DETROIT – The first American sedan in 20 years to earn Consumer Reports’ top score is the Chevrolet Impala. Really.
The magazine has ranked the completely reworked 2014 version of the full-size car as its top U.S. sedan, based on ride, handling, quality of materials and other factors. It’s the first time in two decades that a domestic brand has beaten cars from Germany and Japan.
For the Impala, it’s quite a comeback. The previous version of the car was more commonly found on rental car lots than in suburban garages. Even longtime Impala fans didn’t want one. Three years ago, Consumer Reports described the car’s ride as “unsettled” and “nervous.”
The redesigned Impala, which began arriving at dealers in April, scored 95 out of 100 points in the magazine’s testing to get an “Excellent” rating. That put it ahead of traditional large-car competitors like the Toyota Avalon and Chrysler 300. The Impala even outscored high-end luxury sedans such as the Audi A6 and Lexus LS460.
With that ranking, the Impala’s starting price of $27,000 seems like a bargain. The Audi costs about $15,000 more. For the Lexus base price of almost $72,000, you can buy two Impalas and have change left over.
Owners of those luxury cars may wonder if the magazine’s testers got the cars mixed up.
People should “withhold their judgment until they drive (an Impala),” said Jake Fisher, chief auto tester at Consumer Reports.
The Impala’s performance is another sign of the three Detroit automakers’ renaissance, Fisher said. All three companies nearly collapsed into financial ruin four years ago, partly because of their reputation for shoddy cars.
“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,” he said.
The Impala, made by General Motors, surprised the magazine’s auto testers with its agility, braking, paint and interior quality, and quiet, roomy cabin, Fisher said. Its score was 32 points higher than the previous model, a utilitarian car last redesigned in 2005 that was sold mainly to rental car companies.
Although the Impala isn’t considered a sports car, only high-performance sports sedans from Germany, like the BMW M Series, handle better, Fisher said.
Only two cars earned higher overall scores from Consumer Reports: the electric Tesla Model S, which starts at $62,400, and the BMW 135i coupe, with a base price of $39,300.