Consumer Reports, not known for gushing reviews of domestic cars, calls the 2014 Chevrolet Impala the best in its class, the best sedan you can buy among those tested -- and says the mid-priced car is better than some luxury sedans that cost far more.
It's a stunning endorsement for a car that has been on the market only a few months, and it's the first time a domestic sedan has topped CR's charts in at least 20 years.
"It performs well in so many different ways," said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' director of automotive testing. "It really fires on all cylinders."
The rave review stands as another key victory for General Motors, which for the first time in its history was named the best-performing major auto manufacturer in June's key J.D. Power's initial quality consumer survey, thrashing stalwarts such as Toyota and Honda.
As Detroit navigates the first parts of its bankruptcy, GM, its largest and most famous corporate denizen, continues to shed its past reputation as wasteful and lumbering -- unable to best its Asian and European competition.
The Impala's transformation from bland fleet car to CR's overall top-rated sedan punctuates GM's broader turnaround, including a new profitability, rising stock price and growing reputation for quality just a few years removed from its own near-death.
Consumer Reports road-tests vehicles against its peers. It's widely considered the most trusted resource when many shoppers research a new car. A positive review can attract buyers who wouldn't consider a car or a brand otherwise. Because the car is so new, the magazine wouldn't officially recommend it without a longer history of reliability data.
"The impact of a review like this is tremendous," said Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs. "This will make an impression on buyers."
The Impala racked up a class-leading 95 points in Consumer Reports magazine's road test, beating all others in its peer group, including the Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Maxima, Lincoln MKZ, Dodge Charger and Hyundai Genesis and Azera.
The score "places it not only at the top of its category but also among the top-rated vehicles we've tested overall," wrote in its September issue.
In addition, "the new Chevy outscores luxury sedans costing $20,000 more," including the Acura RLX and Jaguar LX, the magazine said. The 2014 Impala's base price ranges from $26,725 to $35,770, excluding destination charges.
The model has been in dealerships only since mid-May, but the early numbers are encouraging. The car is selling for higher prices to buyers 10 or more years younger than the mid-60s set who bought the old Impala.
"We've had people come in who owned Mercedes and BMWs before," said Kevin Cassidy, sales manager at Al Serra Chevrolet in Grand Blanc. "People love the way it drives: sporty, but luxurious. It's bringing in younger buyers because of its looks and technology."
The Impala received high marks for its smooth ride, handling, spacious cabin and trunk, advanced electronic safety features, braking quietness and "very short" stopping distances.
Reviewers noted the Impala's 12.8 litres per 100 kilometres was competitive but not the best in class. Reviewers also dinged it for poor rear visibility, "which is particularly disturbing when backing up in a crowded parking lot," the magazine said.
Consumer Reports also noted a general quality trend, with other domestic models having recently delivered "world-class performance in our tests," including the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler 300 and Ford Escape and Fusion. "But the most dramatic turnaround is the phoenix-like rise of the revamped Chevrolet Impala."
The Impala got a stylish new look and a comfortable, luxurious interior this year. Available high-end features include excellent voice recognition for navigation and hands-free phone calls, autonomous brakes to avoid accidents, 10 airbags and radar cruise control that applies the brakes and accelerator automatically to stay a safe distance from the next car.
It's a very good start for a car that had become an afterthought as the previous model aged. The Impala was the standard by which American family sedans were judged for decades. It became irrelevant as competitors surpassed its features, technology and overall appeal.
"It's an extremely well-rounded vehicle," CR's Fisher said. "It's very refined and quiet, extremely roomy, handles well and has a lot of technology, but doesn't overwhelm you with it."
Chevrolet put a premium on style and quality when it developed the Impala.
"We set out to create a new American classic," chief engineer Todd Pawlik said.
-- Detroit Free Press