What's New for 2006
The Impala receives significant updates for 2006. On the outside, Chevrolet has altered the Impala's styling with new headlights, taillights and wheels. The SS trim also gets a unique grille this year. Inside, the Chevy car features updated audio systems, a redesigned instrument panel, new seats, standard side curtain airbags and an available fold-flat rear seat. Mechanical changes include a stronger body structure, retuned suspension geometry for enhanced stability and improved braking systems. There are also new engines for the Impala: a base 3.5-liter V6, an upgraded 3.9-liter V6 and a new 5.3-liter V8 for the SS trim, which replaces last year's supercharged V6. Finally, the lineup of trim levels has been shuffled slightly to accommodate a new luxury-oriented LTZ trim.
The Chevrolet Impala was first introduced in 1958 as the top-of-the-line trim level of the Bel Air full-size coupe and convertible. A year later the Impala became a stand-alone model and its popularity skyrocketed with over 450,000 sold that year. For the '61 model year, the Impala ushered in an all-new design, and the 409 V8 and Super Sport package turned the Impala into GM's first true muscle car.
Throughout the '60s, the Chevy Impala dominated the sales charts, culminating in 1965 when over one million were sold. The popularity of the smaller, midsize muscle cars slowly ate away at sales of the Chevrolet Impala, but it continued to sell in big numbers, registering as the best-selling car in America in 1973. The oil embargo of 1973 put a quick end to that for a while until a new, smaller and much lighter design debuted in 1977 that resurrected Impala sales to a respectable number once again.
The Impala nameplate languished in the early '80s, eventually getting dropped in 1986 in favor of the Caprice designation. A revival of sorts occurred in 1994 when the Impala SS name was used again, this time for a high-performance version of the Caprice sedan. Sporting a monochrome paint scheme, an LT-1 V8 and bucket seats, the '94-'96 Impala SS recaptured the spirit of the original SS models and continues to be highly sought after today. The demise of the Caprice after the '96 model year meant no more Impalas once again until four years later when the all-new 2000 model arrived.
With front-wheel drive and V6 power, the current Impala isn't exactly a tribute to the past, but it does continue the tradition of large, affordable Chevrolet family sedans. The move to smaller, more efficient V6 power plants gives family sedan buyers enough power when they need it while still providing respectable mileage -- never one of the Impala's strong points in previous generations. The fact that the base Impala can seat six in a pinch places it in the thinly populated category of large sedans. Significant changes for 2006 bring the Chevrolet Impala closer to today's buyers needs. An enhanced structure and wider track promise improved driving dynamics, while fresh interior and exterior styling give it a more modern appearance.
Changes under the hood include a new 3.5-liter V6 with 211 hp, and a 3.9-liter version that makes 240 hp (the same as last year's supercharged SS). And that supercharged V6 has been dropped in favor of a 303-hp V8 for the performance-oriented SS model. These changes are certainly welcome, as we haven't been overly impressed by the current-generation Chevy car in years past. Though still not as refined as the Accord or Avalon, or as nimble and stylish as the rear Chrysler 300, the 2006 Chevrolet Impala is a popular seller and should be a decent choice for those in need of an affordable sedan with a big interior. We do, however, recommend that you test-drive some of its better qualified competitors before making a decision.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
Available as a sedan only, the Chevrolet Impala comes in four trim levels -- LS, LT, LTZ and SS. LS models include 16-inch wheels; a front bench seat; air conditioning; power locks, mirrors and windows; a tilt steering wheel; power driver seat; and keyless entry. Moving up to the LT model adds remote vehicle start. The LTZ includes heated leather bucket seats, a Bose audio system, 17-inch alloys and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The SS comes with monochromatic exterior paint, a performance suspension, 18-inch wheels and a rear spoiler.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 211 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. Available on the LT and standard on the LTZ is a 3.9-liter V6 with 240 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. All Chevy Impala models employ a responsive four-speed automatic transmission that sends the power through the front wheels. The SS has a 5.3-liter V8 making an impressive 303 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque. To handle the extra power, the SS uses a heavy-duty version of GM's four-speed automatic.
Occupant safety is a big selling point for the Impala. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the current-generation Chevrolet Impala earned five stars (out of five) for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts, and four stars for side-impact protection. In frontal offset crash testing, the Impala earned a "Good" rating, the highest possible. Antilock brakes and traction control are standard on the LTZ and SS, and optional on other models. Side curtain airbags are standard on all Impalas.
Interior Design and Special Features
As one of the few six-passenger sedans on the market, the Chevy Impala does have an edge on the competition when it comes to interior space. The SS model has metallic interior trim, while all other models feature wood grain trim. Despite its traditional personality, the Impala offers contemporary features like a Bose audio system and an input jack for portable music players. Trunk capacity is a generous 18.6 cubic feet.
Our review of the 2006 Chevrolet Impala finds that the V6 engines offer a likable blend of power and fuel-efficiency, while the V8 offers serious off-the-line thrust. Even with this year's stiffer structure, handling is not among the Impala's strengths due to its soft suspension and vague steering. However, plenty of people will appreciate the big sedan's compliant ride quality. While the SS model may be appealing to power-hungry buyers, installing a V8 of this size in a front-wheel-drive car invariably results in torque steer and a nose-heavy feel. Our recommendation? Stick with the better balanced LTZ and its plenty powerful 3.9-liter V6.