1994 Chevrolet Impala SS; includes a related article with a countervailing view; Evaluation by Daniel Charles Ross (Motor Trend 6/94)

    The first problem is that a Caprice Classic looks like your

dad's car. The second problem, Caprice power, is related to the

first. Even if you bought a 5.7-liter-equipped LTZ model last

year, with its top-line 180 horse-power, you still don't look

bad. You aren't going to pick up any cheerleaders in this car.

Fortunately, the loan arranger is here to help you. This isn't a

famous masked man, but the finance wizard down at the Chevy store

where you sign the note on the back-in-black '94 Impala SS. The

car is back to save the town after a 25-year hiatus, and this

time, the good guys are wearing black.

    The first Impala SS (for Super Sport, Simply Stupendous, or

Sorry, Speeding)since 1969 rolled off the assembly line in

Arlington, Texas, February 14. It's been a long, dry season for

such hot full-size, rear-drive sedans. Chevy badly needed the SS

model to shore up a flagging performance image.  

    Some of you, however, will have to wait until next year to

get one. Only about 6000 copies will be made in the '94 model run

due to an assembly choke-point attributed to the wheel supplier,

but next year, more than 12,000 units can be planned if demand

warrants. Consequently, this car is a rare and elemental thing,

like plutonium, with enough street performance to be proud of.

    The Impala badge fails to disguise the Capriciousness of the

underlying car.Yeah, it's built from Caprice Classic bits, but

the good ones used (up until now) only on police packages.

Historically, going back to the first appearance of the nameplate

in '58 as a trim option on the Chevy Bel Air, the Impala began as

a clone. In '59, the success of the package inspired it to become

a stand-alone variation, and in '61, the Super Sport hit the

streets as a performance model of Impala coupes, sedans, and

convertibles. The badge was retired in '69. Now it's back as a

new bad boy born of the Caprice line, but in sedan form only.

    The wait was worth it. An impressive 260 horsepower is

supplied by Chevy's LT1 5.7-liter V-8, the same power pump

provided for the police car and a direct and close descendent of

that used in the Corvette. The neo-classic small-block eight

gives the Impala SS impressive low-end punch and a charge to

redline. New for the V-8 in '94 is sequential fuel injection for

more precise fuel metering and a powerful new powertrain control

module that can oversee the fuel injection, the "Opti-Spark"

ignition system, and the shift points of the 4L60-E

electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.

    Compared to the output of last year's LO5 engine, the SS LT1

makes 80 horsepower more and an additional 30 pound-feet of

torque. Impala avoirdupois tips the scales at slightly over 4200

pounds, but plenty of it is ready to be spurred into action by

your right foot. Careful modulation of the throttle is necessary

to keep rear-wheel contribution to global warming down to the

indispensable minimum, but the car flat goes, bud, no kidding. It

clocked an impressive 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds, compared to 8.5

seconds in our last Caprice test (April '93). Yet despite the

improvements, this engine also starts to run out of breath in

higher rpm registers like the V-8 it replaced. The quarter-mile

dial of 15.4 seconds at 91.1 mph is 1.2 seconds and 7.7 mph

faster than the last 5.7-liter Caprice we tested, making this

significantly quicker than the legendary SS396 Impalas of yore.

    In instrumented testing, the SS shined most brightly in

braking from 60 mph.At a staggering 120 feet, it's about a boat

and trailer shorter (13 feet) than in our last Caprice test.

Though the car comes equipped with GM's first-class Delco ABS VI

as standard equipment--same as the Caprice--the brakes are

radically upgraded for the SS. The four-wheel ventilated power

disc system includes huge 12.1-inch rotors (gratifyingly visible

behind the classy five-spoke mags), modernized from the Caprice's

standard 9.5-inch rear drums.

    Its home-sweet-home is the street, and here, chassis

improvements made over the last 25 years stand out. The Impala's

front suspension features the same independent short and long

arms, steel alloy coil springs, and stabilizer bar as the current

Caprice, though the settings are firmed up to heavy-duty

standards. In the rear, all cars on the platform have a four-link

live axle with coils, stabilizer, and shock absorbers 10

millimeters larger; the Impala is tuned stiffer. Handling, with

quick firm-feel power steering, is so good this setup ought to be

expanded to the entire Caprice brotherhood. The SS has a natural

tendency toward tail-happiness, we found, but clocked 62.9 mph

(versus the Caprice's 61.7) in our 600-foot slalom. An 0.83g

figure was scrubbed off the skidpad, a negligible difference from

the Caprice's 0.82.

    The Impala SS is as great a value as it is a performance

statement. Your $23,355 buys the right engine, ride, and

performance. And best of all, it ain't Your Dad's Car--unless

you're Luke Skywalker.