2008 Chevrolet Impala E85
2008 Chevrolet Impala E85. Click image to enlarge
Competitors
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Buick Allure
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chrysler 300
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Dodge Charger
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Ford Taurus
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

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Review and photos by Brian Early

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2008 Chevrolet Impala E85

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E85 and the Impala

Bowmanville, Ontario – Quick: which automobile manufacturer sells a large, front-wheel drive sedan with a V6 engine that features variable valve timing, the ability to seamlessly switch off three cylinders to improve fuel economy, and which runs on fuel containing up to 85% ethanol?

If you said Honda, you’d be close, but wrong – the Accord isn’t currently E85 compatible (see the accompanying E85 sidebar). Believe it or not, the automaker responsible for producing that technological triple-threat would be Chevrolet, and those stats pertain to an Impala model that’s built in Ontario at GM’s Oshawa Assembly plant.

The motor in question is the 3.9-litre V6 found in LTZ models. Amazingly enough, this is not some high-tech all-aluminum wonder with double overhead this and four-valve that –

2008 Chevrolet Impala LTZ E85
2008 Chevrolet Impala LTZ E85
2008 Chevrolet Impala LTZ E85. Click image to enlarge

this pushrod two-valve per cylinder V6 is a descendant of the 2.8-litre V6 that propelled your uncle’s 1980 Chevy Citation, although it has evolved so much by this point that not even the block casting is interchangeable.

233 horsepower from nearly four litres of displacement isn’t that impressive, but the torque curve is nearly prairie flat (peaking at a healthy 240 lb-ft), which makes it feel far more robust in daily use.

The continued use of GM’s smooth, proven, but dated four-speed automatic, rather than the corporation’s new six speed unit, is a pity. The additional ratios would likely improve both economy and performance.

The motor’s lengthy but ongoing evolution is a perfect metaphor for the Impala’s “W-Body” chassis too; it first showed up beneath the 1988 Buick Regal (which, ironically, featured a 2.8-litre V6). Did I mention that the Impala nameplate turns 50 this year?

Consider it time spent refining the formula, for this latest Impala goes about its job in completely unremarkable fashion; a compliment, not a criticism, as the same can be said about Toyota’s Camry or most versions of the Honda Accord (need I point out that both of these well-regarded automobiles are perennial best-sellers?).

Fueling station attendant Ignacio Ison fills the Impala's tank
Fueling station attendant Ignacio Ison fills the Impala’s tank. Click image to enlarge

This is a large American sedan – one would almost say traditional if it were rear-wheel drive – yet in LTZ trim, it’s too well finished and too well-mannered to be compared to the sloppy body-on-frame cruisers of the past.

While the V8-powered SS takes the top billing in the Impala range, adding leather seats and the available “Bose XM Entertainment Package” to the LTZ (as in my tester), the LTZ garners you everything that the SS offers and a little more for approximately $2,000 less – if you can live without the V8. Both have the same “FE3” sport-tuned suspension and 235/50R18 tire size, which provides nice, tidy handling, more grip than expected, and an excellent sense of straight ahead without being overly firm or transmitting excessive harshness.

There’s still enough body roll to suggest that the Impala is merely tolerating your shenanigans, and don’t look for too much steering feel as you carve the on-ramp’s apex, but at least there’s little or no torque steer, and the LTZ’s standard (switchable) stability control gives you a considerable amount of leeway before reigning in the fun; I can’t say that for a recent Cadillac tester.

2008 Chevrolet Impala E85
2008 Chevrolet Impala E85. Click image to enlarge

The Impala’s 2006 redesign included the interior, which may not set the industry on its ear, but is a vast improvement over the bland, cheap-looking, cheap-feeling plastic hodge-podge used in the previous model, and it’s far more appropriate for this price range.

Satin metallic-trim is now a no-cost substitute for the standard plasti-wood, and it, along with a few chrome accents, contrasted attractively with my Impala’s black cabin, lending it a pleasant, modern look. I would have preferred a smaller steering wheel though.

No complaints about the size of the massive trunk – at 526.7 litres (18.6 cu. ft.), it’s bigger than some urban lofts, and there’s a sizeable pass-through available once you fold the split rear seats (they’re optional on LS and LT models). The seat cushions have to be folded up to do so, but they reveal a shallow tub perfect for hiding valuables or booster cables, and their plastic undersides have grocery-bag hooks for use with the seatbacks left upright. The downside? The front passenger’s seatback can’t be folded flat to accommodate longer items.

2008 Chevrolet Impala E85
2008 Chevrolet Impala E85. Click image to enlarge

Sometimes I swear that GM is doing its best to keep the Impala a secret to everyone but the fleet buyers. You never see it advertised, and since the return of the nameplate for model year 2000 (when it replaced the Lumina), it has worn styling – other than its large round tail lamps – that could best be described as “anonymous”, unlike its extroverted Pontiac Grand Prix platform-mate.

It’s still not a styling standout, but it is conservatively handsome, particularly in a darker colour that better accentuates the chrome trim or the LTZ’s 18-inch split-spoke alloy wheels; to that end, a 50th Anniversary Edition Impala is coming this March that features all of my LTZ tester’s accoutrements (but using the Impala’s base 211 hp 3.5-litre V6 – which is also E85 compatible – instead), in either black or red.

The Impala might not be an obvious choice, but if you’re looking for a large, comfortable, even capable sedan at a reasonable price, you might just find one hiding behind a gold bowtie at your Chevy dealer.

Pricing: 2008 Chevrolet Impala LTZ E85

Base price: $30,695

Options: $4,450 (five passenger leather seating, $1985; power sunroof, $1340; BOSE/XM Entertainment Package, $980; body colour side mouldings, $145)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,250
Price as tested: $36,495
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Chevrolet Impala

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    First Drives

  • Auto Tech: Ethanol (E85) fuel: a viable alternative?

    Competitors
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Buick Allure
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chrysler 300
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Dodge Charger
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Ford Taurus
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

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