By Nick Bunkley, Crain News Service
DETROIT (July 25, 2013) — The Chevrolet Impala, a former General Motors Co. top seller that degenerated into a lackluster staple of airport car-rental lots, has morphed into the best sedan on the U.S. market with its latest redesign, Consumer Reports said today.
The magazine, which has long tended to prefer offerings from Toyota and Honda over anything from the Detroit 3, awarded the 2014 Impala a road test score of 95 out of 100, tied with the Infiniti G37 for third-highest of any current vehicle. The outgoing Impala received a 63.
It's the first time since Consumer Reports began awarding cars and light trucks numerical scores in 1992 that a domestic car is the top-scoring sedan.
"The domestic auto makers, they do a lot right but there's often something that's holding them back," Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports' automotive testing, told Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business. "This car just kind of gets it all right. They really have a winner here."
In its September issue, which goes on sale Aug. 1, Consumer Reports said the Impala "rides like a luxury sedan, with a cushy and controlled demeanor," and "is competitive with cars that cost $20,000 more, including the Audi A6 and Lexus LS 460 L," along with the Acura RLX and Jaguar XF.
It praises the car's "solid, almost vaultlike atmosphere" and the Chevrolet MyLink control system while dinging the car for limited rear visibility and fuel economy that isn't quite best in its class.
"It has been transformed from a woefully uncompetitive and outdated model that was to be avoided even as a free upgrade at the rental-car counter into a thoroughly modern and remarkably enjoyable vehicle," the magazine said.
The 2014 Impala has also been widely praised by other publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Car and Driver, and Autoweek, another Tire Business sister publication.
In years past, Consumer Reports found little to like about the Impala beyond its large trunk. "The dated and unimpressive Impala falls short of modern standards in most key areas," it said in its April 2012 automotive issue.
Only the Tesla Model S, which received a rare 99 out of 100, and BMW 135i coupe, which received a score of 97, rate better than the 2014 Impala.
A Consumer Reports spokesman said engineers at the magazine consider the Tesla Model S a hatchback.
Still, Consumer Reports isn't giving the Impala its coveted "recommended" label because it said the latest version is too new to have enough reliability data.
Although the outgoing Impala sold in large numbers—169,351 in 2012—fleet buyers accounted for about 70 percent of that volume. GM has said it wants no more than 30 percent of the new version to be fleet.
The Impala scored significantly better than its two GM platform siblings—the new Cadillac XTS and Buick LaCrosse. The magazine gave a 79 to the XTS, sixth-worst among luxury sedans, and 74 to the LaCrosse, sixth-worst among upscale sedans.
Mr. Fisher said XTS was hurt by its confusing touch screen control system, the Cadillac User Experience, and the LaCrosse was not roomy enough, among other shortcomings.
"GM's really put it all on the line," he said. "Gone are the days when GM said, 'We can't make the Chevy too nice because we have to sell Cadillacs.' They didn't hold back at all."
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.