He Drove, She Drove: Huge Impala SS nears extinction with macho gusto that might turn off women by Paul & Anita Lienert (Detroit News, 2/21/96)




   At a glance, the 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS seems like a relic

of the Bronze Age, with the girth of a Boblo boat. Little

surprise, then, that GM will halt production of the gargantuan

rear-drive sedan after this model year.



   But once you drive it, you may begin to understand why

dinosaurs continue to be popular -- especially with boys.



   She: If you're a woman, you can stop reading right now. This

is a total guy car. There's nothing delicate about it. In fact,

Chevy even brags that the Impala has "a special ride and handling

suspension derived from (the) law enforcement package." What

woman would be thrilled by that fact? I have to conclude there

are only two types of men who would want this car -- younger

males who fantasize about playing cop or retirees who don't

shuffle when they walk. By that I mean someone who's vigorous and

active, and doesn't want to give up the V-8 engine and rear-wheel

drive. 



   He: Let's see now. I'm not retired yet, although I've already

started shuffling and I love to play cops. By the way, did you

notice that back seat is bigger than the Macomb County jail?



   She: Unlike a lot of sedans that seem to fudge on the number

of full-size adults that you can cram in, with the Impala, you

can easily and comfortably fit six big people. Look at all the

rear shoulder room -- more than 63 inches! I guess this is one of

the reasons the Impala SS has no direct competitors.



   He: Actually, you can still get that much room in a Buick

Roadmaster, a Ford Crown Victoria or a Mercury Grand Marquis. But

none of those cars has the panache or pretension of the Impala,

which is really a land yacht that aspires to be a speedboat. The

engine is a detuned version of the Corvette V-8, but it still

makes 260 horsepower. And the suspension is stiff enough to keep

this Baby Huey glued to the pavement when you fling it around a

corner at any kind of speed.



   She: The car may be glued down, but you won't be. One of the

things I absolutely didn't like about the Impala was that you

don't feel nestled in the cabin like an egg in a styrofoam carton

the way you do in, say, the Ford Taurus. The instrument panel has

a lot of old-fashioned straight lines, and there is no sense of

warmth and coziness. In that way, it's very much like a police

car. But I'm sure the typical Impala buyer won't be bugged by

that. Anybody who likes that sinister monochromatic paint job,

which seems to emphasize the car's sheer bulk, and the scary

spoke alloy wheels with the blackwall tires isn't going to be

worrying about curling up in the cabin.



   He: But they'd probably like the way this car handles. The

quick-ratio power steering gives the SS a surprisingly snappy

feel, and the 3.08:1 axle ratio really powers this monster off

the line. You want leather? They got leather -- seats and

steering wheel. And for the safety-conscious parent who may be

drawn to the Impala, there are standard anti-lock brakes, dual

air bags and child-proof rear door locks. What more could you

want, dear?



   She: A car that's not too bulky to park. A car that my husband

doesn't tell me, "Don't take it out in the snow to test drive; it

wouldn't be fair." Well, you're right. It makes you think twice

about driving in a Michigan snow storm. And even in clear

weather, the rear end seemed to have a mind of its own whenever I

tried to accelerate too quickly in corners. But it does have

something to recommend it. It feels like a bargain. I love to

look at a window sticker and see lots of those zeros next to all

the standard equipment.



   He: There's a lot of car here for 25 grand, and it's pretty

much fully loaded. We didn't talk about the gas mileage either,

which is shockingly good considering the Impala's two-ton curb

weight and that powerful V-8. The EPA claims you should get up to

25 miles a gallon on the highway. Of course, that's driving with

a feathery touch on the throttle, not your usual lead foot,

sweetheart.



   She: As if. But if you are that type, you'll be happy to know

that the Impala SS is trying to go out with a bang, not a

whimper. For the 1996 model year, it gets a tachometer and what

we used to call four on the floor, except this transmission is an

automatic, not a manual.



   He: Okay, forget the handcuffs. All I want for our anniversary

is a shiny new Impala SS -- and a silver badge.



   Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Automotive Intelligence

Reports, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.



   Anita's rating: *



   (subpar)



   Paul's rating: * * * *



   (world-class)



   What we liked: Bargain price for tons of standard equipment;

reasonable insurance rates; loads of power -- and room; good

safety features.



   What we didn't like: The most sexist Big Three car (Anita);

difficult to park (Anita); hate rear-wheel drive (Anita);

intimidating styling (Anita)



   1996 Chevrolet Impala SS



   Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, six-passenger sport

sedan.



   Price: Base, $ 24,405; as tested, $ 25,692 (incl. $ 590

destination charge).



   What's new for '96: Floor-mounted shifter, tachometer.



   Standard equipment: Air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering

wheel, rear-deck spoiler, map pockets, center console with

cupholders, leather sport bucket seats, tilt steering column,

rear-window defogger, remote keyless entry, theft-deterrent

system, intermittent wipers, AM/FM stereo with cassette.



   Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, child-proof

rear-door locks.



   Options on test vehicle: AM/FM stereo with CD player ($ 155)

and Impala SS preferred equipment group ($ 490) incl. 6-way power

seat, passenger automatic day/night rear-view mirror, twilight

sentinel headlamp system.



   EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.



   Engine: 5.7 liter V-8 SFI engine; 260 hp at 5,000 rpm; 330

lb-ft torque at 2400 rpm.



   Transmission: Four-speed automatic.



   Competitors: None



   Specifications: Wheel base, 115.9 inches; overall length,

214.1 inches; curb weight, 4036 pounds; legroom, 42.2 inches

front; 39.5 inches rear; headroom, 39.2 inches front/37.9 inches

rear; shoulder room, 63.4 inches front/63.4 inches rear.



   12-month insurance cost: $ 885



   Where built: Arlington, Tx.



   AAA Michigan rates based on an average family of four from the

Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who

drives 3-10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar

discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat

belts.