There was a time when the full-size Chevrolet Impala sold at a rate of more than a million cars a year, but that was very long ago and very far away. The Chevy Impala that currently populates showrooms turned in something like 170,000 sales last year, and the vast majority of them didn't go to consumers like you and me but instead to fleet companies like the big rental agencies. With both facts in mind, Chevrolet product planners are hopeful that the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala can get them back into the full-size sedan discussion, and after our first driving encounter with the roomy 4-door, we think they have a good chance to make some headway with American car-buyers. The new Impala offers good looks, quietly competent performance and enough unique features to get folks talking, and that's something an Impala hasn't done in a while.

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You can credit General Motors' recent reorganization for several of the gains. First, the new Impala is based off the international Epsilon architecture, the same architecture that supports the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu and some well-regarded European vehicles. While using the same platform for a full-size sedan that is also used to support a mid-size might seem like a poor compromise, the result is a significant upgrade over the previous Impala. Wheelbase is a little over an inch longer, but the biggest gains are in the front and rear suspension layouts and the stiff-yet-reasonably-light body structure. And John Cafaro's design team has penned a very good-looking body that provides echoes of earlier-vintage Impalas without being at all retro. We think the new car is handsome from every angle, and we also applaud the detail-oriented work of Crystal Windham's interior team that gave the sedan a cabin fitting of a more expensive car.

Eventually three powertrains will be offered, but in our first drive of the car we were only able to sample the V6-powered version, which features a 3.6-liter direct injection engine offering 305 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of peak torque. The power is transmitted to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission that helps the sizable car achieve a fuel economy rating of 19 city and 29 on the highway. A 2.5-liter four cylinder engine and a 2.4-liter four cylinder with eAssist will be available some months after the car's initial launch, and those powertrains will boost fuel economy levels still higher. Meanwhile, the 3.6-liter V6 gives the Impala laudable fuel economy and the highest horsepower number of any naturally aspirated V6 in the segment. With a zero-to-60-mph time of 6.8 seconds, the 2014 Impala feels powerful in any situation.

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Happily, the power is accompanied by both comfort and quiet. Chevy engineers went to exceptional lengths to ensure that the new Impala has a library-like cabin, using acoustic glass not only in the windshield but also in the front side glass. In addition, all versions of the Impala have triple door seals, and active noise control will be used on four-cylinder models, canceling boom from the locking torque converter. Representing an evolution of the Epsilon architecture, the Impala suspension includes Macpherson struts up front and a four-link rear suspension. Rebound springs in the struts give the car an extra level of refinement, and that is complemented by the electric power steering that features Camaro-influenced tuning.

The biggest "customer wow" feature is what amounts to a hotel-room-style safe in the middle of the instrument panel. The motorized 8-inch color touch screen lifts to reveal both storage and a USB input behind it, allowing you to keep small valuables locked out of sight. In fact, when you use a four-digit code to lock the safe, it not only locks the screen in the lowered position but also locks out your address book and other private info you might have entered into the Chevrolet MyLink system. And that wasn't the only aspect of the MyLink system that impressed us. We also liked the big icons, 3-D map presentation and the ability to store 60 "favorites" -- radio stations, contacts, songs and points of interest among them.

In total the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala seems well-armed to compete in a segment that also includes the Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera and Toyota Avalon. It is spacious, quiet, powerful and at the same time reasonably thrifty. With a suggested retail price of $30,760 in base V6 trim, we think the Impala can regain some of its former popularity with American car-buyers.

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