Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The "LT" Stands for Lieutenant

For a long time, the dread of most renters was being handed the keys to a PT Cruiser. And believe it or not, there are still a few PTs in some rental fleets. I feel almost the same about the Chevrolet Impala.

Why? For one, being in my 40s with close-cropped salt-and-pepper already makes me look enough like a detective. Driving the Impala (or the other car some agencies call "premium": the Ford Crown Victoria) makes it a little too tempting to buy a tin badge and roll up on crime scenes, passing myself off as Det. Alquilero from the 23rd precinct (which, of course, I will refer to as "da two-tree").

I live my life AVOIDING cops. I don't want to look like one.

But the bigger reason is fuel economy. At 18/30 you could do worse. But you can do much better. Many full-size offerings get you closer to 40 highway, and at nearly $4/gallon, I know my priorities are crystal clear.

The 2013 black Impala LT I'm pushing around Chicago these days feels like a throwback. When I close my eyes, I'm whisked back to a '97 Grand Prix I owned. And for good reason, as they're not far removed from each other at the DNA level. The trouble is, the old Grand Prix felt SO much better. The Impala feels oafish around town. The steering is stiff. And low-end throttle response (as in parking lot moves) is especially sluggish. Combined, they make the car feel as though it weighs 10 tons. On the highway, things improve. Passing power is sufficient and the ride is relatively quiet and compliant. Too bad it doesn't have my old Pontiac's pushrod 3800 engine note. This new 3.6 liter mill just can't carry a tune.

Remote start is nice to have on a rental. Especially in Chicago. But the 40's strike again when trying to read the remote start instructions on the back of the keyfob remote. I'd love to meet the wunderkind who decided on 3 point type in a bronze color on a black remote. Asshat. It's also disappointing that there is some sort of malfunction, on a car with just 4,000 miles, that has the washer fluid warning aglow even after a top-off.

For A-to-B transportation, it does the job (like every other rental I've blogged about). And you could do worse—like the Chevy Aveo 4-door with roll-up windows. But it's just such a joyless experience. Dated exterior. Dour interior. Torpid movement. And thirst. My recommendation is that you drop a rental class if handed the keys to one. I'd take an Elantra over an Impala any day, for its agility, good equipment level, better fuel economy, and equally spacious interior.

An all-new and sultry Impala arrives for 2014, based on the same platform as the Cadillac XTS. It's a stunner that I'm sure will provide a driving experience light years ahead of the outgoing model. But old habits die hard—there's still enough rental fleet demand for the old model that it will continue to be produced in 2014 (maybe even beyond) as the Impala Limited. The Limited will only be sold to rental fleets, so I'm sure at some point in my travels I'll have to rent one again.

Just in case, I'm ditching my trench coat.

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