights, heated mirrors,
stereo with single disc CD player): $1,116
Tax, title, license: $1,600
Sample financing: Down payment $5,042 (20 percent), interest
rate 6.5 percent. Term 48 months. Payments $478 monthly.
Assembly point: Arlington, Texas
EPA mileage: 17 city, 25 highway
Consumer information on the 1994 Chevrolet Impala SS was provided
by Chevrolet Motor Division and Austin Municipal Federal Credit
Union. Payments are based on prevailing interest rates for a
four-year new car loan. Highs: Aggressive appearance, potent
Lows: Frumpy interior, too big to be truly sporty
Bottom line: A real buy if the power, personality suits you
GRAPHIC: Unfortunately, the new Impala SS's sporting persona
disappears inside. If it wasn't for the leather-wrapped steering
wheel and Impala SS emblems on the leather bucket seats, this
could be your grandfather's Caprice.