"You're driving an Impala this week, eh? Yeah, I rented one of those on my last vacation/business trip/etc.," said everyone I ran into (not like that) when testing the 2014 Chevrolet Impala LT2 this week. It seems that everyone I know has rented one, but no one actually knows anyone that owns one. This experience is anecdotal, of course, but it certainly isn't a good thing for the classic American nameplate.
For 2014, the Impala reaches the market with a new look and a new high-tech message that I think is a big step in the right direction. There's nothing dull about the the Impala's new angry face and the muscular proportions inject the nameplate with a healthy dose of machismo that's been missing since the Impala was neutered to a FF platform back in 2000.
Parked side-by-side at a local strip mall, the 2014 Impala is more memorable than the Camry or Accord, more menacing than the Mazda6 and Taurus. Stylistically speaking, this comeback is off to a very good start.
New generation MyLink infotainment
Dating back to 1958, the Impala is Chevrolet's second-oldest nameplate (preceded only by the Corvette), so I find it amusing that it is the model that ushers in the newest generation of Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment technology.
This 8-inch touch-screen cabin tech package checks many of the right boxes where connectivity and customization are concerned and even leaves a lot of room for expansion down the line. For example, the icons on the home screen can be reorganized by holding and dragging just like you can on your smartphone, as more features are added -- for example, if Chevrolet adds a new app partner later this year -- the main menu expands to multiple home screens that can be swiped between like an iPhone with eight, large, tappable icons per page.
Out of the box, you get access to three USB ports -- two in the center console and one behind the motorized touch screen that rises at the touch of a button to reveal a cubby hole for your sunglasses, smartphone, a box of animal crackers, or whatever. There's also an SD card slot, a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, Bluetooth for audio and hands-free calling, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and HD Radio tuning for the terrestrial FM band. We're also given control of the Pandora Internet Radio app on a connected smartphone, if installed, with the ability to browse custom stations, rate songs with a thumbs-up or -down, and bookmark artists or songs for later retrieval.
Let's also not forget the OnStar telematics system, which is now fully integrated into the infotainment system, rather than presenting itself as a totally separate system, and comes with a six-month trial for the full suite of services, including emergency crash response, remote services like door unlocking, concierge services, and turn-by-turn directions.
There's also a small, full-color information display in the instrument cluster that provides at a glance access to navigation directions, hands-free calling info, vehicle settings, and more using steering wheel controls.
As I said, the system checks a lot of the right boxes, even in its unoptioned form, but there are a few issues. For example, one of the system's features was the ability to store shortcuts to pretty much any part of interface using virtual preset buttons that popped up along the lower edge of the screen, but this strip of faux buttons appeared inconsistently -- sometimes ever-present, such as when listening to radio, and other times nowhere to be found.
Additionally, I found the system to be remarkably sluggish between my inputs and, at times, pretty unresponsive. It's remarkable how annoying a second or three of lag between a screen tap and a system response can be, but these are fast times that we live in and I expect my tech to be as quick on the draw as I am -- particularly at 70 mph. However, the most heinously laggy bit of the MyLink system was the optional navigation system.
Options, packages, and creature comforts
Out of the box, the 2014 Impala is well-equipped, but it's the options that truly characterize the cabin tech experience -- forming both its greatest strengths and weaknesses.
For example, the LT Navigation package is a $1,095 option that adds, well, navigation to the Chevy MyLink system, as well as keyless entry and push-button start. The interface looks good and all of the options and menus are laid out logically -- it's good to know that you won't get lost in the navigation system -- and the directions and routes returned by the system were generally pretty good.
However, like the rest of the MyLink system, the navigation system is sluggish and laggy. Hitting the map button upon entering the car, you'll have to wait as you watch a blank map load and be populated with streets, then 3D buildings. Searching for a destination, sometimes seconds would go by before I was allowed to start inputting search terms using the onscreen keyboard. If you started searching for a destination without first specifying a city, it could be a few beats between each letter of your search term while the autocomplete system presumably searched the entire state for restaurants that started with the letter "A" and then "Ar."
It was maddening, but there is another way: voice command. Whether you used the onboard voice recognition system or let OnStar do your destination entry, speaking to the car was usually very accurate and much faster than poking at its screen.