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

goals.



   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.



   Consumer information



   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



   Freight: $575



   Total: $23,611



   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

engine

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.