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"When They Were New" Review: 2004 Chevrolet Impala SS Sedan (11/29/2003)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2004 Chevrolet Impala SS

SEE ALSO: 2014-1997 Chevrolet Specs, Reviews Prices and Comparisons - Chevrolet Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: 2014 Chevrolet Impala SS Review By Larry Nutson
SEE ALSO: 2014 Chevrolet Impala SS Review By John Heilig


    There is, and always has been, something for everyone in 
Chevrolet's passenger car lineup. These days it ranges from the 
upcoming subcompact Aveo to the high-performance Corvette. But 
with the demise of the Camaro, there has been a vacancy in the 
Chevy line, in the medium-priced performance niche.

    So, to fill that niche, meet Chevrolet's Impala SS, version 3.0. It 
builds on the Chevy-practical Impala sedan in much the way that 
version 1 did back in the 1960s, with added power and suspension 
and cosmetic upgrades. But where version 2, built from 1994 
through 1996, was a retro-machine developed from a Caprice-based 
concept car, and very true to the original in its rear-wheel drive, 
body-on-frame chassis and large, powerful V8 engine, the 2004 
Impala SS is very different. Based as it is on the current Impala, the 
new SS is a front-wheel drive car. And, although its engine boasts a 
supercharger and 240 horsepower, it's a transversely-mounted V6.

    Chevy surprised itself with the `94-`96 Impala SS, selling far more 
than originally planned. And `Nineties SS owners are an enthusiastic 
group with a rear-drive, V8 power bent. The 2004 SS will be a hard 
sell to them, or, for that matter, to anyone who would have thought 
about a Camaro, but Chevy is betting that the new SS will carve its 
own niche and make its own reputation. Times change, cars change.

    The current Impala has always impressed me as a car made for 
people who have to spend way too much time in their cars. The SS 
loses none of the space, comfort, and functionality of the other 
Impala models, it just gets more power and suspension refinement. 
It's not a muscle-bound hot rod that sacrifices all for straight-line 
acceleration, nor was it meant to be such a vehicle. It's a European 
concept, but in an All-American vehicle. A week with a 2004 Impala 
SS left me with the impression of a balanced, well-mannered 
performance car. 

APPEARANCE: There is something sinister about the color black. 
Monochrome black paint gave the `Nineties Impala SS much of its 
bad-boy presence, and it does the same for today's version. For the 
SS, the basic Impala body gets an aggressive front air dam with 
integrated foglamps and a small rear spoiler. The applique panel 
around the taillights is body colored. Chevy calls it ``Corvette-
inspired.'' Dual stainless steel exhaust tips and plentiful ``SS'' badging 
complete the look.

COMFORT: A major benefit of the transverse front-engine, front-
wheel drive chassis layout is space efficiency, and the current Impala 
scores very well there. The SS loses no interior space, and, like the 
other Impala models, it makes very good use of all of the space that 
it does have. As outside, the interior builds on that of the lesser 
models with a sportier design and trim. Instruments and controls are 
well-placed, and the center of the instrument panel, containing the 
audio and climate system controls, is placed closer to the front 
occupants than the rest of the dash. A large storage space is 
underneath that, with cupholders and a large armrest/storage box on 
the console. Upholstery is leather, and heated front seats can be 
specified. The two-tone gray color scheme is enhanced by carbon 
fiber-look trim across the instrument panel, and ``SS'' badging is 
plentiful. Rear passengers have a great amount of legroom, and good 
headroom. A large trunk and 60/40 folding rear seat access add 

SAFETY: The Impala has a five-star rating, the highest possible, in 
U.S. government frontal and side-impact crash test performance. 

ROADABILITY: The platform that the Impala SS is built on is not 
GM's newest, but it is well-developed and rigid for precise 
suspension performance. The SS has the same fully-independent 
strut suspension as other Impalas, but gets firmer springs, larger 
front and rear stabilizer bars, and sticky Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires 
on 17-inch alloy rims. The ride is firmer than that of other Impala 
models, but not at the expense of comfort. It's closer to a 
contemporary European sports-luxury sedan than to a classic 
American muscle car in comfort and handling response.

PERFORMANCE: Paradigm shift. Although this may change in the 
future, the current middle-class family sedan is a front-drive vehicle, 
with a four-cylinder or V6 engine. And Chevrolet has no rear-drive 
sedans in its current lineup. But the 2004 Impala SS is no poseur 
unworthy of the name. The Impala LS has used the 200-horsepower 
naturally-aspirated version of the venerable 3800 Series II V6, and 
other divisions using the same chassis architecture have used the 
supercharged variant for many years. So dropping the blown 3800 
Series II V6 into an Impala was a simple solution. And with 240 
horsepower at 5200 rpm and a very healthy 280 lb-ft of torque at 
3600 rpm, the `04 SS actually has a better power-to-weight ratio 
than the 260-hp V8-powered version 2.0. The torque band is broad 
and high, for immediate acceleration at any speed and relaxed 
cruising. For the acceleration-minded, this means that the 0-60 time, 
around seven seconds, is equivalent to that of the 260-hp `Nineties 
SS in stock trim. In doing research, I came across a test of the 340-
hp, 420 lb-ft 409 V8-powered 1965 Impala SS in the December, 
1964 Car & Driver. 0-60? 8.0 seconds, hindered no doubt by the 
primitive tires and suspensions of the day. The supercharged 3800 
beats any of the previous SS V8s at the gas pump, easily returning 
over 22 miles per gallon compared to v2.0's 19 and the 409's 12 or 

CONCLUSIONS: As was the original back in the 1960s, the 2004 
Chevrolet Impala SS is a performance car for its time.

2004 Chevrolet Impala SS sedan

Base Price			$ 27,335
Price As Tested		        $ 30,540
Engine Type			supercharged 12-valve pushrod overhead 
                                 valve V6
Engine Size			3.8 liters / 231 cu. in.
Horsepower			240 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			280 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		110.5 in. / 200 in.
Curb Weight			3606 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        15.0
Fuel Capacity			17 gal.
Fuel Requirement		92 octane unleaded premium gasoline 
Tires				P235/55 WR17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson struts /
				  independent MacPherson struts
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph				est 7.0 sec

Preferred Equipment Group 1SC - includes:
  cargo net, 200-watt AM/FM/CD stereo, heated outside
  and electrochromic inside mirrors, steering wheel radio
  controls, driver information center, OnStar with 1-year
  ``Safe and Sound'' subscription			$ 1,425
Comfort seating package - includes:
  6-way power passenger seat, heated front seats	$   445
Driver side-impact airbag				$   350
XM Satellite radio (subscription extra)		        $   325
Destination charge					$   660