With a phoenix-like turnaround, the revamped 2014 Chevrolet Impala has changed the landscape of Consumer Reports ratings by earning the top spot overall for all sedans — and taking a position that has been held by Japanese and European models for at least the last 20 years.
The Impala has gone from the bottom of its class in Consumer Reports ratings, with a mediocre test score of 63 — too low to be CR Recommended — to an Excellent 95 that places it not only at the top of the Large Sedan category, but also among the top-rated vehicles Consumer Reports has tested. Only two vehicles have a higher test score: the Tesla Model S hatchback and the BMW 135i coupe.
Consumer Reports’ engineers found the Impala rides like a luxury sedan, with a cushy and controlled demeanor, while delivering surprisingly agile handling, capable acceleration and excellent braking. The Impala corners quite well for a large car, with prompt turn-in response and controlled body lean. Steering is nicely weighted; it’s light enough for parking maneuvers and provides decent feedback. When pushed to its handling limits, the Impala proved secure, responsive, balanced and easy to control.
Inside, the spacious cabin sets a new standard for Chevrolet fit and finish, with generally high-quality materials and trim. The backseat is roomy and comfortable, the trunk is huge and controls are refreshingly intuitive and easy to use. The 22 mpg overall Consumer Reports measured with the Impala’s 3.6-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission is competitive, but it’s not the best in its class.
Despite its high test score, this Impala is too new for Consumer Reports to have reliability data, so it can’t be Recommended. To be Recommended, a vehicle must perform well in CR’s battery of tests, have average or better reliability in CR’s Annual Auto Survey and perform well in government and industry crash tests.
Consumer Reports has been testing, reviewing and comparing cars for more than 75 years. The organization started calculating numerical scores and compiling comparative overall ratings charts in 1992. Since then, the top-scoring sedan spot in Consumer Reports tests has been held 12 times by a Japanese model and nine times by a European model.
Overall, Consumer Reports found the Impala is competitive with cars that cost $20,000 more, including the Audi A6 and Lexus LS460L, as well as the recently reviewed Acura RLX and Jaguar XF.
Consumer Reports’ other recent findings include:
• Hyundai Santa Fe. The redesigned, seven-passenger version of the Santa Fe is one of the most pleasant and well-rounded three-row SUVs on the market. It’s stylish, functional and easy to live with. It now tops its class in Consumer Reports’ midsized SUV ratings, edging out the Toyota Highlander by two points.
Spacious and accommodating, the Santa Fe has a limo-like rear seat and a generous cargo area. Yet it doesn’t feel too bulky to drive or park. Easy access and simple controls make it a breeze to use. And its smooth, refined 290-hp V-6 engine delivers a best-in-class 20 mpg overall with little compromise in performance.
• Kia Forte. Consumer Reports testers also found the 2014 Kia Forte has made a quantum leap from the previous model. It even improves, albeit incrementally, on the highly rated Hyundai Elantra upon which it is based. Overall, it’s a solid, mature compact sedan that will satisfy many buyers. Testers found the Forte is one of the more comfortable-riding cars in this class.
The Forte’s fuel economy of 28 mpg is merely par for this class, but the sedan compensates with a relatively roomy driving position and rear seat, and controls that are very easy to use. The interior is spacious and nicely finished. Handling agility is not the car’s strong suit; it just doesn’t have the high fun-to-drive factor of a Ford Focus or a Mazda3. Still, it remains secure even at its limits.