Rental Car Review: The Recent Throwback Special

"You said 'Impala.' That's the old one!"

One thing that most rental car agencies do not like is picky customers. Enthusiasts are picky. You give them something from the lot and they might snicker. While the agent is giving the keys to a Chevrolet Cruze LT with the 1.8liter engine, the potential renter had been eyeing the Volkswagen Golf a few slots next to it. As soon as the keys are exchanged – expect something from "meh" to a whining baby.

Renting cars is where I got my start in reviewing vehicles for this site. My hard earned money was spent as an "investment" into a two-day rental where it got regular use. You noticed I did not say "abuse." To not ruin the business relationship between customer and business – same as being a journalist to an automobile manufacturer – one needs to be aware of the stipulations on the agreement to ensure proper use of the vehicle.

In a sense, General Motors understands the pratfalls of selling fleet vehicles to rental agencies and other customers. They know that other people might not be as respectful to their vehicles as, say, someone like me. One would see scratches at unusual places, curbing of aluminum wheels, and some unexpected wear or filth that was not caught when it went through the cleaning line.

In a situation that I will not get into, I needed a car for commuting and other tasks until the next review subject shows up. A few clicks on the web produced a car near my office. I get to the rental counter to see that they got the right class of car I reserved – full-sized.

In my mind from reading the rental company’s website, "Impala" meant the new full-sized sedan Chevrolet has to battle against the Chrysler 300, Toyota Avalon, and Kia Cadenza. On first sight, it turned out to be the same Impala I have rented since 2006.

There is an explanation here. The old W-Body Impala is still in production at the Oshawa, Ontario plant. GM Fleet & Commercial sells it as the Impala Limited. Therefore, I drove a 2014 model of the same car that used to be my "comfort food" of cars.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Limited LT

The Impala Limited offers most of the same stuff as the last retail W-Body model offered: the FlexFuel 300-horsepower 3.6liter V6, six-speed automatic transmission, four wheel anti-lock disc brakes and so forth. The interior is familiar with a center console, seating for five and a huge trunk. This LT model came with a few of the popular features you would expect from a full-sized car, such as Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM satellite radio, climate control and cruise control. There is even an OnStar button to press when you find yourself needing it.

Being a fleet car, you would expect a bit more tightening up of a few bolts to keep it sturdy. The W-Body Impala was already a sturdy car. It feels sturdy – solid is more apt of a term. When you drive it, there is a bit of roll and lean in the turns, and any pitching is controlled quite well. The V6 power is there, but the transmission kept it from really stretching its legs. I was hoping for a bit more transmission action as I found in similar drivelines used on other GM vehicles. Steering is on the heavy side, but it brakes quite well. In all, there had been some improvements since 2005 in the way the old Impala Limited drives.

When they finished selling this model in the dealerships, Chevrolet claimed an improvement in fuel economy using the 3.6liter V6. I found an average of 26.0MPG – the best figure ever recorded in this generation of Impala dating back to 2006.

Fleet managers can pick up an Impala Limited LS starting at $25,830. The LT I drove starts at $26,840. If you go to a Chevrolet dealer and ask for a new Impala with the V6, you have to get the 2LT model starting at $30,895. You may want to keep your eyes on GM’s Certified Pre-Owned inventory when these Impala Limiteds become available at a substantial discount with a chunk of miles on them.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Limited LT

Think about it. Retail consumers are missing out on the bargain of the year. How many mid-sized V6s can you get at the price of an Impala Limited LS or LT? What kind of car do you get at $25,000-27,000 these days? Sure, the design is nine years old. There are ways to incorporate some of Chevrolet’s design tenets onto the car to keep it fresh for consumers – even fleet managers.

Word is that the W-Body Impala Limited will continue to be made at the Oshawa plant through 2016. Every one of these units will still be sold to fleets. That means you will keep on renting new ones for a few more years to come.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle was rented by Victory & Reseda

All photos by Randy Stern

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