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Auto Test Drives

Impala SS Combines Clean Lines, Smooth Ride, Lotsa Room & Small Block V8 Punch
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author
Apr 26, 2006, 23:13 PST
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The Impala SS rides again. This Chevy has some big shoes to fill, as the 1990’s Impala was one mean V8 street machine. It looked slick, sly, cunning – it looked like something you didn’t want to mess with if you were a sedan driver.

The new Impala SS is a lightly dressed up version of Chevy’s big family sedan – an enlarged lower front opening and flanking side openings are the second most obvious set of exterior visual cues, after the white SS badges on the fenders. The same long smooth lines define the profile of this sleeper as its family oriented alter-ego.

The interior features even less change from standard – the SS badges inside are your only tip-off that this will be a more exciting drive than just any cozy Chevy sedan. The same clean dashboard with gloss-finish inserts set in injection molded plastics, as well as the symmetrical base for the automatic transmission shifter.

 

 

The shifter sprouts up from a 4T65-E 4–speed automatic underneath. The transmission is a beefier version of the tranny found in the standard Impala sedan. The gears are wide as in the standard Impala, but this machine has the torque to nullify concerns of this transmission’s inadequacy – at least given an expected audience of drivers and resultant aggressive but non-race-type driving.

Under the hood is a transverse mounted cast aluminum block 5.3L V8, which burns a healthy 303 peak horsepower - that's 43 more than the '96 Impala SS. 323 lb-ft of torque is transmitted to the nearby front drive wheels. This is an engine worthy of the Impala SS tradition, a poster-motor in the tradition of the powerplant of the late and great 1994-1996 model - which was derived from the C4 Corvette's LT1 350ci motor. This 5.3L unit muscles the 2006 Impala SS through long front wheel scratch-laying episodes and fierce takeoffs. The engine makes light of the Impala’s weight at any speed, pending proper kick-down from the 4-speed tranny when necessary. The Impala SS rolls back on its haunches after a fourth to second gear downshift at 40 mph and tears on down the straightaway. Torque is great on the low end, and stays strong across most of the rev range . Thankfully, all this torque does not yield excessive torque steer (a front wheel drive platform is perhaps the biggest drawback of the current model in comparison to the '96 Impala SS). There was as much torque steer in this SS as we have experienced with engines producing 40-50 lb-ft less torque at the flywheel.

 

 

Fuel economy is enhanced in this SS by GM's Displacement n Demand technology, which shuts fown fuel to four of the cylinder, thus redering the powerplant to a V4 configuration. This is good for an 8 percent increase in fuel efficiency.

The brakes are en guard for the Impala’s ease of increase in momentum due of the powerful motor’s push. The Impala SS offers 4-wheel anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, for stable braking in all conditions. The beginning of the brake pedal travel is soft and squishy, good for the everyday driver, but good brake pad grip is there when you need it; you tell the Impala to slow down quicker by getting hard onto the brakes, and the brakes progressively grab harder. These are by no means performance car brakes, and these are not leaps and bounds ahead of the standard Impala’s brakes - maybe just leaps ahead. The Impala SS’s brakes are very prone to fade, even after 5 or 6 consecutive 60mph – 0 full-force stops. But the braking force available is well matched to this big boy’s weight and power.

The brakes have been enhanced in several ways from the previous Impala. The front brakes are completely new, and the rear brakes have been revised as well. The brake force output is increased, the pad life lengthened, and brake pulsation reduced. Chevy also boasts that these brakes are quieter and smoother in operation than before.

 

 

The chassis needs work. The springs are stiffened but are still fairly soft. The dampers are well-matched to the springs in terms of ride quality, but more aggressive dampers could help make this a better performance car. The Impala SS bottoms out too easily for an SS vehicle, but it performs better in severe dips than the Impala. There is plenty of roll experienced in driving this SS, which is indicative of a need for bigger stabilizer bars in the front and rear. The chassis / suspension system is well balanced all around but some imbalance would make this car handle better and behave more like the car its SS badges wish it was. The steering ratio is a very direct 13.3:1, but suspension softness and a 62/38 front/rear weight distribution mean responsiveness is too slow, the willingness to handle consecutive turns in opposing directions is low, and the car generally feels typically American, though enhanced, in its driving characteristics. The traction control can be taken out of the picture, and the lack of stability control makes this big guy interesting to swing through the slalom - enthusiasm leading to excess speed will result in slower times due to a hung-up stuck-out tail end.

The Impala is still fun to drive, mostly because of the power. It is easy to drive. It offers a good airbag package, it has incredibly high visibility due to a sharply raked hood and plenty of glass all the way around, and good brakes. It offers an interior light years ahead of the predecessor Impala, with mostly good fit and good materials quality. It has a lot going for it.

 

 

The Impala SS is a good, modestly attractive, properly put together sedan with a great, powerful motor. It offers a driving experience very traditionally American – lots of torque, lots of interior room, manuevering dynamics that are at least initially soft and non-stressful for the driver to initiate, and a comfortable, though stiffened ride. It is a go-straight fast and turn hard but not that fast and with lots of body roll car. It is less of an SS vehicle than almost all the other SS offerings Chevy currently has. There is a market for this vehicle. It is not the same group considering a midsize V8-powered German sedan – and with a base MSRP of $27,130, this SS is priced as such. This is a mean street machine, or a family sedan that packs a serious powertrain wallop, or a cozy long distance cruiser with the handling to confidently sail through windy roads at a pace above the speed limit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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