Between the Lines: Car & Driver on the Impala SS

GM must really be in trouble. When Car & Driver feels free to give the new Impala SS a black eye, the balance of power has shifted away from The General and towards... the reader? Nah, couldn't be. Maybe America's favorite automotive buff book simply got to the point where they couldn't gloss over one more crap car without writing the word "crap" a thousand times— and they knew that type of review would alienate their arthritic audience. In any case, old habits die hard. The headline over C&D's Impala hatchet job plays coy: "Powerful impulses from a car with a split personality." Or, as we say around here, Crap Car.

"There's an internal fight going on in the Impala SS, an existential struggle between the car's performance and family duties that is glaringly apparent with the first turn of the wheel. Neither personality emerges as the dominant one, and the result is a car that feels unfinished and confused as to its purpose."

Pray, forsooth, why doth Master Tony Quiroga employ such an arch tone and deploy sentence construction convoluted enough to make Chaucer seem like a comic book? More to the point, Tony Q's lead seems like the same old Car & Driver apologia. Veterans of the art form would be forgiven for fanning the page, concluding that the mag will pronounce the Impala SS "flawed" instead of "crap." But wait! Tony Q is about to get really rather nasty.

"After stepping out from behind the wheel, the driver can't help being impressed by the SS's power and its ability to generate astonishing numbers- 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds, for one. The SS seems to have been created to produce impressive numbers on paper with little regard to driver enjoyment."

Hey, that's pretty rough stuff for C&D: a simple declarative statement that a new car is crap to drive. Well, it would be, wouldn't it? You don't have to know much about physics to realize that a 303-horse V8-powered front-wheel drive car is an open invitation to seriously mad torque steer. You know: floor it and you'll get either a humongous cloud of white tire smoke and no forward progress (best case), a steering wheel with a mind of its own and plenty of forward progress (worst case), or a combination of the two (automotive Armageddon). Tony Q tells it like it is:

"The SS has so much power going to its front tires that when traction control is engaged, the tires hunt for grip and the steering wheel tugs left or right. The culprit is the traction control. As it engages each front brake to combat the slip, torque is sent back and forth between the tires. We thought it was torque steer until Mark Clawson, the Impala's marketing manager, pointed out that if you switch off the traction control, the car will spin the front tires with nary a twitch from the leather-wrapped wheel. However, this only occurs on billiard-smooth roads with the car pointed straight ahead; the slightest imperfection or steering input set the tires on different missions, and the car gives the feeling that it's waging war with itself."

I'll take two! Seriously, we all know who's going to lose the Impala's uncivilized civil war: the driver, his passengers and any car or pedestrian within forty feet of a stop light. Note: this $30k (before discounts) wrong-wheel drive muscle car is cheap enough for some damn fool kid to buy, dag nabbit! But don't worry folks, Tony Q is looking out for you. Provided you pay your $3.99...

"Any sporting input is foiled by a mess of undamped and uncontrolled body motions. Dive, squat and roll control could be described as nautical."

It could be described that way, could it? In fact, it should be. In fact, it is. Perestroika! The Car Czars at Car and Driver are finally getting into the spade calling business. Go Tony, go Tony; it's your birthday, it's your birthday!

"One upside of the flabbiness is that the highway ride is compliant and never jarring; unfortunately, the Jell-O-like suspension keeps the body moving, and speed only exacerbates the problem. Impressed by the 154-mph top speed? Driving the SS at that speed is scary enough to be a stunt for NBC's Fear Factor."

Passive construction? Tired metaphors? Shameless plug for a show owned by the same media conglomerate? (I just made that up.) Who cares? BTL celebrates Mr. Quiroga's willingness to piss on the Impala SS from a great height. We haven't read this kind of no-holds-barred car critique in C&D since Brock Yates was alive [sic] and bottoms had bells (don't ask).

The next two paragraphs continue the micturational downpour. Tony Q slates the SS' low-speed ride and 40-ft. turning circle, then says, Dude, where's my car? In other words, he flags the fact that the SS comes complete without telescopic steering wheel, stability control, communicative steering and equal-length driveshafts.

Of course, that kind of curmudgeoning really takes it out of a guy. And GM is still, well, GM with a whole bunch of cars that need reviewing and junkets that need attending. No wonder, then, that Tony kicks-back and finds a few nice things to say about the crap Impala SS.

"Fire up the SS with the standard remote starter, and you'll have the pleasure of walking up to an unmistakable V-8 beat emanating from the dual exhaust and entering a warm car (or cool one)... Keep the dynamic challenges to a minimum, and one begins to notice the well-laid-out and uncluttered interior. Although the plastics aren't of the soft touch variety, the interior appears bolted together nicely, and all the controls are easy to use."

Although it pains me to say so, Tony has retreated into the kind of mealy-mouthed ass-kissing obfuscation that makes C&D a tired old joke amongst today's pistonheads. Given that Tony Q has declared that the Impala SS is crap to drive fast, slow and in-between, you've got to assume that "keeping the dynamic challenges to a minimum" means remaining stationary. I nominate "appears to be bolted together nicely" as a dictionary example of "damning with faint praise." And labeling the Impala SS a cool car— even by accident— is simply beyond the pale.

Tony Q's conclusion is equally and predictably timid, in that tipping the hat to the Gov'nor kinda way.

"Try to exploit the SS's extra oomph, and there is little reward... if the Impala is far happier when equipped with a 242-hp, 3.9-liter V-6, what's the point?"

What's the point of making nice when you've just shot someone through the temple? Over to you Cubba Chedda.
[By Robert Farago]