CHEVROLET IMPALA SS CALL OF THE WILD by Matt DeLorenzo (Autoweek 6/13/94)




   If ever there was a car that screamed ROAD TRIP the way the

Phi Delts did in Animal House, it's the Impala SS.



   It's big, it's black and, with 260 hp and 330 lb ft of torque,

it's baaad.



   Dressed in black-on-black-on-black (You look at it and say,

''How much more black could this be?'' And the answer is none.

None more black.), the Impala SS looks as every bit as menacing

as Flounder's brother's Lincoln, after it was transformed into

the Deathmobile. 



   Actually, we were a little worried how well the SS package

would translate from the Chevy Raceshop version prepared by Jon

Moss into the production units. At Chevy's long lead last summer,

an early prototype appeared to have a higher ride height and the

wheels didn't quite fill up the wells. But our fears were allayed

when we took delivery of our test car. The smartly styled

five-spoke 17-inch wheels wear BFGoodrich Comp T/As that are

proportional to the bulk of the car and its wheel openings. The

monochrome treatment works extremely well, as does the embossed

Impala SS badging on the flanks and the subtle rear spoiler. This

car comes across as more of a SHO Taurus hunter/killer than a

plainclothes policeman.



   There is more to the Impala SS than just a retro name. Like

power. Gobs of it. The 260 hp, which peaks at 5000 rpm, is only

half the story-the real hero here is the 330 lb ft of torque

delivered at 3200 rpm. That stump-pulling grunt makes the car act

as much as it looks like those brawny cars from the golden age of

muscle.



   Old-timers who remember how engine torque on big-block sedans

used to lift the left-front slightly higher than the right will

be washed with feelings of deja vu when giving the Impala SS the

boot.



   Those feelings will definitely fade with the lack of fade in

the brakes.  The good ol' days weren't really that great when all

you had between you and the end of the road were drum brakes

spewing asbestos dust whenever you jumped on the binders. The

four-wheel vented discs equipped with ABS are state-of-the-art

and help haul down the car's hefty 3418-pound curb weight in

short order. Other new-age goodies that make this car eminently

more livable than its ancestors include variable-rate power

steering, the relatively large footprint of the tires (which

makes going around corners actually fun) and safety features such

as dual airbags. And there's also a thick, grippy steering wheel

covered in leather-much nicer to hold than those thin-rimmed

plastic jobs of yore.



   Still, the size of the Impala SS remains true to the species.

There's plenty of spread-out room both in the passenger cabin,

trunk and even beneath the hood (quick-when was the last time you

could see the ground when looking down into an engine

compartment?).



   This here's a Blues Brothers, jazz musician, poetry-slam ride

of the first order. Just make sure you wear dark glasses inside

the car, too, and don't invite any guests from the blues clubs

unless his name is something like Blind McGee, Blind Bob or Blind

Melon. For all the enjoyment packed beneath the hood and in the

suspension, the interior on the Impala SS is its Achilles' heel.

The buckets are comfortable enough, but they're offset from the

pedals (obviously Chevy merely stuffed the buckets on either side

of the trans tunnel, resulting in the awkward seating position).

Instead of a nice console shift, the lever remains

column-mounted.



   The biggest disappointments are the digital speedometer and

lack of a tach. After all, it's the '90s and we should be well

through this digital thing now. And for all its sporting

pretensions (Chevy is marketing the SS as a sport sedan), there's

minimal instrumentation, though one staffer had a unique

perspective on the missing tach: ''Don't you get it? You're

supposed to buy a black-and-chrome Sun unit and hose-clamp it to

the steering column like the old days. Sheesh. Use your heads.''



   Of course, these deficiencies are cost-related. Chevy took a

big roll of the dice to build the SS and any savings realized by

not reworking the interior to any great extent is somewhat

understandable. If the car doesn't sell, it won't be out a lot of

cash. If it does sell well, the money should be available to

address these shortcomings in future model years. Certainly the

division must be credited for holding the line on price-the low

$20,000s sticker is spot-on with SHO Taurus and Vision TSi.



   The big-hearted engine and menacing looks touch something deep

down inside we're not sure we want disturbed. In a way it's scary

that GM, and Chevy in particular, knows us this well. Impala SS

is fast, roomy and reminds us of the cars we learned to drive in.



   And though we'd like to think of ourselves as too hip to ever

admit to liking the Caprice (police cars and taxis did as much as

anything to ruin that car for us), we really like this car. Just

don't tell anyone, O.K.?