Google+

BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

Chevy Impala: New thinking from an old horse

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

The interior of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ. (General Motors)

The interior of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ. (General Motors)

When a brand repositions a tired old nameplate toward a younger, more affluent buyer, the eye rolls are never far behind.

But sometimes, the freshest thinking comes from the stodgiest corners of the marketplace. Case in point is the 2014 Chevrolet Impala full-size sedan, a car that contains no shortage of clever features – as BBC Autos learned during a brief orientation with chief vehicle engineer Todd Pawlick – and bears lessons that all automakers (who lately seem bent on building particle accelerators into their cars’ dashboards) would be wise to heed.

Illustrated by this photograph, the multimedia screen on the Impala’s centre stack rises upward to reveal a cubby, much like those increasingly found throughout the General Motors family. Portable MP3 players can live within this space, as could – gasp – CD jewel cases. But in perhaps a sop to the middle-age target driver of the Impala, this trap door is not operated with eye blinks or hand waves or foot taps, but with a hard switch just below the screen, whose action is reassuringly smooth and consistent. (In valet mode, the cubby can be locked with a four-digit passcode, in the manner of a hotel lock-box.)

To the right of this button, meanwhile, is a rotary knob, the kind that in another era would tune in the ballgame or traffic report. Here it acts as a redundant control for Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system. If a driver would rather not depend solely on a touch-screen interface to place a phone call, check the weather forecast or connect to a streaming-audio service, the knob allows the driver to toggle among the icons until the desired application is found.

And on the inboard side of the steering wheel, unobtrusive audio volume control buttons are literally at a driver’s fingertips, removing a task that is typically absorbed by driver-facing steering-wheel controls – thereby freeing the outboard buttons to access other functions.

This kind of thinking about control redundancy has long been the province of Audi. That Chevrolet is not only giving it thought, but executing on it, is as clear a sign as any that GM has turned a corner. Or flipped a switch.