Chevrolet’s replacement for the Lumina, which made a final stand for 2000, was another Impala, a very different sedan from the rear-drive biggies of a few years before.
For starters, it shared a much-revised GM W-body platform with the latest Buick Century/Regal and Oldsmobile Intrigue, which made it the first Impala with front-wheel drive. That also meant a more-rational size, with overall length of 200 inches (about the same, incidentally, as GM's rear-drive 1980s intermediates) and a rangy 110.5-inch wheelbase providing ample back-seat room and a capacious trunk.
Powertrains were familiar fare, with a four-speed automatic the only transmission. The base Impala used a pushrod 3.4-liter V-6 with 180 bhp; the uplevel LS carried the 200-bhp "3800." Both came well equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, and power windows and locks.
The LS added antilock brakes, traction control, a firm-ride suspension for tighter handling, and a side airbag for the driver, all of which were available for the base model when optioned with the 3.8 V-6. The LS also sported front bucket seats in lieu of a three-person bench. A rear spoiler and other trim options gave it a passing resemblance to the 1994-96 Impala SS.
But that's where the similarities ended. Though much easier to thread along tight, twisty two-lanes, even 3.8-liter Impalas had nowhere near the sizzle of their V-8 predecessors. They were quick enough, thanks to a favorable power-to-weight ratio. In fact, Chevy claimed real-world performance suitable for police duty, and even developed a police package for the new Impala.
John Law wasn't much interested, though. He still preferred the extra perceived ruggedness of the old rear-drive Caprice -- enough that one Southern California entrepreneur profited hugely by restoring used squad cars for law-enforcement agencies as a money-saving alternative to a new Ford Crown Victoria.
The front-drive Impala also took heat for styling, especially the use of two taillamps instead of the traditional three. At least they were round again, not oblong.
Despite such debates, the front-drive Impala was a solid success, topping 200,000 model-year sales each season through 2003 and an impressive 300,000 for '04. Like Malibu, it offered no-nonsense family transportation at attractive prices in the Chevrolet tradition.
But Chevy couldn't resist spicing things up a bit, hence a new Impala SS for 2004, this time with a supercharged 3.8 V-6 cranking out 240 horses. Though not a sports sedan of the European stripe, this SS was a fast and capable tourer, helped by a firmed-up suspension and grippier tires on standard 17-inch alloy wheels. All that, plus special trim, black-only paint, and other exclusive touches, made the $27,355 asking price seem like a darned good deal.
For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:
- Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices