With powerful and efficient V6 engines, a comfortable cabin and a smooth ride, the 2009 Chevrolet Impala brings a lot to the family sedan table even though its cabin refinement and handling dynamics are a few steps behind the class leaders. Vehicle overview Countless American families, rap videos, cop cars and low riders. What could all these disparate elements possibly have in common? If you knew it was the Chevrolet Impala, then you'd be a great contestant on Automotive Jeopardy
if there was such a show. The 2009 Chevrolet Impala carries on 50 years of full-size American car tradition -- even if it's changed just a bit over the years. With room for six, a spacious trunk, decent performance and a smooth quiet ride, the Impala appeals to a lot of people -- it typically boasts a spot in the top-10 vehicles sold in the United States. In the past, Chevy's bread-and-butter full-sizer was criticized for unattractive styling and Playskool-quality cabin plastics. These two areas were addressed a few years ago with mixed results. Styling is now pleasantly subdued, but the interior remains one of the worst in the full-size segment -- especially in lower trims. For 2009, Chevy adds to its full-size formula by throwing in a few more standard features for the lower trim levels, including dual-zone climate control, front seat side airbags, antilock disc brakes and traction control. Other aces up the Impala's sleeve include a pair of V6s that strike a fine balance between performance and fuel efficiency, as well as the availability of the SS model that provides the thrill of a powerful V8 along with a sport-tuned suspension. Although the 2009 Chevrolet Impala boasts a well-rounded nature, its rivals offer advantages in certain areas. The Toyota Avalon is more luxurious, while the Ford Taurus offers more passenger and cargo space. The rear-wheel-drive Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger and Pontiac G8 are more nimble and stylish. The Hyundai Azera offers a better mix of luxury and value. All of the above also boast nicer cabins. But with its proven record for providing roomy, comfortable, economical and reliable transportation, we certainly can see why the Impala is so popular. 2009 Chevrolet Impala models The 2009 Chevrolet Impala full-size sedan comes in five trim levels: LS, LT, 2LT, LTZ and SS. LS models include 16-inch wheels, a front bench seat, dual-zone air-conditioning, full power accessories, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, a power driver seat, OnStar, keyless entry and a single-CD audio system with an MP3 jack. Moving up to the LT model adds remote vehicle start, a compass, outside temperature display, floor mats and alloy wheels. The 2LT adds a rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, alarm system, Bluetooth connectivity, fold-down rear seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The LTZ includes 18-inch alloys, performance suspension, heated leather bucket seats, a Bose audio system and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The SS comes with monochromatic exterior paint, a performance-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels. Many of the upper trim features can be had as options on the lower trims. Option highlights include a Luxury Edition Package for the LT that includes front bucket seats, leather upholstery, fold-down rear seat, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a Bose sound system. The LTZ is so well-equipped it has no options apart from a CD changer and a sunroof (which is optional on all trims), while the SS has a handful, including heated seats, a power front passenger seat, HomeLink transmitter and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. 2009 Highlights More standard features are the big news for the 2009 Chevrolet Impala. Lower trims get dual-zone climate control, front seat side airbags, antilock brakes and traction control while the upper trims gain Bluetooth connectivity. Performance & mpg The Impala LS and LT come with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 211 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. Standard on the 2LT and LTZ is a 3.9-liter V6 good for 233 hp and 240 lb-ft. The Impala SS has a 5.3-liter V8 making an impressive 303 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque. An SS we tested did the 0-60-mph drill in just 6.4 seconds and ran through the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds. Both the 3.9 V6 and 5.3 V8 are fitted with Active Fuel Management technology, which deactivates half the cylinders while cruising to save fuel. All models employ front-wheel drive and a responsive four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel mileage estimates for the V6 are comparable, with the 3.5-liter returning 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. The 3.9 is only 1 mpg worse. The SS returns 16 city/24 highway and 19 combined. Safety Antilock brakes and traction control are standard on all Impala trims, as are front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, OnStar and a tire-pressure monitor. Stability control is standard on 2LT, LTZ and SS trim levels and not available on the two lower trims. In government crash tests the 2009 Chevrolet Impala earned five stars (out of five) for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact testing, the Impala scored five stars for front passengers, and four stars for those seated in the rear. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal offset crash testing, the Impala scored an Acceptable rating (second highest out of four), while side-impact tests by that agency resulted in a Good rating, the highest possible. Driving Apart from the SS model, handling is not among the 2009 Chevy Impala's strengths due to its soft suspension tuning. The car does feel solid and substantial, though, and plenty of people will appreciate the big sedan's compliant ride quality. The Impala SS is also a competent cruiser, but is much more agile thanks to its sport suspension and 18-inch performance tires. Although this is still a big, heavy car, send the SS into a corner and it pulls through with dignity and thrust. While the SS model may be tempting to power-hungry buyers, be forewarned that sampling its formidable reserves quickly brings fuel mileage down to the mid teens. Interior The Impala's interior is clean, functional and straightforward, though some may feel it lacks pizzazz. Audio and climate controls are GM's latest stock units, which are intuitive and feel good but don't improve the generally anonymous look. Particularly in the lower trim levels, the various plastic surfaces look and feel cheap. The wood trim is laughably bad, while the standard cloth trim is genuine rental-grade mouse fur. On the upside, the Impala shines in terms of interior capacity, with room for up to six people and all their luggage, thanks to a generous 18.6 cubic feet of trunk space. Occupants will find hip and shoulder room plentiful, but legroom is below average for this segment.