Say the words “Chevrolet Impala” to Americans of a certain age and you’ll see them slip into a wistful reverie, fueled by fond memories of their childhood. Back in its day, the Impala was a dream car of sorts. Curiously, while remaining relatively affordable, the Chevrolet Impala was simultaneously something of a status symbol. Ed Cole, Chevrolet's chief engineer in the late 1950s, defined the Impala as a "prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen."
And the average American citizen reached out and embraced the Impala like no car before it, or frankly, since. Every American family either owned an Impala, had a neighbor who owned an Impala, or knew somebody that owned an Impala. At the peak of its popularity, in the mid-1960s, the Impala sold well over 1,000,000 units in a single year. The two best selling cars in America today (Honda Accord and Toyota Camry), their total sales combined (800,000 units on average), don’t begin to approach the numbers racked up by the Chevrolet Impala during its heyday.
Part of the appeal of the car, aside from its affordable pricing and flamboyant styling was the fact it could be configured (much as Mercedes-Benz does today with the E-Class), to be a relatively mild-mannered family car, a semi luxurious personal coupe, or a fire-breathing high performance car — depending upon your engine, equipment and transmission choices. With the introduction of the Impala Super Sport (SS) in 1961, Chevrolet, creating what could be considered the first American muscle car (although that notoriety is typically ascribed to the 1964 Pontiac GTO), drew significant attention to the Impala and set it “on the road” to iconic status.
Ironically, the full-blown emergence of the muscle car phenomenon is part of what eventually led to the model’s decline in sales and ultimate cancellation in 1985. However, proving there’s nothing wrong with a car line more power won’t fix, Chevrolet brought the Impala back for another go in 1994. This time, purely as a high performance Super Sport model, flaunting a 260-horsepower version of the 1994 5.7-liter Corvette’s V-8 engine.
Interestingly though, there is disagreement as to whether the 1994 – ‘96 Impala SS should really be considered an Impala. Detractors argue the car is really just a high-performance version of the ‘91 – ‘96 Caprice. Of course, this completely overlooks the fact the first Impala was really just a top of the line Bel Air — but we digress. Based as it was on the 1990’s Chevrolet Caprice Police Package, that somewhat limited production car sold from 1994 to 1996, and is still quite sought after to this day. The Chevrolet Impala was officially brought back as a standalone series production model for 2000. There have been two generations of Impalas offered since its resurrection.
For those of you who don’t know, an Impala is a very fast-running breed of antelope indigenous to southern Africa.
2000 – 2005
The model year 2000 Chevrolet Impala marked the shift to front-wheel drive for Chevrolet’s full size sedan for the first time. Also unlike its predecessors (save the 94 – 96 SS models), this Impala was offered only as a four-door sedan, Impala coupes and convertibles remained an artifact of the past.
Offered in two trim levels, Base and LS, the 2000 Impala was a true six-passenger family car. On the mechanical front, two different engines were offered; the base Impala ran a 180-horsepower, 3.4-liter V6 generating 205 ft-lbs of torque. The LS used a 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter engine producing 225 ft-lbs of torque. Both engines used four-speed automatic transmissions. ABS, tire pressure monitoring and traction control were optional on Base models, but standard on LS.
The Base model used cloth bench seats and steel wheels, along power windows and door locks. Its clock automatically adjusted when crossing time zones. The LS got cloth bucket seats as standard, but leather was an option. With the bucket seats came a center console and a floor-mounted shift lever for the transmission. Other standard equipment for the LS included dual front temperature controls for the air conditioning system, remote keyless entry with fobs programmable to the individual set-up preferences for two drivers, integrated foglamps, aluminum wheels (upgradeable to alloys), and a rear spoiler (optional on the base models).
Options available for both models included a sunroof, OnStar, a Driver Information Center with HomeLink, heated power-adjustable front seats, and sixteen-inch 1990s SS-inspired wheels.
The 3.8-liter engine was offered as an option for the Base Impala model. OnStar was made standard equipment for the LS, but remained an option on the Base Impala.
Chevrolet introduced the Impala LS Sport appearance package. Key features were a six-gauge instrument cluster (up from four on the basic LS and three on the Base Impala), a front bumper extension designed to evoke the image of a chin spoiler, color-keyed tail light panels and a chrome exhaust pipe tip. Not quite a true SS, but getting there. Dual zone air conditioning became standard across the board, and the bench seat in the LS could be ordered in leather.
Remote keyless entry was made standard on both models; satellite radio debuted as an option, as did a side airbag for the driver.
The Super Sport returned — this time with a 240-horsepower, supercharged 3.8-liter V6, esthetic elements of the LS Sport appearance package, and suspension enhancements to improve handling. A version of the LS Sport appearance package was also made available for the base model. The seats in all Impala models were redesigned.
By 2005, the Chevrolet Impala line consisted of three models; base, LS and SS. Base models rolled on sixteen-inch wheels and used a front bench seat; dual-zone air conditioning; power locks, mirrors and windows; a tilt steering wheel and keyless entry. The LS model stirred in ABS, alloy wheels, a floor console between cloth bucket seats that featured six-way power adjustment for the driver. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and tire pressure monitoring rounded out the LS package. The SS was differentiated via a monochromatic exterior paint treatment and its lowered suspension. The SS also wore seventeen-inch wheels and its passengers rode leather upholstery.
Impala’s optional equipment included leather seating for the LS, a trip computer, an upgraded CD-based audio system with satellite radio and a sunroof. OnStar was made standard on all 2005 Impala models.
2006 – Current (2012)
Introduced in 2005, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2006 Chevrolet Impala got more power and, for the first time since 1996, a V8 engine. This also marked the first time Chevrolet applied a V8 engine to a front-drive powertrain.
Four trim levels were offered; LS, LT, LTZ and SS.
LS models included sixteen-inch wheels and carried forth with the front bench seat. Other standard features included air conditioning; power door locks, mirrors and windows; a tilt steering wheel; a power-actuated driver’s seat; and keyless entry. The LT model added remote vehicle start to all of the above.
For a set of heated leather bucket seats, a Bose audio system, seventeen-inch alloy wheels and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, the LTZ was the one get. Find an Impala rocking all of that gear plus a monochromatic paint job, a performance-oriented suspension system, eighteen-inch wheels, and a rear spoiler, and you’ve found a 2006 Chevrolet Impala SS.
The 2006 Impala featured a wood trim center console with chrome accents on all the major control buttons. The dashboard featured a chromed Impala logo embedded in the wood grain trim that ran across the front of the vehicle and onto the doors. Cupholders were concealed beneath the mid-section of the vehicle's center console.
On the engine side of the 2006 Impala equation, there were three potential solutions; a 211-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 214 pound-feet of torque was standard on Impala LS and LT. An option for the LT and standard with Impala LTZ was a 240-horsepower, 3.9-liter V6, capable of 242 ft-lbs of torque. The SS got the 303-horsepower 5.3-liter V8, which could generate 323 ft-lbs of torque. All 2006 Impalas used a four-speed automatic—although to handle the extra power, the SS used a heavy-duty version of the transmission.
Safety gear was comprised of antilock brakes and traction control, which was standard on the LTZ and SS, but optional on other models. Side curtain airbags, OnStar and tire-pressure monitoring were standard on all 2006 Impalas.
After expending all that effort for the 2006 models, Chevy’s product planners went light on the ’07 model. Active fuel management was intro’d for the 3.9-liter V6, giving it the ability to shut down three of its cylinders under steady-state cruising, to use less fuel.
A broadening of the LT trim lines enabled the offering of option packages designated 1LT, 2LT and 3LT. These packages bundled features such as leather seating, a six-disc CD changer, XM satellite radio, heated front seats, and seventeen-inch alloy wheels. This enabled Chevrolet to offer a less-expensive alternative to the LTZ model while still providing some nice features.
A 50th Anniversary Edition of the Impala was brought out in the spring of 2008. Based on the LT it added; a sport suspension system, four-wheel ABS, eighteen-inch SS-style alloy wheels, a rear spoiler similar to the SS model’s, "50th Anniversary" Impala badges on the C-pillars, two-tone, leather-trimmed seats with "50th" logos embroidered on the front headrests, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and accent-color threading, ebony carpet, ebony floor mats with accent threading, "50th" anniversary emblems on the sill plates and a choice of two premium exterior colors: Black Granite Metallic and Red Jewel Tintcoat.
In other news, satellite radio was designated as standard equipment for all Impala models, stability control was introduced as standard equipment for all but the LT, and navigation made its Impala debut as an option for LT models.
Bluetooth appeared for the first time in an Impala, as standard on the upper level models and the LT2, but optional on the LS and the basic LT. By 2009, the Impala family had expanded to include; LS, LT, 2LT, LTZ and SS.
The nicely equipped LS models sat on sixteen-inch wheels and employed a front bench seat— along with dual-zone air-conditioning. The Impala LS also offered full power accessories, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, power actuation for the driver’s seats adjustments, OnStar, remote keyless entry, and a single-disc CD-based audio system with an MP3 device input jack.
The LT model added remote vehicle start to the LS model’s remote keyless entry feature. The Impala LT also featured a compass and an outside temperature display. Floor mats were included in its base price, along with alloy wheels. The sportier 2LT added a rear spoiler, seventeen-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, an alarm system, Bluetooth hands-free telephony, fold-down rear seats, and audio controls for the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The even more sporting-oriented Impala LTZ included eighteen-inch alloy wheels, a slightly lowered performance-tuned suspension system, heated leather bucket seats, an audio system matched specifically to the car by Bose, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Beyond all of that, the only things the SS could add was the V8 engine, a monochromatic exterior paint treatment, a more aggressively performance-tuned suspension system, and eighteen-inch wheels.
If your tastes ran more toward luxury than performance, Chevy’s product planners specified a Luxury Edition Package for the LT, which included leather upholstery, front bucket seats, a fold-down rear seat, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a Bose sound system.
There were, however, a few options for the top of the line LTZ and SS trims. A CD changer and a sunroof (optional on all Impala trims) were meted out for the LTZ, while the SS could getr optional heated seats, a power front passenger seat, HomeLink, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The V8, bold stroke it was, failed to sell, and so Impala SS didn’t make the cut for 2010. The 2LT package got kicked to the curb as well. LT lost its 230-horsepower, 3.9-liter V6 privileges and was conscribed to 211-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 ignominy.
By 2011, the model lineup was pretty much back where it started in 2006, save the existence of the SS. Three trim levels (LS, LT and LTZ) were offered for 2011, down from the five offered in 2009.
The 2011 Chevrolet Impala LS models came with seventeen-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, remote keyless entry, air-conditioning, full power accessories, five-passenger seating with a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, OnStar, and a six-speaker CD/satellite radio-based audio system with an auxiliary audio input jack.
A different seventeen-inch wheel, along with foglamps, remote ignition, dual-zone manual climate control, an upgraded trip computer, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls laced the Impala LT.
To gussy things up a bit more, the LT’s Luxury package bundled a rear spoiler, heated mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a six-way power passenger seat, a fold-flat rear seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an upgraded, eight-speaker Bose audio system. Chevy also threw in a one-year satellite radio subscription.
With the 2011 Impala LTZ came the 3.9-liter V6 engine, eighteen-inch alloy wheels bolted to a more luxury-oriented suspension system, and an eight-way power-actuated driver’s seat, all in addition to the Impala LT Luxury package’s kit. You could also get a sunroof — if you bought an LT or an LTZ — but only as an option.
Current Model (2012)
A six-speed automatic transmission finally made its way into the Impala for 2012. The 3.9-liter V6 was dropped in favor of a 300 horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine delivering 262 ft-lbs of torque, making the 2012 Impala the most powerful six-cylinder Impala ever. For 2012, the trim line’s equipment offerings were also reshuffled, even though the model designations remained unchanged.
The 2012 Impala LS runs sixteen-inch alloy wheels, along with automatic headlights, remote keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a six-way power-actuated adjustable driver’s seat, and a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel. OnStar, Bluetooth, a six-speaker CD/satellite-based sound system with an auxiliary audio input jack rounds out the Impala LS feature set.
The 2012 LT bumps you up to seventeen-inch wheels, and adds a rear spoiler, remote ignition to go with remote entry, a manually-operated dual-zone climate control system, a folding rear seat, a rear center armrest, a leather-wrapped shift knob, and a trip computer with a compass and an outside temperature display.
To get it all, check the box marked LTZ. You’ll drive home with eighteen-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, heated mirrors, leather upholstery, heated power front seats (eight-way driver, six-way passenger), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and an eight-speaker Bose premium audio system. As before, a sunroof is available, but only as option and only on the LT and LTZ.
For a car line with such an illustrious history, the current models are pretty tame in comparison to the cars that made the name Impala a household word. Additionally, today’s Impala is pretty much outclassed in every respect by its competitors.
Still, if you’re looking for a deal on some good used transportation, a pre-owned Impala will usually represent a good buy. It won’t be exciting to drive, but it will get you back home. Most used Impalas you’ll find are retired fleet and rental cars. The people who bought Impalas for their own personal use, very likely used them pretty gently, older people simply don’t demand as much from their cars as younger people do, plus again the Impala doesn’t encourage spirited operation (save the SS models, of course).
You’d still do well to run a vehicle history report against the VIN of any Impala you’re seriously considering though. You’ll also do yourself a good service to research the recalls issued for your particular model year and ensure the updates were performed. Which, of course, entails a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional mechanic, one familiar with Chevrolet products.