New Cars Galore!!

10MARN_C19141_HRIt’s always fun to travel. And when you get visitors from another place, that is almost as much fun.

We had some visitors from the Detroit area and they brought their new 2010 Mercury Mariner.

Let’s pause a moment to lament the death of Mercury…

I just want to say how sad I am that another storied nameplate was sent to the great automotive junkyard. Mercury, in my opinion, served a purpose for the Ford Motor Company. It was a nice little stepping stone between Ford and Lincoln. Yes, it was mostly filled with rebadged Fords, but the engineers at Mercury shined a little magic on their cars, adding enough differentiation to them, in suspension settings and noise-deadening materials, that even “common folk” (those not in the car biz) notice the differences. 10MARN_C17520_HR

Back to the matter at hand…

When I first drove an Escape, many years ago it seems, I was impressed with how much it felt like just a tall car. (You can read the full review at the end of this post.) Like that Escape, the 2010 Mariner has the driving dynamics like your average sedan, with a bit more body roll but not as much as with a truck-based SUV. The fit, finish, materials and look of the interior are top-notch, with little or no missteps perceived, and all of the switches are well-placed and intuitive to use.

On the road, their four-cylinder equipped model got to highway speed easy enough but it ain’t gonna win no stoplight races. Which is not to say that the four-banger in the Mariner won’t get you into trouble. Just don’t bet your title on a race with anything other than a lawn mower.

10MARN_VOGA_C17527_HRAround town, Mariner has enough pickup to keep up with traffic, with 171 horsepower and 171 lb.-ft. of torque, and a six-speed automatic transmission to keep the engine in its sweet spot even longer.

Of course, a really important selling point to any vehicle these days is economy and the four-cylinder Mariner gets around 20 city and 28 highway…your mileage will vary.

On the “How Cool Is That” front, all 2010 mariners have an integrated blind spot mirror…basically a convex addition to each side mirror to help you identify vehicles in the blind spots most people complain about.

If the mariner is an American vehicle done right, then the second car I want to talk about is one done not-so-right.

2011 Chevrolet Impala LTZI flew to Florida to see my Dad a few weeks ago and ended up renting a 2010 Chevrolet Impala. I’ve driven Impalas before but for some reason this one turned me off. I’m not sure if it was the spongy brakes or sluggish acceleration.

A bit about the acceleration…When I say sluggish, I mean I had to prod it worse than a half-dead mule to get it to motivate down the highway, or from a stoplight. At least the Impala cruised well at speed, with little need to modulate the gas pedal. And this phenomena was not due to a lack of power as the Impala has at least 200+ horsepower…no, I didn’t check to see which engine the rental had but one can only assume it was the lesser 3.5-liter and not the bigger 3.9-liter V6.

2011 Chevrolet Impala LTZ

The spongy brakes are nothing new to GM and the car never failed to stop nor did the brakes show any signs of fading when stopping from highway speeds to pay the toll on the stupid Florida Toll road I had to travel.

Other than those two little bits, the current Impala is a fine car but definitely outclassed by the competition, both from Ford (have you seen the current Taurus??) and Chrysler (Charger!!) (I know, right?!) and especially by the imports like the Hyundai Sonata or Nissan Altima.

2011 Chevrolet Impala LTZI did like the highway ride and the fit, finish and materials were of good quality. And, thankfully, the current Impala uses the new-ish style of windshield wipers and the gold standard of washers, the hood-mounted nozzles!!!! YAY!!!!!! (see below Retro Review for a little explanation)

We can only hope that Chevy puts some interesting-ness into the Impala to make it more like the Malibu, and hopefully get the sales increase enjoyed by the Malibu.


2004 Chevy Impala SS


Impala SS Lives up to the Legend on Today’s Terms

by James E. Bryson

Out in the African savanna, the fleet-footed impala, a member of the antelope family, makes life difficult for its predators who might be shopping for their next meal. To get away from the feeding zone, the impala explodes into stampede at the first sign of danger, zigzagging to confuse the predators. For out in the wild, the impala is sought by lions, leopards, cheetahs and other such meat-eaters.

Here in America, our own Impala, of the Chevrolet family, was sought out by different breeds during the Muscle Car heyday like the Mustang, Road Runner and Barracuda.
Today, most of those other breeds are long gone and the rest, Mustang for instance, have moved on to other game, like snake hunting (Viper, anyone?) or ship hunting (can you say Corvette?).

No, the Impala of today’s world is more of a family car with four doors, room for five, and a huge trunk to boot. It has a tried-and-true V6 (either 3.4- or 3.8-liter) and solid construction for long lasting durability.

There isn’t much to dislike about the styling of the 2004 Impala, as long as you’re not buying the car for that reason. It’s a bit boxy, but not as terrible as, say, the Aztec or any AMC sedans from the 70s

Fortunately for us, though, we got to drive the new SS version of the Impala, and let us say that having a fast sedan with good handling characteristics really makes the smiles shine through.

The heart of this Impala beats with a supercharged version of the 3.8-liter Series II V6 that has powered GM vehicles for more than five decades in one form or another. It doesn’t have that "techie" sound of a dual overhead cam engine but its horsepower (240), torque (280 lb.-ft.) and fuel economy (18 city/ 28 highway) make it the perfect choice for this sedan.

Mated to a smooth-shifting heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission, this Impala got going like its animal brethren. Though it didn’t exactly explode off the starting line, it did get the pulse racing and left us with a feeling that there was more there than we expected.

Surprisingly, we found the SS to handle better than expected in the twisties as well. A four-wheel independent suspension with struts all around, stiffer spring rates front and rear and stabilizer bar increases of 4 mm front and 2.5 mm rear make for more sport and a greater "fun factor" with the SS designation, compared to the plebian Impala.

Out on our test loop through some hills and twisty/curvy roads, we found the SS to be a natural at handling speed and direction changes easily. The only downside was the apparent heaviness of the car that could be felt more on quick changes, with body lean but not much tire squeal, if any.The most fun we’ve found with the SS is getting on a highway…hit the gas and hang on. Don’t be surprised when you look at the speedo and find yourself doing 80 before you make the end of the ramp.

As with most "performance" packages these days, different looks help set the car apart from other plebian rides. The SS is no different.

Outside, there is a new decklid spoiler that replaces the wing of the LS model and body colored appliqué surrounding the tail lamps. There’s also a nifty looking wheel/tire package with 17-inch "diamond cut" wheels and P235/55R17 tires, body colored side molding (also found on the LS version), dual chromed exhaust tips and fog lamps…all included. Oh, and don’t forget to get the black paint (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Inside, there’s "SS" embroidered on the seats, on the doors and in the floor mats. There are also "SS" plaques in strategic locations. Other touches include a comprehensive gauge cluster (with boost gauge) and taught leather upholstery on all seating surfaces.

The Impala’s interior is a very nice place to spend a trip in. Once we got the eight-way adjustable seat configured and steering wheel at the angle we like, we found the seating position to be more true than on other GM cars and comfortable for long jaunts down the highway.

The controls for everything from the radio (redundant on the wheel) to the climate system fell easily to hand. They also felt more upscale and didn’t show a lot of nicks and scratches.

Of course, this car isn’t as cool looking as the previous generation SS, which was basically a Caprice with monochromatic paint, cool five-spoke wheels and a Corvette motor. This SS is much more just an extension of the Impala line rather than a stand-alone like the last one was.

Now for the bad news…

We were a bit disappointed that the front fascia wasn’t at all different from the regular Impala. We felt it would have had a more powerful impact with even a simple grill redesign.

Also, the seat heater on the driver’s side did not heat the seat evenly, leaving cold thighs and hot buns.

And let us not forget the worst GM invention ever: washer fluid that sprays out of the wiper blades. Come on GM, there’s a reason why no other manufacturer uses this technique…it doesn’t work. We found the system to be sub-par at cleaning dirty windows and thought the streaks left were a hindrance to an enjoyable driving experience.

Not a whole lot of bad stuff, but it had to be said.

On price, we saved this last bit for last like usual, but this time we really didn’t want to mention it. You see, cars get more expensive with each passing year and the Impala is no exception.

Our car’s base price (which included most of the good stuff like the supercharged engine, wheels and tires, four-wheel antilock discs, leather seats and power driver’s seat and floor shifter and center console) was a high $27,335.00.

Add in options like the $1425 SS preferred group (cargo net, 200 watt premium sound system with CD and steering wheel controls, heated outside mirrors and auto dimming rear view mirror, driver info center and OnStar.), the $445 comfort seating package (power passenger seat, heated seats for driver and passenger), a $350 driver side-impact airbag and $325 for XM and you get a grand total (including the obligatory destination charge of $660) of $30,540.00. The SS is a bit pricey but not too stratospheric considering the performance gains and other niceties.

It is a car Darth Vader wouldn’t mind being seen in.

Here is that Retro Review of the early 2000s Ford Escape. It’s in picture format because I got a virus a few years ago and it wiped out the review files I had:


Thanks for stopping by and spending some time here!


Published by

James E. Bryson

Cars make the world go 'round!

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