The No. 1 reason that people buy a big sedan, such as the 2014 Chevrolet Impala,
is not because it's big and roomy, as might seem obvious. They buy based on
Big sedans are no longer America's family car. People who need room for kids choose midsize cars -- if they buy sedans at all, rather than SUVs or minivans, according to research data used by Chevy.
It's when the kids move out that Mom and Dad finally can afford a bigger car with lots of features, even though the roomy back seat mainly is used for toting other couples to dinner and social events.
That explains why, ever since Chrysler's boldly styled 300 full-size car hit the market as a 2005 model, automakers have begun paying extraordinary attention to how their big four-door cars look. Impala, which went on sale in April, is the latest example of what has been a wave of redesigns in the past few years that have remade the big-car market segment.
Among the latest fashion-conscious redos:
--Toyota's redesigned Avalon got reconstructive surgery for 2013 to be high style, as well as a raft of changes to make it drive better. Toyota likewise first cites Avalon's "more emotional styling" before mentioning performance and refinement.
--Hyundai's Azera became a lot more stylish as part of its 2013 remake. Hyundai's summary of the new Azera likewise begins with "modern design" before noting technology, performance and safety.
--Kia has introduced for 2014 its first big sedan, Cadenza. It has given the car an upscale but somewhat conservative look for a brand that has been known for edgy styling.
These join older designs in the segment, including the 300, which got a refresh for 2011, but now seems a bit tame, and includes the Ford Taurus, which got a styling update for 2013 for the major redesign it got in 2010.
Chevy's data, from Maritz Research surveys of new-car buyers, show that roominess is still important, but not among the top reasons buyers choose big sedans. Still, a significant minority of buyers -- as much as 45% -- cite front or rear spaciousness, and sometimes both, as "extremely important."
Chevrolet provided Impalas for reporters to drive in this rural area of Michigan and discussed the car's selling points. Chevy says the Maritz data it uses show these are the top five reasons people buy big, mainstream-brand sedans:
1. Overall exterior styling
3. Overall quality
4. Ride comfort
Impala is built atop a stretched but not widened version of the platform also used by the new Chevy Malibu midsize car. Impala styling is meant to make it look bigger, as well as attractive.
Inside, care was taken to make it look and feel big-car roomy. For instance, the dome light over the rear seat sits flush against the headliner. Typically, a dome light is mounted against the headliner, not recessed into it. Just that little dome light intrusion could give the illusion of much less head room, says Todd Pawlik, Impala chief engineer.
Also, the backdoor lock buttons are moved toward the rear of the doors. That avoids the visual and physical intrusion of the small bump needed to house the lock button.
Impala, introduced as a 1958 model to be the flagship of Chevrolet's big cars, lately has lost its appeal to most buyers. It was largely showing up in car-rental and other commercial fleets.
But sales to individual buyers are more profitable than fleet sales, so it's important that the redesigned Impala maintain strong retail momentum after the initial buzz dies.
The new Impala starts at $27,535 with a new-design 2.5-liter four-cylinder that's also used in the Malibu. The premium 2LT model, with a 3.6-liter V-6 standard, is $30,760 and up.
The V-6 was first in showrooms in April. The four-cylinder is just now being sent to dealers. The mileage leader will be the Impala with an eAssist drivetrain -- a "mild hybrid" -- that's coming this fall. No mileage ratings are available yet.
Mileage-stretching features include an electric motor tied into a second battery that gets the car rolling momentarily until the gasoline engine takes over. It also has regenerative brakes to capture energy and store it in the battery when stopping. And it has General Motors' automatic start/stop feature that shuts off the engine at long stops and restarts it as the driver releases the brake pedal.
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