SAN DIEGO, Calif.—In 2008, before General Motors went bankrupt, the Chevrolet team started looking at a replacement for the old but still strongselling, full-size Impala. A lot of ideas were thrown around. GM explored many options for the car’s future, including a smaller, rear-wheel-drive Impala with a retro look.

Although that idea never came to fruition, Chevrolet knew producing an updated full-size sedan had to be a top priority for the brand. Ford, Toyota, and Hyundai had better and newer options. While Impala was the best selling, full-size-sedan in 2011, most of those sales were into fleets. The Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, and Toyota Avalon had taken over consumer sales and Impala had fallen considerably behind. Much to Chevy’s dismay, the nameplate was quickly garnering a reputation as nothing more than a good rental car.

Fast forward and today we’re seeing the results of a concerted effort to change the Impala’s image. The 2014 model is entirely new and rebuilt from the ground up, using the very same platform as the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. While the new Impala remains front-wheel-drive, it packs a lot of exciting features into a vehicle segment that has traditionally been ho-hum.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Once a memorial to uninspiring design, the new 2014 Impala is a surprisingly sexy looking vehicle inside and out. It’s a family car that you won’t mind being seen in. Not all that shocking when you hear General Motors tapped former Corvette designer John Cafaro to lead up the Impala’s style.

Our first drive in the ’14 Impala was through windy canyon roads in southern California. The sedan handled the sweeping turns and washed out gullies with a predictable comfort that you’d be hard pressed to find in its direct competitors. A new front suspension design was adapted from the Malibu Turbo and delivers a precise steering feel you might expect in a Cadillac or Audi.

That attention to the solid chassis translates into a planted, controlled driving experience no matter the road. Only the slightest hint of body roll reminds you that you’re piloting a full-size car. Through twists and turns, acceleration and braking, the Impala exudes a presence and ease of command smaller than it’s outward size would suggest.

Further sweetening the sauce, Chevrolet includes what seems likeanever ending list of technology. A brand new version of Chevy MyLink provides full iPhone/iPod/smartphone integration via USB and Bluetooth. Pandora and Stitcher Radio are fully integrated alongside XM traffic/sports/fuel prices and a totally new navigation system interface. This version of Chevy MyLink offers a connected car experience that’s far more polished than the Ford SYNC.

An impressive complement of safety technology is also available. Full-speed adaptive radar cruise control, forward collision mitigation with brake assist, blind spot monitoring, rear vision camera, cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning round out an impressive list of available equipment that you’d traditionally expect to find in a Volvo. Of course, OnStar is still standard.

To help speed the image makeover, Chevrolet will limit sales of the new Impala to consumers only. The brand will keep selling the old Impala for at least another year, slugged as“Impala Limited.” It will be exclusively sold as a rental car, allowing the new model to start fresh with a new image.

The new Impala seems to hit a sweet spot for families who want a large car with good fuel economy while still holding onto luxury features and an affordable price. The new sedan in LS trim with a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine starts at an attractive $27,535. A 35-mpg model with the same 2.4L eAssist engine you’ll find in the Buick LaCrosse will also be available later this year.

The fully loaded LTZ with a 305-horsepower 3.6LV6 thatIdrove in California priced out just below $40,000. It included all of the model’s safety features, a Bose audio system, heated/cooled front seats, a large sunroof, and 20-inch all-season tires.

After a day of driving the new Impala, there’s really only one conclusion I can make. It has many of the features you’d expect from a pricey luxury car but costs much less.That’s a lot to say considering the stiff competition and an exciting thought for the full-size car consumer.

The new Impala is well worth the stop at your local Chevy dealer when it goes on sale later this spring