By Richard Russell

2006 Chevrolet Impala LTZ
2006 Chevrolet Impala LTZ. Photos: GM. Click image to enlarge

The Chevrolet Impala is one of those steadfast vehicles that soldiers on practically unnoticed. While there is nothing sexy or terribly interesting about Chevy’s biggest four-door family car, it continues to produce numbers and profits many car-makers would die for.

Bland it may be, but it is also one of the roomiest and highest quality sedans on the market. Japanese products get all the attention when talk turns to quality, but GM is justifiably proud that the Oshawa plant which produces the Impala, Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Allure has been honoured for the third time in the last four years as the highest quality car plant in North and South America by J. D. Power and Associates. The 2005 Impala beat the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Five Hundred and Chrysler 300 in the Power IQS ratings and in so doing, topped the Toyota Camry for the fifth straight year. The Oshawa plant is also the most efficient North American plant according to the 2005 Harbour Report.

It’s been six years since the Impala was last redesigned and has received a major makeover for 2006. While it was in for a visual upgrade, it was toned up as well with more muscle to match the buff new look. The new Impala beats the old in virtually every respect, including price.

2006 Chevrolet Impala LT
2006 chevrolet Impala LT. Photos: GM. Click image to enlarge

GM of Canada’s new Oshawa-based engineering centre played a role in the development of the 2006 Impala (see sidebar, ed.). Although riding on the same platform as its predecessor, more than 1,000 changes were made, including all-new sheet metal, an entirely new interior, a new V6 engine family and the return of the V8 engine. GM is playing the value card by offering the new car at a price considerably below that of the outgoing version, despite numerous upgrades and additional features.

2006 Chevrolet Impala LTZ
2006 chevrolet Impala LTZ. Photos: GM. Click image to enlarge

The 2006 Impala LS, with more power, standard side curtain airbags, an eight-way power driver’s seat and dual zone climate control, carries a $24,685 sticker, compared to $26,405 for the old model. The lower pricing is part of GM’s plan to have retail prices more accurately reflect actual transaction prices, ie. what you pay after rebates and other incentives. GM’s goal is to cut back on incentives.

The 2006 Impala’s price is attractive when you consider it includes a V6 engine, automatic transmission, power windows and a lot of other items. Many of its competitors start with a four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, wind up windows, etc.

Impala: a Canadian engineering story

Joe Moore, GM Canada’s vehicle integration manager calls the 2006 Impala a “Canadian Engineering story”. He says the Canadian engineering operation was responsible for the chassis, body structure, assembly and a number of complete vehicle systems including: fuel, induction, HVAC and electrical system.

“About 65% of this car was done out of our Oshawa engineering centre,” he said before detailing extensive but unseen work that results in improved side-impact protection, lower noise levels as well as reduced vibration and harshness. The engineering team also devised a new brake system among other things. Several patents have been granted already (rocker panel mouldings with a living hinge, variable tuned exhaust, flat blade wiper system) with others pending, as a result of engineering done on the new Impala.

2006 Impalas come in LS, LT, LTZ and SS trim levels. The standard engine in the LS and LT is a 3.5 litre V6 producing a respectable and competitive 211 horsepower, up from 180 in the previous base engine. The V6 used in the LTZ trim level displaces 3.9 litres and puts out 242 horsepower thanks to the displacement increase and a variable-length intake manifold to improve airflow at both high and low revs. Both are from a new family of 60-degree V6 engines with only a handful of parts in common with the outgoing 3.5 litre V6. The new version features electronic throttle control and variable valve timing, the first overhead valve engines to do so, according to GM. An ethanol-blend version is also available.

2006 Chevrolet Impala SS

2006 Chevrolet Impala SS
2006 chevrolet Impala SS. Photos: GM. Click image to enlarge

V8 fans will welcome the return of the small block V8. The 2006 Impala SS gets a new aluminum 5.3 litre V8 developed specifically for front-wheel drive applications and used first in the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP. It sends 303 horses to the front wheels and boasts Displacement on Demand, a sophisticated electro-mechanical system that deactivates four cylinders under no and low-load conditions to save fuel. The switch to and from eight cylinders is virtually undetectable and instantaneous. With all eight pumping, there is little doubt this is a high output engine. With plenty of feedback from the ears, seat of the pants and tugging at the steering wheel full throttle in the SS is a true treat.. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available, regardless of engine.

The new Impala is the only car in its class available with a three-passenger front bench seat and shift lever on the steering column, good news for those with a regular need for the extra seat. For the rest, a five-passenger configuration is a no-cost option with a pair of bucket seats flanking a console-mounted shifter.

2006 Chevrolet Impala

2006 Chevrolet Impala

2006 Chevrolet Impala

2006 Chevrolet Impala
Click image to enlarge

While the exterior is new, less fussy and definitely more contemporary, it is inside where the new Impala truly shines. Other than a truly flimsy sunglass holder, the overall effect is one of refinement, ranging from the soft touch plastics to the artful use of wood and metal trim and the selection of seat coverings. The new instrument panel has been pushed forward 7.5 cm providing more room and a clear feeling of spaciousness. The Impala comes with a slick new flip-fold rear seat patterned after those in SUVs. When the seat bottoms are flipped forward they create a bulkhead behind the rear seats. The seat backs can then be folded down to provide a flat, uncluttered and uninterrupted space from taillights to the back of the front seats

It doesn’t take much of a test drive to appreciate the effort that went into improving cabin isolation and interior sound levels. Laminated steel in the firewall, thicker side glass, new sound absorbent materials and new exhaust hanger designs all contribute to the improvement.

A trio of suspension calibrations match trim levels. All are fully independent. The base LS rides on 16-inch rolling stock, the LT goes to a more aggressive FE1 suspension set-up and 17-inch wheels and tires and the SS boasts a quartet of W-rated tires wrapped around 18-inch alloy wheels.

While the new Impala may lag behind the competition in some mechanical respects – no overhead cam engines and only four gears in the automatic transmission – it offers space, quality, reliability and terrific value. The new two-door Monte Carlo sibling will arrive in a few months.

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