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First Times drive: 2014 Chevrolet Impala

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Don't worry, baby boomers, Chevrolet hasn't forgotten about you.

GM's everyman brand has in recent years launched one impressive small car after another. The compact Cruze, subcompact Sonic and tiny Spark have all done well for the company, both in terms of sales and in capturing younger buyers.

Photos: First drive of 2014 Chevy Impala

Now Chevy brings us the all-new 2014 Impala, a full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan. The Impala is aimed at competitors such as the Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Azera, both of which were recently overhauled.

All three cars have been redesigned with the goal of attracting younger buyers -- not necessarily young, but middle-age instead of old. So the interior and exterior designs are becoming sharper and more contemporary.

Chevrolet says it put an emphasis on making the Impala less cumbersome to drive than the land yachts of yesteryear.

But after spending a day driving several versions of the 2014 Impala east of San Diego, it's clear this car will still find more love in retirement communities than anywhere else. In some ways, it checks all the right boxes: it's handsomely designed, has a robust V-6 engine and a competitive price.

But it still drives like a boat.

To be clear, this car can comfortably devour hundreds of highway miles at a stretch. The suspension soaks up potholes and can handle lazy curves. But the Impala's connection to the road is remote at best. The body rolls in turns, and the six-speed automatic transmission takes its time hunting for the right gear.

The Impala's 305-horsepower V-6 didn't seem like it had that much power, nor did it seem eager to put this power to the front wheels. Though the Hyundai Azera and the Toyota Avalon have less grunt, both manage it better and more effectively.

Chevy says Impalas with the 3.6-liter V-6 we tested will go on sale in April. These models have been rated by the EPA at 19 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway. In a day of mixed driving, we averaged 23 mpg.

Soon after, Chevy will offer models with either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a 2.4-liter four-cylinder eAssist engine, a mild hybrid. Both will come with a six-speed automatic transmission.

As for the Impala's styling, Chevy redesigned both the interior and the exterior, and both are assets.

The outside is handsomely conceived, if a bit generic. At the front, trapezoidal headlights flank a larger grille in the same shape. The roofline slopes gently toward the short trunk lid, a subtle nod to the coupe-like styling among sedans today.

A contour line emerges out of the rear door and extends over the rear wheels on either side, giving the Impala confident shoulders. On certain trim levels, there are a pair of chrome-tipped exhaust outlets also in the trapezoid shape. At each corner, every Impala will have at least 18-inch alloy wheels, which fill up the wheel wells nicely.

Inside, the Impala is an exceptionally comfortable place. Throw a TV Guide on the driver's seat and you might mistake it for a La-Z-Boy. Soft-touch materials cover every surface.

The buttons on the center console are thoughtfully arranged to avoid clutter, and all Impala's come with an 8-inch touch-screen infotainment system called MyLink. This system uses the same software as the Cadillac CUE system, but it's far more responsive and intuitive than its higher-priced cousin.

As you'd expect, the amount of sound deadening is matched only by the amount of interior space. Same with the trunk, which can swallow more golf bags than you have golfing buddies.

Standard on all Impalas are goodies such as dual-zone climate control, the MyLink screen, power driver's seat, a 4-inch color display in the instrument panel, XM satelite radio and 10 airbags.

The base Impala LT with a V-6 starts at $30,760. That's cheaper than the Hyundai Azera, but read the fine print and you'll see the Azera comes with a navigation system, leather seats and a backup camera as standard. Add all that to the Impala, and the price gets a $600 bump.

The options list is lengthy and can set you back $41,600 if you check all the boxes. For that money, you get the Impala LTZ, with features such as heated and cooled leather seats, adaptive cruise control, backup camera, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, a sunroof, Bose stereo, 20-inch wheels and a navigation system.

Of the roughly 170,000 Impalas it sold in 2012, about 70% were fleet sales to rental car companies, government agencies or corporate clients. With the 2014 redesign, Chevy hopes to flip that proportion, with just 30% fleet sales.

That's an ambitious goal, especially as competition in this full-size sedan segment heats up. The Impala's success will hinge on whether baby boomers like the same kind of cars their parents did.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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