There IS life after kids. At least in the automotive sense.

Check out the new Chevrolet Impala SS, a large, moderately priced

four-door, with enough room for two adults, three budget-busters

and a load of gear.

   "And it has twin airbags, Honey, and standard antilock, too.

Look at that trunk - you could get two weeks' worth of groceries

in there." Heh-heh - as if SHE'll ever get her mitts on this

piece. ... 

   Nobody's ever really going to sneak this one past an

unsuspecting spouse, but it could be the product of some

compromise bargaining.

   Based on the Caprice platform, the Impala SS is available only

in Henry Ford black. Even the nameplate along the rear flanks is

black, done in a tasteful raised relief style. The dual exhaust

pipes suggest that it may be something more than a school bus;

the tires and wheels are a dead giveaway.

   It's hard to miss those 255/50 Goodriches, mounted on 17-inch

alloys. The tires are Z-rated, which means you can run them all

day at speeds in excess of 149 mph, as if the Impala could go

that fast. But the stiffness and heavy-duty construction that

earn them the top speed rating give the handling a certain

precision that cheaper rubber wouldn't.

   An exclusive grille, a subtle integrated rear spoiler,

stylized Impala emblems and a unique rear quarter window

treatment further differentiate the Hot One visibly from its

mundane Caprice progenitor. The underpinnings have been beefed

up, too, to accommodate a more exuberant driving style.

   GM itself must not have realized what a hot property the

Impala name is, or they wouldn't have let it languish for a


   When I told colleagues what the car of the week was,

40-something males perked up more than for anything this side of

a Viper. I had to give an unusual number of walk arounds the week

I had it.

   GM first used the Impala moniker in 1957, denoting a sporty

trim package on the 1958 Bel Air. It was so successful it became

a separate model the following year. The SS (Super Sport)

cognomen was added in 1961 and dropped in 1969. Emissions

constraints and an oil crisis or two dampened GM's enthusiasm for

the fire-breathing V-8s that typified the breed.

   The version that bears the resurrected name does not dishonor

its forebears. At its heart is a dual-exhausted implementation of

the venerable small-block "LT1" V-8 that is used in the Corvette.

The 5.7-liter pushrod powerplant is tuned for 260 hp and a

bountiful 330 foot-pounds of torque - 15 hp less and 5

foot-pounds more than in the Camaro Z28 application. This engine

is optional on standard Caprices, too.

   I reflexively fed it premium unleaded, but later discovered

the owner's manual only calls for 87 octane, remarkable in light

of the 10.5:1 compression ratio. EPA estimates are 17 mpg city,

25 highway. My 16.4 reflects an over-fondness for hearing that

LT-1 roar.

   With 4,218 pounds (base curb weight) to push around, it's not

overwhelming, but it's no slouch, either. Eight-second 0-60 times

are more than respectable in this class.

   The big surprise was the ride. Despite the whopping

low-profile tires, the Impala was both smooth and quiet on the

highway, mastering even moderate pavement breaks with aplomb. It

is rear-drive and has a bump-flattening 115.9-inch wheelbase.

   The big disappointment was the seats. Nominally buckets, they

offered less lateral support than those on some luxo-barges, and

a lot less than you'd need to fully exploit the car's handling


   The secondary instruments - fuel level, coolant temp, voltage

and oil pressure - were analog, rather small, but legible. The

speedometer was digital, with large fluorescent segments that

jumped out even in bright sunlight.

   There is little compression braking in fourth, and moving the

column shifter into third is awkward. Given its sporty-sedan

orientation, this car should have a floor-mounted shifter.

   The stereo was sub-par. FM sensitivity was poor and overall

sound was muddy.

   Ergonomics were fair. Some controls were hard to reach and

see, and the seat adjusters were fairly obtuse.

   Overall build quality was very good for the price, although

the driver's door was slightly misaligned, demanding a hard slam

to close properly. Impalas are assembled in Arlington, Texas.

   Base price on the Impala SS is $ 21,920. That includes all the

good stuff like leather seating areas, automatic transmission,

LT1 engine, air bags, four-wheel antilock brakes, limited-slip

rear axle, air conditioning, base AM/FM/cassette, the big tires

and alloy wheels, cruise control, remote trunk release and on and


   The tester had an upgraded entertainment center (added CD

player) for $ 256, and a package of fripperies for $ 360 that

included power passenger seat, remote keyless entry, automatic

head lamps, power antenna and heated outside mirrors. Now that's

value pricing.

   Total for this loaded performance sedan, including freight,

was $ 23,611. Payments on such a vehicle would be $ 449, assuming

7 percent interest, 48 installments and 20 percent down. Lease

deals of course can lower the monthly bite considerably.