Sep 28

Holden Caprice-V V8

In the second of our “Aussie Built” cars series, we drive a Holden Caprice.

Since the death of Ford Australia’s Fairlane and LTD twins in December of 2007 and the similar demise of Holden’s Statesman badge in September, 2010, the Holden Caprice stands alone as Australia’s extra-long-wheelbase sedan.

Our test Caprice V8, in Phantom Black Metallic colour, is a fine looking machine. A handsome, stately looking sedan with a nice wide stance, Audi-esque rear roofline curves and just enough chrome highlights in select places to leave it looking special, without being garrish.

Get inside and you’ll discover massive amounts of headroom, shoulder-room, legroom and hip-room everywhere, regardless of which seat you happen to plonk yourself into. Which is hardly a surprise given that the whole point of the Caprice over something like, say, a Calais-V, is the extra room.

The seats themselves are fine leather and there are matching leather and suede highlights throughout the cabin.

The driver’s pew is big, wide with a large base that offers generous under-thigh support and, thanks to 10-way electric adjustment, is extremely easy to get comfortable in.

Dials and instruments are clear and easy to read. In the Caprice, they are also indented and less affected by reflections from sunlight that those in the VE Commodore.

Get into the back and close the doors. Get someone to act as chauffeur. You’ll be doing something that Aussie politicians, including the Prime Minister do all the time, with the Caprice a favourite amongst Government.

So what is that experience like?

Just like the front seats, the rears are extremely comfortable, with a slight backward lean of the backrests that is kind of relaxing. As you would expect of the long wheelbase (94mm longer than Commodore), there is a ton of legroom to stretch out in.

In the backs of the front headrests are twin lcd screens that can be used to watch DVDs(Matched by a single one up front). These are equipped with wireless headphones. So you can watch without any fear of disrupting the driver or other passengers. Or, if you so choose, the sound output from the movie can be played through the BOSE sound system fitted to the car.

The angle of the rear seatbacks seem to put your eyes directly in line with the screens and make it easy to watch something on there. Easier than looking out the windows or windscreen as it turns out.

The low rear seating position in relation to the car’s waistline, along with minimal forward view from the back seat means rear passengers can feel cosseted and protected, or slightly claustrophobic. It’s a fine line. But despite all the available room, at least 4 people complained of feeling either claustrophobia or car sickness from the rear seats during our time with the car. Keeping focus on the screens alleviated this.

Along with stretching the wheelbase, the car has been stretched even more and is 266mm longer overall than Commodore variants. A lot of this extra length has been allocated to boot space. The result is a long, flat boot area with a huge 535L capacity.

Jump into the driver’s seat and fire up the L98 6.0L V8 and you’ll notice the motor’s sound has been deliberately hushed compared to that of an SS.

It performs really well though. With 260kW of power and 517Nm of torque driving through it’s 6 speed auto, the Caprice gets to 100kM/h in 6.43 seconds and covers the 400M in 14.33 seconds. It knocks out 80-120kM/h in 3.9. All this despite weighing almost 1900kG.

The 6 Speed Auto features performance mode with tap-up/tap down gearchanges, but we found it was better left to it’s own devices when driving hard. Kickdown responses were both quicker and smoother than manually selected ones.

The peak torque of the 6.0L arrives at a fairly high 4400rpm, but you’d never know it from behind the wheel. There is a very linear delivery throughout the rev range and plenty of mumbo from the get-go. The engine is enormously flexible and overtaking, even on a steep incline is a simple matter of sticking your right foot down. The auto drops a couple of cogs and away it goes.

The auto is smooth and refined, and you only really notice it changing gears when you’re at maximum acceleration.

The Caprice has Multi-link suspension, front and rear. It offers great bump absorbtion and compliance on rough roads. Although it is surprisingly firm given the car’s luxury role. This is mainly because of the 245/45/18 profile rubber fitted. Still, it is extremely well controlled and yet still absorbant of harshness. While the big Holden doesn’t quite approach the suspension smarts of some big name euros, it offers by far the best ride/handling compromise of the vehicles we have assembled on this day.

Complimenting the excellent ride/handling properties is well-weighted steering. There is slightly more power assistance than that of short wheelbase Commodore variants, but it offers plenty of feel and is tight and reasonably direct.

Such is the composure of the suspension system underneath the Caprice, that throughout our drive, we were continually amazed at how it manages to shrink itself around you. 99% of the time you are unaware you’re carrying any extra baulk than a Commodore.

The exception to this is under braking, which is not quite as pleasant. The brakes take a while to pull the car down from speed and suffer some fade. They are also slightly spongy in the pedal. This is a bit of a worry on such a big, heavy vehicle.

The Caprice is fitted with AFM, but despite Active Fuel Management, this is still a large heavy car with a big engine, and it likes a drink. We manage highway fuel usage of 8.1L per 100kM. Suburban driving equalled 14.9. While our overall average on test = 14.1.

The Caprice is fairly feature rich with Automatic headlights, Auto headlight washers, BOSE stereo system, Tri-Zone Climate Control, front and rear park assist, Multifunction Triple Display Trip Computer, Rearview Camera, Holden IQ CD-Ripping and USB connectivity and illuminated vanity mirrors.

This is also the vehicle that taught us the value of automatic rain sensing windscreen wipers. Which we’d previously dismissed as gimmicky. Sure, it’s easy to flick a switch and turn on your wipers. That part of the operation didn’t impress us. Similarly, vehicles have been fitted with variable-speed intermittent wipers for a long time. No, what impressed us on a day of varying amounts of rain and mist was the automatic adjustments to the variable speed. Instead of constantly adjusting the wipers’ intermittent speed every few seconds as we did in the other cars on the day, the Caprice took care of it for us. It was amazing how much more concentration was actually available to just keep driving.

Holden have gone to great efforts to make sure that very little sheet-metal is shared between it’s short and long wheelbase cars. The rear doors, for instance, are bespoke to Caprice, not Commodore hand-me-downs. Which means there is excellent entry and exit for the rear of car.

But a few Commodore traits remain and unfortunately, they’re mostly negative.

There’s the stupid handbrake, which continues to rip people’s pockets in all variants. There’s the ski-hatch middle section in rear seats, instead of 60/40 folding rears (just as in a Commodore). Then there’s the terrible trim material at the tops of the doors and upper part of the dash. That is poor on a $39 grand Commodore Omega. In the top of the range, $69,990 Caprice, it’s unforgivable.

Also, considering the length of the car, the exterior mirrors are a little on the small side.

These might be minor complaints, but they are the fly in the otherwise prestige ointment.

If you can overlook the few Commodore-derived negatives, you’ll discover a car that offers enormous space and a huge list of luxury features. A car which, brakes aside, can be driven hard with confident ability and enthusiasm. A car that offers a unique blend of space, ride, handling and (relative to the Germans) bargain pricing.

Michael Adams and Neville Adams for Infinite-Garage
Article originally written for www.worldcarreview.com