We've all been waiting to see it and hear how it performs and most of us have been itching to get behind the steering wheel of Chevy's newest Impala. Fortunately, I got to do it, on a racetrack, on a hot day, in Texas; complete with lights and sirens and screeching tires. I have to confess it's one of the few advantages of being the editor. Sometimes, just sometimes, you get to have actual, honest fun.

Gray-blue smoke abounded and the proportion of rubber transferring from tires onto asphalt was at an all-time high. "Ah, the smell of hot brakes in the morning..."

I remember Impalas in the "old" days and you might too. They were just damn good cop cars. They could steer rings around most others, could accelerate their way into and out of just about anything and the brakes were, ah, er, um ... well, you had enough brakes to stop once or twice if you were in a real hurry. But they could sure steer.

Chevy's "Ride and Drive" is an opportunity to introduce new technology (in this case, the new Impala police package) to writers and cops from around the country. I rubbed elbows with uniforms from many states and there were plenty of serious, squinty-eyed stares going on as the performance was duly noted in notebooks and on video. The test cars got some of the most comprehensive driving and just plain general goings-over I've ever seen. Some of the cops on hand were accomplished driving instructors and it showed on the track. Frankly, I had no idea you could make cars do some of the things I saw...

The Nuts And Bolts

G.M.'s Police and Taxi Program Manager, Bruce Wiley, introduced the new car with a short talk and a video that had most everyone twitching to get onto the track. The new Impala looked like a cop car, acted like a cop car and we all wanted very much to believe what we saw.

The specifications were impressive and the list of accessories and special design features tailored precisely to the needs of law enforcement were imposing. Chevy reached back to the "good old days" for the spirit but looked ahead for the latest technology, design and the changing needs of today's cop on the beat to put together a comprehensive package.

Everyone was very concerned about the engine and powertrain. The 3800 SFI V-6 (yup, a V-6) is 3.8 liters or about 231 cubic inches. Total horsepower is around 200 at 5200 RPM and I'm here to tell you, those horses pull hard. If I hadn't known it before I put my foot to the floor, I'd have suspected a small block V-8 was lurking under the hood.

"We listened when the cops talked and incorporated features they specifically asked for," said Wiley. Things like enough room inside for actual human beings, acceleration that can keep up with the bad guys and factory options like pre-wiring for emergency lighting shows they listened.

The List Goes On

A 125-amp alternator, 4-speed automatic with overdrive, 16" wheels, aluminum cradle for the engine/ transaxle and governed speed at about 124 mph are some of the long list of standard features. A heavy-duty cooling system, power steering cooler, 100-amp auxiliary power outlet in the trunk and kill switch for lights helps to make the standard feature list substantial.

Where the Impala hands out some added value is the long list of optional "packages" available for specialty equipment installations. From heavy black rubber floor coverings and trunk lid warning lights (when the trunk is open) to spotlamps and an inoperative dome lamp all just touch the bases on what's available.

On The Road

The road course was a combination of a high-speed, tight quarters test of maneuvering and  a "balls to the wall" speed course on the inside track.

The cops in attendance acted cool but you could tell they were all eager to get behind the wheel. High-speed slalom runs, high speed turns and hard braking revealed the Impala delivered no surprises. While the smell of hot brakes was rampant, the Impalas kept stopping when they were supposed to and I noticed no appreciable fade as they heated up.

The slalom runs were smooth, but having cut my teeth on full-sized Fords with rear wheel drive, things were a bit squirrelly until I got the hang of things! Then, rather than the controlled slip and mush through the cones normally associated with rear wheel drive, the front wheel drive of the Impala literally "pulled" you through. Very impressive and it left all in attendance re-thinking the front wheel drive option when it comes to patrol work.

Final Thoughts

Many, if not most of the cops at the event, expressed some hesitation to embrace the front wheel drive concept for patrol. Wiley showed us the heavy-duty aluminum cradle the engine and related goodies nestles into. He explained it will "hold up to most anything you would be inclined to throw at it" and still function. Concerns of the potential fragility of the power-train assembly being in a vulnerable position were pretty much laid to rest.

Over-all driveability, comfort, performance and the available options and standard equipment make the new Impala a serious contender for the duty, patrol car job. If I suddenly found myself wearing a uniform again, slogging a beat (please, no....) I'd be quite content with the Impala.

Enhanced Protective Glass Optional Equipment On Impala

Through a partnership between Kerr Industries Limited, PPG Industries, Inc. and Solutia Inc., an Enhanced Protective Glass or EPG is now available as optional equipment on Impala police vehicles.

EPG for Impala police vehicles is formed by laminating a sheet of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) between two sheets of glass under heat and pressure.

"Given the variety of situations officers and their vehicles must face in the line of duty, we believe EPG is an excellent glazing product for the law enforcement market," said Glenn Davis, OEM marketing manager for PPG.

EPG offers protection from flying glass in the event of breakage. Enhanced protection from theft and vandalism and additional protection from wind and traffic noise are just some of the features EPG brings to Impala.