Cars

Three new reasons to love a Chevy

UPDATED CLASSIC: Chevy’s full-sized Impala sedan has taken a big step forward in design, technology, and economy. An eAssist version is in the works with a projected 35 mpg highway rating.
UPDATED CLASSIC: Chevy’s full-sized Impala sedan has taken a big step forward in design, technology, and economy. An eAssist version is in the works with a projected 35 mpg highway rating.Credit: Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe

Members of the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) had their pick of three new 2014 Chevrolets—the Silverado pickup truck, Impala sedan, and diesel-powered Cruze—on June 27 when Chevy executives brought all three vehicles to Middleborough for an in-depth product presentation and driving opportunity.

Chevrolet had a contingent of engineering, marketing, and communications personnel on hand to talk about the cars.

Jim Diamond, the program engineer for Cruze, spoke of diesel’s real world performance and economy advantages.

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Jon Hahn, marketing manager, said that early sales of the Impala are encouraging. The nameplate, now in its 10th generation, dates back to its introduction in 1958. Over the past 55 years, Chevy has sold 16 million Impalas.

Mike Norrito, lead development engineer for the Silverado, predicted big things for the pickup segment in general and the Silverado in particular.

Of the three vehicles, several observations seem certain:

1.The Silverado pickup will have the most sales.

2.The Impala is much improved and will be a worthy rival to the Avalon (Toyota), Azera (Hyundai), Cadenza (Kia), Charger (Dodge), Taurus (Ford), and 300 (Chrysler).

3.The Cruse diesel is intriguing as the only diesel-powered domestically built passenger car, one that’s aimed directly at competing with the Volkswagen Jetta.

These are good times at Chevrolet. The brand accounts for more than 50 percent of all General Motors’ sales.

Here’s a look at the three vehicles.

Silverado

Norrito says the pickup segment overall has rebounded from a low of 1.1 million sales in 2009 to 1.66 million in 2012. In the United States, pickups are the fourth-largest sales segment, accounting for 11.2 percent of sales.

But the Silverado is even more important at Chevrolet. It’s their No. 1 seller within the brand, accounting for 24.3 percent of sales, and defines the company as much as the iconic Corvette and sporty Camaro.

“The average truck on the roads now is more than 11 years old,” says Norrito. “That indicates there’s tremendous pent-up demand in the marketplace. Plus, the new-truck buyer is trending towards the crew cab model, making it a multipurpose purchase, a working truck by day and a family vehicle at night.

Norrito cited the statistic that crew cabs represented 0 percent of the market in 2001 but will account for more than 60 percent of sales in 2012.

From the outside, the Silverado appears to have evolved rather than being totally redesigned. However, it’s an all-new model, including a trio of new engines—the 5.3-liter V-8, 4.3-liter V-6, and coming 6.2-liter V-8, a option that will have 420 horsepower, 450 lb.-ft. of torque, and be capable of towing up to 12,000 pounds.

Coming soon is a premium High Country Silverado, a reaction to the market reality that 30 percent of pickups have a transaction price above $40,000.

But if attention to detail is an indication of excellence, three improvements to the Silverado’s box are telling: A footstep in the bumper and corresponding handhold in the bedrail to make climbing into the bed easier; the easy-up, easy-down, no bang tailgate; and LED lighting under the bed rail, great at night, indispensable if you add a tonneau cover. They’re three simple examples of great engineering.

Impala

Chevy is touting the Impala’s 305-HP V-6 as the segment leader, but buyers might be more intrigued by its 29 mpg highway mileage rating. The available 2.5-liter direct injection four-cylinder has 196 horsepower and a 31 mpg highway rating. However, coming in a few months is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder version with GM’s eAssist (hybrid light) system that’s projected to get 25 mpg city and 35 highway. That’s all in addition to a nicely appointed limousine-size interior and full array of available technical features.

Chevy’s Hahn describes the Impala’s 18.8 cubic feet of trunk space as “four sets of golf clubs-sized.”

Diesel Cruze

“The government has given the Cruze a 46 mpg highway rating,” says Diamond, “but many of us who’ve worked on the project have had no problem topping the 50 mpg mark in taking the car for a weekend.”

The 2.5-liter clean turbo diesel produces 140 HP and 258 lb.-ft. of torque with mileage ratings of 27 (city) and 46 (highway) and a range of 717 miles on a tank of fuel.

It’s the only US-built diesel challenging the diesels offered by German manufacturers, and Chevy is aiming directly at competing with the VW Jetta. Compared to the Jetta, the Cruze has a higher mpg rating (46-42), more horsepower (151-140), and a slightly lower MSRP ($25,695-$26,326).

“The market for diesel cars in the United States is small at present, but it is expected to grow due to Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) requirements and expected increases in gas prices,” says Mike Omotoso, a powertrain analyst at LMC Automotive.

In adapting the Cruze for a diesel, GM engineers, working with engine developers in Torino, Italy, increased the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) engineering.

As a result, while you can hear diesel clatter when standing outside the car, the interior is quiet, and, even at highway speeds, it’s easy to conduct a normal conversation.

Particulate filters and diesel emission fluid injection systems enable the Cruze to meet emissions standards.

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