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2008 Chevrolet Impala SS Review

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2008 Chevrolet Impala SS

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

One of the most enduring automobile model names is 50 years old this year – Chevrolet’s Impala. I remember vividly my brother and I peeking in through the papered-over side window of our small town Chevy dealer in the fall of ’57 and getting a glimpse of the triple taillights embedded in a gracefully curved rear fender and the complex lines of the fresh, new 1958 Chevy Impala, so unlike its predecessor.

Now, here we are 50 years later and there is still an Impala, though very different in every way. That original Impala was the top of the line, full-size Chevrolet which included Bel-Airs and Delrays. Of course, there was only one size then – big. Most were powered by the modest, bullet-proof “stove bolt” in-line 6-cylinder but the small, 283-cubic-inch V8 was becoming more popular and the good folks at Chevy even pressed into service a 348-cubic-inch V8 truck engine for the hot rodders in their customer base. Yes, 1958 was a good year for Chevy.

But I digress. My purpose is to talk about this week’s test car, the 2008 Impala SS. I put a lot of miles on my white one this week and I must say I was quite pleased with it. In terms of appearance, performance and practicality I think it’s a good buy for the $31,500 (destination charge included) price tag.

First, let’s acknowledge that this Impala full-size sedan is a long-in-the-tooth body style. I’m not sure how many years it goes back, but the early ones I thought were a bit homely with a broad red plastic tail and big round lights underneath. The overall shape was OK but the details were less than aesthetically appealing. Over the years that basic body has been updated nicely with sharper edges, a more modern angular rear treatment and a respectably competent-looking front end. Dual, polished stainless steel-tipped exhaust and 18-inch bold aluminum wheels contribute to the performance look of this one. While certainly not an eye-catcher or a head-turner, Impala’s style is clean, up-to-date and attractive.

What makes this one (the SS model) particularly charming is the 5.3-liter, 303-horsepower, small-block V8 engine with active fuel management. Acceleration is brisk and the sound is subtle but inspiring. We do love the rhythmic rumble of a V8 with the throttle open. And, of course, we like to go fast. Mated to a fairly unsophisticated but efficient 4-speed automatic transmission this Impala SS satisfies these whims well, and we got a tad over 20-mpg for our week of hard, varied driving. The EPA estimates the range to be 16-city and 24-highway, so I guess we’re right in the ball park.

As they’ve modernized the Impala the Chevy folks have paid attention to safety issues as well earning the maximum NHTSA 5-Star ratings for driver and passenger frontal crash protection and front seat side impact protection and 4-Star ratings for rear seat crash and rollover protection. Four airbags, daytime running lights, ABS, Stability Control and Traction control all contribute.

Inside the Impala SS feels simple and comfortable. The generous leather seats have little lateral support so this may not be your best choice for an autocross racer. It seems odd that the shifter in the console has no graphics or slotting to indicate shift position. We only know what gear we’re in by the indicator in the instrument panel. Materials are about what we’d expect from a modern Chevy, that is, not particularly luxurious or high-end but of an adequate and reasonably quality. Again, the style and design are simple and attractive. Rear seat passengers will be comfortable as well with plenty of room to spread out.

Handling is not bad; in fact I think it offers a good balance between the inherent harshness of most high-performance sedans and the blandness of a white-bread sedan. This SS features larger anti-sway bars and stiffer spring rates than your run-of-the-mill Impala. On some really rough road surfaces I found it a bit stiff, but with minimal lean in the hard corners and feel of competence overall I’m happy with the suspension.

Of course, the Impala SS comes with GM’s 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

So, maybe this new Impala is not so different from the original. It’s a full-size V8 powered stylish sedan for the masses, and an attractive, competent one to boot.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved