The quality of Ford’s recent offerings are a far cry from the old “Fix Or Repair Daily” joke. Fiat-Chrysler has also turned around, between the success of the Charger and Challenger, the successful return of the Fiat brand to our shores (not to mention Alfa Romeo), and Jeep cashing in big time. But when it comes to GM, most people think of government bailouts, ignition switch lawsuits, and boring rental grade cars aside from the Corvette and some versions of the Camaro. But Cadillac has been reinventing themselves lately. Buick is making good progress, and the Avista concept knocked it out of the park in Detroit last week. No one is talking about Chevrolet, but for me they were the biggest surprise at NEIAS. They did nothing special. There were no big announcements or reveals. But while everyone’s been looking the other way, Chevy has been quietly updating their product line and turning out some rather nice rides.
Take It From the Top
The last few generations of the Corvette have transformed it from a boulevard cruiser into a genuine world class sports car. No more “Oh, isn’t that cute? Chevy thinks they can make a sports car” jokes - the C7 is the genuine article. Even Jeremy Clarkson, who makes no secret of his disdain for American cars, said he “absolutely loved it.”
This was only the beginning. People have laughed at the Camaro quite a bit in the past, too. But the Z28, going back to its roots as a dedicated race car instead of a redneck roller coaster, has earned some serious street cred - or I should say track cred. Though everyone, including us, is gushing over the latest Mustang’s independent rear suspension, the Camaro had it several years earlier. The latest Camaro SS is lighter, more powerful, and quicker than the Mustang GT. Road & Track tested them both, and, though not by much, the Camaro came out on top. The Camaro, too, is now not just a pony car but a legitimate sports car. Where’s the fanfare?
Back In the Real World
We love monster V8s in fast impractical cars like the Mustang and Camaro. That’s because we’re weird. In real life, people don’t need that. They need decent performance and good looks, but space and practicality as well. Once again, people are talking about the Ford and Dodge redesigns, but not the offerings from Chevrolet.
This Impala, in black, on the floor of NEIAS, is a major part of what drew my attention back to Chevrolet. This isn’t mid-size rental car. It’s also not plainclothes Caprice 9C1 cop car. It’s classy and good looking, especially in black. It’s not edgy like Cadillac, nor rounded like Buick, but a style I’d call more flowing than either of those two - straight lines where required, curves where they’re needed, but neither is ever forced they way they can be on the other brands. The Impala is easy on the eyes.
Inside is a significant upgrade from previous models. Gone are the vast expanses of hard plastics and enormous panel gaps. The interior is high quality and well made. The controls and gauges are simple and well placed. The standard 3.6 liter V6 makes 305hp, 45 more than the V8 of the Impala SS of the 1990s. I don’t know what it’s like to drive, but our Editor-in-Chief is about to find out this week. Check back here for his impressions.
The Malibu continues the trend, though with a slightly different look to not appear to be trying to be as cool as its big brother, the Impala. Here, too, the design inside and out is a leap beyond the previous version. The outside is elegant, the interior classy, and though its 2.0 liter motor has a smaller displacement than its competitors, it blows them away with 260hp. Again, this is not a low budget rental car.
The rest of Chevy’s sedan lineup is more of the same. I’m amazed that Chevy is putting this much effort into their sedans, considering that their trucks and SUVs are even bigger sellers and can be shared with GMC. But I’m certainly not complaining. I’ll have to get behind the wheel of one to tell for sure, but if the driving experience is similar to what I’ve seen so far, my hopes are high.
The Cheap Seats
Even at the bottom of the model range, Chevrolet is taking significant steps forward. The new Spark no longer looks like a funky Daewoo with a Chevy badge. It’s a decent looking small hatchback. In its least expensive form it’s a spartan but comfortable interior. The sport bike gauge pod is gone, replaced with a genuinely nice instrument cluster. Standard equipment includes features like USB and auxiliary input ports, Bluetooth, and five years of OnStar, complete with Wifi. For a few dollars more, you get keyless entry, push button start, heated leatherette seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel with its own controls, more speakers, and rear park assist. For around $17,000, this econobubble comes with many features, including some that my more expensive Subaru BRZ doesn’t have.
I can’t extend the same praise to the larger Sonic, which is still waiting for its next update. For nearly the same price as a Ford Fiesta ST, the Sonic RS offers so much less than its blue ovaled competitor. But I’m hopeful that the next generation will bring the Sonic up to speed. It says something that the Sonic RS one of only a handful of cars at NEIAS with a manual transmission, despite an automatic being available (unlike the Fiesta ST).
Still, Chevy deserves some credit. Their cars are improving tremendously, but no one seems to be noticing. They look good, they’re well equipped, and they’re catching up with the competition. If they drive this well, too, Chevy is definitely on the right track here.