The 2000s may seem all too near, but nearly 20 years from the dawn, a look at automotive thinking and solutions are blended. Old school still utilizes displacement on demand with good old natural aspiration. Meanwhile, in the new school a new generation of brains are thinking up what became magnetic ride control, cylinder deactivation, exhaust note modes, and lesser displacement with forced induction. The Impala SS that arrived just before the great recession is a perfect model of transition.
In 2002 the Camaro met an inevitable ax leaving showrooms devoid of hot stuff below a Corvette. After a literal couple of years in this formation, GM looked to bring back some of that sleeping giant of 90s lore. Fondly people remembered the big and smooth b-body Roadmasters, Caprices, and Impala SS rear wheel drive barges fit with Corvette LT-1 power. However, the brass said, "This time we'll turn the engine sideways and smoke up the front wheels!"
Into Chevy's re-bodied Impala dropped a 303 horsepower 5.3 liter LS4 over a not so hungry for power transaxle. Aside from this engine, an '06-'09 Impala SS is strictly a cruiser with leather seating, premium sound, and power everything. Traditionalists easily looked at this little quirk of engine orientation as the harshest blow. "A transaxle and the rear wheels are just along for the ride?" "What's the big idea!" Consequently Chevy's new 21st century toy sold marginally. Under a foot inclined to treat an LS Impala as such found the limits of GM's 4 speed transaxle. There exist plenty of excessive slippage claims among other internal failure requiring rebuilds far sooner than any venerable 700R4 or 4L80E could fathom.
Having driven one of these I'll put it flat as possible: It's seamless, almost ghost-like approach to triple digit speeds is a face-warming delight, but don't expect to carve many canyons or comment on road feel. You feel the mass of this vehicle instantly upon movement, almost like General Patton must have felt atop a Sherman tank in formation. The engine rumbles, but not too obscenely and pot holes get soaked up like the sponge this suspension was destined to be.
I can see why these make exceptional sleepers for modern hot rodders because aside from a few scattered SS badges, it's just another early bird special. If anything more people could do what those fellows who ripped one of these engine and trans combos for a Pontiac Ventura van application. Mid 90s b-body SS Impalas wore black and roared with delight as a menacing machine. This one, well.........it's got an LS. That alone proved enough to hike a proposed insurance cost over $1300 annually. That's okay if the cars remained $20K plus gems, but the specimen I examined was a $6000, 144000 mile warrior. Paying all of this for essentially an engine with bland body attached must deter others.
Where the cash went.
However, with enough green, have no question about whether or not the SS is the real deal. An electronically limited top speed of 148 miles per hour puts it on pace with a 5.7 liter IROC-Z or a frequent fast food dieter en route to the Super Bowl. There's room for five comfortably, reasonable highway gas mileage of about 24 mpg thanks to active fuel management, and of course a power plant almost infinitely capable with a myriad of modification. Smoking the front tires with a V8 is a unique sensory pleasure even if purists twitch and puke at the sight. If there were ever automobiles made to piss off Corvettes, this SS (not the previous supercharged V6 Impala) could do it for little extra cash.
That cylinder deactivating fuel management system is just an example of where the new direction pointed. Your V8 becomes a V4 all for the good of fuel longevity, (Maybe not the camshaft). That aforementioned transaxle was enough to compare Chevy's ingenious concept with Oldsmobile's Toronado. Placing the engine and trans up front allows for a flat floor to accommodate more passengers without sacrificing comfortable space. If only GM had enough planned support to keep hot Impalas moving, but alas Camaro was coming back and the next failed super sedan, the (Holden) SS felt focused in comparison. An era of silent sport faded into ink record. The final Impala SS could be considered a dying Gary Cooper: stoic, assertive, yet never crying for love and resolve. It does whatever the world affords it to do: enough when the call goes out should nobody else stand fast.