Chevrolet Caprice is Re-Born in the US – As a Police Car Only
By Chris Haak
With the demise of GM’s Pontiac brand – and with it, the excellent Pontiac G8 – many pistonheads have been clamoring for GM to sell the same car (based on the Holden Commodore sedan, and produced in Australia) as a Chevrolet Impala or Caprice instead. The thinking was that changing the brand of the vehicle from Pontiac to Chevrolet would be a simple grille and badging swap, and selling the car as a Chevrolet would potentially mean many more sales than the smaller Pontiac division could muster from the same car.
Right after GM’s emergence from bankruptcy protection, former head of product development and current head of marketing Bob Lutz said that the company was likely to roll out a rear wheel drive Chevrolet Caprice based on the G8. Then his boss, CEO Fritz Henderson, said otherwise. Bad news for buyers of large rear wheel drive cars – where the offerings in the US are very limited, mainly to just the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro, and Ford Mustang. And the last three aren’t really large cars in terms of their interior volume.
But Ford’s antediluvian Crown Victoria is now a fleet-only model (taxis and police applications) and the company announced that it’s finally going to be put out to pasture in 2011. While the Crown Vic is enormously popular as a police car, it also doesn’t perform very well in terms of acceleration and handling, and its body on frame architecture doesn’t allow for the modern crumple zones that protect occupants the way a unibody vehicle can. The upside is that the ubiquity of the Crown Vic – and stability of its design – means that replacement parts and accessories are very much standardized, and the cars have a reputation of being bulletproof.
Chrysler currently offers a police package on the Dodge Charger sedan, and while it’s absolutely an intimidating-looking vehicle, there hasn’t been as much acceptance of the vehicle as perhaps Chrysler would have liked to see. For one thing, although it’s a large car, it’s not as big inside as a Crown Victoria. Chevrolet sells a police package on its front wheel drive Impala, and it’s generally cheaper upfront than a Crown Victoria, but police officers don’t generally prefer the front wheel drive layout, and, like the Charger, the cars don’t have the perception of standing up to abuse as well as the Crown Vic can.
Enter GM’s latest attempt at capturing this market. The Chevrolet Caprice PPV (Police Patrol Vehicle), as shown today, looks at first glance like a G8 with a chrome Chevrolet grille and police equipment. However, the car is longer than the G8, and in fact, longer than the Crown Victoria, because it’s based on the long wheelbase version of GM’s large rear wheel drive architecture that underpins the Camaro and other RWD cars. It’s easy to see the extra length in the shape of the rear doors and C-pillar, which skips the G8’s Hofmeister Kink-like treatment and goes for a more flowing roofline reminiscent of, coincidentally, the old rear wheel drive Caprice sedans that police departments could buy in the early 1990s.
The Caprice’s interior bests the Crown Victoria’s in terms of total volume (112 cubic feet) and in terms of rear legroom (4 inches more). The car’s large trunk will accommodate a full size spare tire under the load floor and still have a flat cargo surface. The car is also designed with special high-durability, high-comfort front seats that can accommodate officers of all sizes, and keep them comfortable even when wearing their equipment belt and sitting in the car for hours on end.
Underhood, the engine choices basically mirror what had been available in the G8, with the exception of the G8 GXP’s 6.2 liter V8. A 3.6 liter V6 is standard, and a 6.0 liter, 355-horsepower V8 is optional. Mechanically, all police-spec Caprices include durability upgrades like a high-output alternator, engine oil, transmission and power steering coolers, standard 18-inch steel wheels with bolt-on center caps, large, four-wheel disc brakes with heavy-duty brake pads, heavy-duty suspension components, police-calibrated stability control system, and a driver information center in the instrument cluster with selectable speed tracking feature.
The car will be built in Australia by GM’s Holden subsidiary – the same folks who built the G8 and continue to build similar vehicles for both Australian domestic consumption and for export to far-flung places like the UK and the Middle East. The rebirth of the Caprice police vehicle, of course, makes one question whether Bob Lutz is just pushing for this vehicle to create a stepping stone for the car back into the US retail market. It seems entirely possible, but launching the cop car first hardly seems like the best way to build the model’s marketing buzz. I remember once when my used car dealer father had a very nice cream-colored Crown Victoria sedan that he was taking to an auto auction to sell, and every car that he encountered on the highway deferred to him, obviously thinking he was an undercover police car. The other branding issue is that the photos that GM released of the Caprice PPV show a car with a Chevrolet grille, but that grille is not anywhere near the current double horizontal, into-the-bumper layout that current Chevrolets like the Malibu, Traverse, Equinox, and even the Impala have. The company did say that some styling detail may change by the time production begins. (The company will begin accepting orders in fourth quarter 2010).
While I’ve never sampled police-spec variants of any of these vehicles, I have driven a Lincoln Town Car (which shares the Crown Vic’s powertrain and chassis) and a Pontiac G8, and while the Town Car felt like I was driving a sedan-shaped SUV, the G8 felt like I was driving a BMW with a Corvette’s engine. On driving dynamics alone, the Caprice will mop the floor with the Crown Vic, and it appears that GM gave a lot of thought to officer comfort, safety, and efficiency. Durabilty under hard use is an unknown at this point, but the car’s powertrain has already proven itself well.
Now, Fritz, about that RWD V8 Impala?
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