Machine Design

2003 Chevrolet Impala LS

There seemed to be an amazing number of Impalas on the road the week I test drove the 2003 model.

But they weren't the hoofed variety that travel in herds. They were, however, all semisporty four-door sedans with oversized rear taillights and a smattering of muscle-car attitude.

The main reason there are so many on the road is probably the price, about $25K for a solid, North American-made car from one of the Big Three. This seems reasonable for a really comfortable full-sized sedan with a 200-hp 3.8-liter V6, along with most of the other bells and whistles. Based on my one-week test drive, the Impala stacks up quite well against cars costing $20,000 more. Sure, it lacks seat heaters, but $20K buys a lot of thermal underwear.

Seating space for front and rear passengers is more than adequate, and the trunk, with 18.6 ft3 of cargo room, seems almost cavernous. Power rack-and-pinion steering is crisp and the ride is generally smooth, thanks to the car's four-wheel independent suspension. Engineers added an extruded aluminum engine cradle this year, a first for mass production, to further isolate engine noise and vibration.

Another feature that makes the ride more enjoyable is the 200-W stereo with six extended-range speakers, a $345 option. Couple it with the new XM Satellite Radio and its 100+ channels of music, news, sports, talk, and comedy, and you can leave your CDs and tapes at home. Satellite stations come in sharp and clear, and you can listen to the same station from coast to coast.

This year's Impalas also have a handful of new paint schemes: Superior Blue, Berry Red Metallic, Victory Red, and Cappuccino Frost Metallic. I wish the test-drive car had sported one of those colors. I'm getting weary of the monochrome palette used on most new cars. It stretches all the way from white to gray to black, with a few excursions into brown. My test-drive car, a perfect example, was Galaxy Silver Metallic, a beautiful shade of gray.

Other standard features on the LS (and optional on vanilla Impalas) include a driver's-side-impact air bag, tire-inflation monitors, ABS, traction control, and remote-keyless entry. It also has a "limp home" mode that will get the car to a nearby service station in case it loses all its coolant.

My one minor complaint is that the rear spoiler obstructs the view through the rearview mirror. It sometimes forces you to adjust your sitting height to peer over or under it. I certainly hope the spoiler contributes to more than just the car's looks.

There may be better bargains out there, but this is no tinny, underpowered, econo-box. With the Impala's price-to-performance ratio, expect to see a lot more of them.

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