My just completed trip to Banff was supposed to provide me an opportunity to experience something that’s right about the current American car industry. I had arranged to rent a Ford Fusion, a car getting pretty good reviews from fellow journalists due to great ergonomics, quality and performance.
Looking forward to a rewarding rental experience, I approached the Hertz rental counter at Calgary International Airport. Being handed the keys to a 2007 Chevrolet Impala, my bubble instantly burst. No biggie, I thought. With a wife, two daughters and tons of luggage, the extra space of a full-sized car might pay dividends.
The Impala has traditionally been near the top of the Chevrolet brand. When the name appeared in 1958, the Impala was a style leader. Soon the model defined performance sedans with 348, 409, 396, and 427 cubic inch engines available in SuperSport trim. Even in the 1990s, the Impala retained cache, as the Corvette’s V8 found its way into the rear-wheel-driver when most competitors utilized four or six bangers.
The modern Impala looks handsome, yet even in electric blue paint, it is very generic. Gone are the distinguishing circular tail lamp clusters, so there’s really nothing that identified this as anything other than just another rental-class cruiser.
Materials, fit and finish inside would be considered class-leading for 1977, but for 2007 ranks a strong D-minus. All of the materials look and feel cheap. Panel gaps vary, while the center stack screams “hiding parts bin components.”
Moving the seat back on the tracks to accommodate my legs resulted in pinning my six-year-old daughter’s feet. Despite a full-sized body length, rear seat leg and knee room is far inferior to most mid-sized cars. A quick glance seemed to show roughly four less inches than my daily driver 2006 Toyota Avalon, which unlike the Impala, is classified as a mid-size sedan.
Blame for the lack of interior room falls to a typical GM problem: bulky front seats. Like in Cadillac products, the Chevy’s seat profile is so insanely thick that it consumes much needed rear knee and foot area. In addition, the seats offer about as much support as a park bench, so the cushioning is basically irrelevant.
The final proof that the ergonomics guys were either phoning it in or had been laid-off by GM brass was the pedal positioning. With my foot resting on the accelerator, moving my foot directly to the left resulted in my size 11 Nike cross-trainers going completely underneath the brake pedal. And they wonder why old people in GM cars keep getting in accidents when they can’t locate the brake!?!?!
The Impala’s cruise control also disappointed. Beyond the ergonomic flaws of the three-buttons on the left of the steering wheel, the system was worse at controlling the speed than a Ferrari-driving NBA player. Chugging along Highway 1A with the cruise control set at the 110 kph maximum, the Impala regularly registered anywhere from 95 to 130 kph.
The bottom line is that the Impala’s inadequacies are no longer acceptable in a car priced at $15,000, much less one carrying a $22,000 base price. Indeed the much smaller, cheaper, yet also much maligned Ford Focus rented by a fellow vacationer showed much better materials, ergonomics and ride qualities. A Ford Taurus, which the company stopped developing seriously after regulating it only for fleet duty a couple years ago, also proved much more comfortable and dare I say impressive when compared to Chevy’s top of the line sedan.
I often use to classify cars in three categories: those I’d love to buy, those I would buy, and those I would only drive if handed the keys by a rental or media car company. The Chevy now forces me to create a new one: those I won’t drive again under any circumstances.