CHEVROLET IMPALA SS: COST-EFFECTIVE KILLER WHALE
When Chevrolet launched the Caprice, comedians had a field day
with the whale quips. And while the Impala SS has been the butt
of far fewer jokes, one thing hasn't changed. If the Caprice is a
metaphorical whale, then so is the Impala SS. It's just that the
Caprice is more like a Beluga. The Impala SS is a killer Orca.
The Impala SS is also on the endangered species list, soon to
be extinct. GM will halt production of its full-sized,
rear-drive sedans after the '96 model year. This is a shame,
because except for some shortcomings, the Impala SS is unique.
Faster than a 4200-pound sedan has a right to be, it commands
attention for its sheer bulk, sinister monochrome paint scheme
and huge spoke alloy wheels. In a phrase, the Impala SS is the
traditional American sedan with a '90s muscle-car edge.
That edge is most obvious in the LT1 V8, and in the wellspring
of torque it delivers. There's so much that, if a driver tries to
hold the Impala with the brake while jamming the gas, the rear
tires spin and the back end creeps sideways. Overzealous pilots
can ruin acceleration times by overpowering the rear tires. Nor
is it possible to improve times by shifting the automatic
transmission manually, because the Impala SS has no tach. Left to
its own devices, the four-speed automatic shifts smoothly, and at
full-throttle, takes the SS well past 60 mph before shifting into
third. From a stop, 60 comes in 7.5 seconds.
That may not be supercar quick, but it's quicker than a lot of
so-called luxury performance sedans. The SS reaches 60 mph and
finishes the quarter mile a half-second quicker than the Lexus LS
400, and a tenth quicker than the Infiniti Q45. It is dead even
with the M-B S500, and right there along with the Jag XJR tested
Through the slalom, the Impala SS behaves like a Caprice
Classic with stickier tires and less body roll (surprise!). The
big problem is an ungainly rear end. The harder the car is
pushed, the more the tail wants to come around. Still, there's
plenty of warning about what the Impala is about to do, and the
best approach is to not force it. At 39.9 mph through our
seven-turn run, the SS is dead even with the S500 and a bit
faster than Toyota Camry LE or the typical minivan.
On the road, the tires, firmer springs and de Carbon sport
shocks make the Impala more responsive than both Caprice and
other full-size GM sedans. The downside is a more jarring ride,
but enthusiast drivers will find the Impala's improved reflexes
worth the trade-off. The brakes, too, are better than we've
encountered in GM's other big, rear-drive cars.
The Impala provides all the leg and hip room its exterior
dimensions would suggest. Though the front seats aren't big on
side support, they're very comfortable even for the widest
backsides. One of the biggest gripes involves the finish. The
leather upholstery is decent, but some of the trim pieces are
plain cheap. The grain and colors of the plastic don't match
Then there's the tach, or lack thereof. The typical Caprice
buyer might not notice, but any car with a pretense to
performance needs a tachometer.
That missing tach, and the Impala's interior finish, may be
something less than what consumers expect in a $24,000 car. Yet
in other ways, the Impala SS is a whole lot of car for the money.
A powerful V8, room inside and the towing capability make a good
buy. The SS is also a good concept, and reasonably well executed.
GM has a way of working the little things out with time. But
it's also been known to pull the plug on some good cars just as
they're getting on track, and so it is with the Impala SS.