My wife calls me “Mr. Silver Lining.” I like to find the bright side to just about all bad situations. I’m also a passionate car guy. If I am ever afforded the opportunity, I like to drive anything I can get the keys to. Last year, my family and I moved across the country. In hindsight, we should have paid movers and just driven our own vehicles, but that’s not what we did. We rented two big, yellow, 26-foot International 4300 box trucks, each pulling a trailer with a car on it. The main reason we chose to do it ourselves was cost. But, for me, there was a fun factor, too. My dad, who was kind enough to come out and drive the other truck, and I got to pretend to be long-haul truckers for a few days, and we loved it!
While this is not a review of a 2012 International 4300, I would like to touch on those trucks first. They were loud. Their vinyl-covered bench seats were ugly, flat, and unsupportive. The plastics used throughout the cabins were exclusively shiny and hard. The steering wheel was uncomfortably upright. I could go on about their negatives, but I’m sure you can imagine the rest. They are, after all, just big trucks.
How about the positive? They’re fun. Seriously. When empty, you can almost toss them around. From a stop, mash the throttle and the anticipation builds. The turbo lag in these things could be measured in months, yet that lag actually makes them more entertaining. These behemoth trucks require planning, like a game of chess. That’s what driving them is – a fun, strategic game. When it was time for their return, I was sad to see them go.
The same cannot be said of the Impala Limited.
If you follow the automotive industry, you probably know that Chevrolet launched an all-new Impala in 2014. That model has been highly acclaimed. What you may not know is that Chevrolet continued to sell the old Impala through 2015. They labeled this, ahem, “seasoned” model the “Limited.” I assume the Limited model is limited to the stacks of them they couldn’t sell in 2013, but Chevy would probably deny this.
So why am I reviewing this old model? Well, on a recent business trip, I had to rent a car. I typically choose a mid-sizer, because they are likely to have the niceties that I have grown accustomed to. Things like cruise control and a fourth cylinder are not always guaranteed on the smaller breeds.
When I arrived to pick up my car, a man named Vincent greeted me. He was so friendly that I could write a column on him alone. With a huge smile, Vincent proudly informed me that I had earned a free upgrade to a full-size! Was I about to get two more cylinders, I wondered. “What are the full-size options?” I asked. I could have never anticipated his response. “A Chevy Malibu, Chevy Impala, or Nissan Altima.”
Warning! Tangent ahead: Really?! Malibu? Altima?? These are absolutely not full-size cars. The Subaru Legacy was the mid-size car that I would have gotten. The Malibu and Altima are direct competitors to the Legacy. Furthermore, the rental car companies have now taken two of Chevrolet’s cars, each in different categories, and placed them into the same category! As someone who is passionate about the automobile, I find this aggravating, to say the least.
Since I had the free upgrade to a full-size car, I figured I might as well pick the only one that was actually full-size. After making my choice, Vincent regrettably informed me that it was an Impala Limited, aka the old Impala. The bemused look on my face prompted Vincent to inform me that the new Impala is in the “premium” class. Awesome. I was regretting my decision before I had even gotten the keys.
But, hey, I’m Mr. Silver Lining, remember?! A couple years ago, my aforementioned father, also a car nut, rented one of these and told me that it was far better than he expected. “It’s actually not that bad!” he said. So, I said farewell to my new BFF Vincent and headed to the garage, where my new-old chariot awaited.
As I walked down the row of cars looking for parking spot L-23, I began noticing the extreme variety of automobiles offered by this particular facility. The regret that I felt was growing. Nearly every other car was one I thought I would have liked better. NO! Stay positive! Remember what your father said! (Oh, crap. Did I just think that?)
There it was. Spot L-22 was vacant, as if they had planned the presentation for me. Besides the SS model, this was one of the sportier-looking Impalas in this body style I’d ever seen. With its Ashen Gray Metallic paint, 18” wheels, and a deck lid spoiler, it looked a bit like a sumo wrestler in a tracksuit.
As I opened the door, that familiar new-car smell wafted out. What was I worried about? It’s a new car. This is going to be great!
Now that I’ve gotten the positive out of the way, it’s time to lock Mr. Silver Lining in a closet and rant.
If you yourself happen to be one of the unfortunate owners of this generation Impala, please do not take offense to what I’m about to say. Instead, focus on the fact that anything else you ever drive will be a pleasant experience. And, please, drive something else. Anything else. (“Dammit, Mr. Silver Lining, get back in that closet!!”) I hear you can buy used International 4300s on the cheap.
Spoiler alert: This car is really bad.
Once that wondrous smell dissipated, I was greeted to the widest, flattest, grayest individual seats I’ve ever seen. They looked as if they were designed for Flat Fat Stanley. These are seats you sit on, not in. Once atop the driver’s seat, I was bewildered that a seat cushion could simultaneously be too hard and too soft. The seat coverings were surely marketed as leather, but advertising them as “pleather,” or even “vinyl” would have been grossly oversold.
The other materials throughout the cabin were no better. Automotive journalists frequently speak of shiny, hard plastics that have cluttered American cars for years. If you don’t know what they’re referring to, touch anything in an Impala Limited. The faux wood trim is so bad that it looks like faux plastic. The steering wheel’s rim is about the diameter and thickness of a basketball hoop, but without the attractive bright orange paint.
There are, however, an abundance of thoughtful touches throughout the cabin. They aren’t thoughtful to you, the driver, but they are very thoughtful to the GM accountants. Everything you touch in the Impala Limited leaves the impression that at least one person at Chevrolet thought “Meh, no one will notice this.” When I pressed the rear-power window lockout switch on the driver’s door, the other window controls sank into the door ever so slightly. Rolling down those windows sounds as if a cheap electric drill is in each door, pulling and pushing the glass. The driver’s window is the only one with an automatic function, and only down.
Like the too soft, too hard seats, contradictions are all around you. The cup holders, for instance, have four rubber tabs that stick out to hold your cup in place. While you have to shove your beverage down into it, mashing the rubber tabs, they still don’t hold your cup in place very well. Imagine trying to hold a cup still using nothing but the tips of four steak knives. Yeah, it’s like that.
The shifter actually feels okay at first, until you have to use it. The chrome- plated plastic button used to disengage the shift lock has a super awkward action. The pivot point is about 1/3 of the way up the button, and it will actually reverse direction if you press the bottom, rather than the top. This console-shifter is surrounded by plastic that appears to be missing the shift position indicator. As it clunks through its selections, you must look away from the shifter to the gauge cluster to determine whether you’ll be moving forward, backward, or not at all.
Once you have selected a transmission position, wait the requisite 3 seconds before engagement. Once underway, the car selects whatever gear it wants. While the selected gear is always a mystery, you can be assured that it isn’t the one you need. As you depress the throttle, looking for a little acceleration, you get none. The engine makes plenty of sounds, but nothing seems to happen. Press harder and still nothing. Eventually, the transmission will downshift what seems like more gears than it has to choose from, the plastic tires break free, and you’re off like a noisy lawn mower.
When I opted for the Impala, I assumed its ride would be on the cushy side. But as I walked up to the jogging sumo, I thought just maybe this one would have a firmer, sportier ride. It is clear that this must have been Chevy’s intention. So, to answer the question of whether it is soft and cushy or firm and sporty, the answer is nope.
When you first hit the throttle, the engine makes its presence known, but not by propulsion. The noise that comes from under the hood sounds artificially manufactured. It’s as if a car-hating marketing department decided that this is probably what an engine sounds like, then made it so. I’m fairly certain that the majority of the power made goes into making this sound, not moving the car. I didn’t measure fuel economy, but based on my experience with engines that make more commotion than motion, I’d estimate it at about 7 MPG.
Throughout my life, people have asked my opinion on what car they should buy. It is always a fun question to answer, but rarely do I have time to really get into it with them. In the last few years, I’ve mostly taken to informing people that they really don’t make bad cars anymore. I was wrong. This is a horrible car.
I think Mr. Silver Lining has been locked up long enough now, so I’ve let him back out. On the bright side, if it weren’t for this horrible car, I would not have had nearly enough material to write this article. Dammit, that’s annoying.
Back in the closet!