The Chevrolet Impala, long the standard-bearer for mediocre cars from Detroit, has made an amazing turnaround.
A completely reworked version of the full-size car has taken Consumer Reports magazine's top spot for all sedans, deposing German and Japanese cars for the first time in at least 20 years.
The new version, which began arriving in showrooms in April, scored 95 out of 100 points in the magazine's testing to get an "Excellent" rating. Only two cars have earned higher scores, the electric Tesla Model S, which starts at $62,400, and the BMW 135i coupe with a base price of $39,300.
What does Fox Car Report think of the Impala? Read our review here.
The performance of the 2014 Impala, which starts at just under $27,000, is a sign of the three Detroit automakers' renaissance, said Jake Fisher, the magazine's chief auto tester. All three companies nearly collapsed into financial ruin just four years ago, partly because of their reputation for shoddiness.
"We've seen a number of redesigned American models — including the Chrysler 300, Ford Escape and Fusion, and Jeep Grand Cherokee — deliver world-class performance in our tests," said Jake Fisher, the magazine's director of auto testing.
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The Impala, made by General Motors, surprised the magazine's auto testers with its ride, agility, braking, high-quality materials and quiet, roomy cabin, Fisher said. Its score was 32 points higher than the previous model, a noisy sedan with uncertain handling that mainly was sent to rental car lots.
"It really doesn't fall down in any area, and it does a lot of things really well," Fisher said of the 2014 version. "The car rides better than a Lexus ES. It's quieter than many luxury cars. It accelerates and brakes better than, say a Volkswagen GTI. It's extremely roomy."
In addition, the car's interior controls, including its electronics, are simple and easy to use, a problem that has sunk many a luxury car in the magazine's testing, including the Cadillac XTS, which shares the same underpinnings as the Impala, Fisher said.
The Impala, he said, is competitive with cars that cost $20,000 more such as the Audi A6 and Lexus LS460L. Only high-performance models from Germany and Japan handle better, he said.
Still, the Impala won't get Consumer Reports' coveted "Recommended Buy" rating. That's because it's too new for the magazine to have reliability data. That data could come from surveys gathered between now and the fall when the magazine unveils its annual automobile issue.
The Impala also is too new to have much of an impact on Chevrolet sales. For the first half of the year, GM sold just over 83,000 Impalas, down 15 percent from the first six months of last year. GM is hoping the new car will revive the full-size segment, where sales have been falling for years due largely to old models that had not been updated.
The Impala and the reworked Toyota Avalon, which also is new this year, should breathe some life into the market.
The old Impala, which will live on as a car sold to fleets, was on the market for eight years since its last redesign in 2005. Fisher conceded that many won't believe the Impala is so good because they remember the old version.
"We're going to have to have everyone withhold their judgment until they drive one," he said.