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New Car Test - Holden Caprice V8

19 September, 2003

Lots of space, lots of leather, lots of features and a new sporting edge...

By Michael Knowling

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The WK Holden Caprice treads ground never explored by Holden's top-of-the-line long wheelbase saloon. The new Caprice (finally) abandons those ghastly 'touches of class' from yesteryear and has received a performance injection which sees it pitched at a much younger executive market...

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First things first - the Caprice is a damn big car. It's considerable 2939mm wheelbase took us a while to get used to; the rear wheels take a short radius line through turns and its all too easy to clip, say, a rumble strip with the inside rear tyre. We know...

Thanks to its stretched wheelbase, though, the Caprice offers brilliant rear passenger accommodation - there is an absolute abundance of sprawling room in every direction. Note, though, the Caprice is not intended as a family hauler - although there are seatbelts for five, the rear seat is sculpted to provide comfortable seating for only two passengers.

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A selling point that Holden are currently wringing for all its worth is the standard fitment of a dual DVD system with individual LCD screens for the rear passengers; these are built into the back of the front seat headrests. Rear occupants can slide their favourite DVD into the player - which is awkwardly located in the centre of the lower cushion - and enjoy movies on the two screens, which offer exceptionally good picture quality and resistance to sun flare. The DVD can be operated via the in-seat player unit, a remote control or by the roof console (which also controls the rear HVAC). DVD audio is channelled through a pair of plug-in rear headphones or the Caprice's awesome premium sound system, which we'll come to...

Rear passenger comfort is obviously the name of the Caprice's game.

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With its aforementioned shift in market direction, however, the Caprice has a surprisingly firm ride - compared to the basic Statesman model, it gets lowered, revised rate (stiffened) front struts and Control Link IRS. Ride remains comfortable at all times, but forget any notion that this is a big cushion-mobile. Our only criticism here is some rear-end float on undulating, B-grade country roads.

So how are things from the chauffer's, er, driver's seat?

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Up front, the Caprice again offers ample room and the leather seats are supremely comfortable. The ideal driving position can also be found thanks to the 3-position memory electric seat and exterior mirrors while the steering column is both angle and reach adjustable. Note that the front passenger seat gets electric adjustment but no memory settings.

Steering response is good for a semi-sporting limousine. Our only criticism is just a slight indirectness at the straight-ahead position - on-going steering corrections are necessary over rough country roads, despite the fact that the chassis is extremely stable.

Turn-in response is good; there's a safe amount of mid-corner understeer dialled in and you can feel the rear-end getting lively under heavy power application - that's when the traction control system kicks back through the accelerator pedal and keeps everything tidy. Surprisingly for a 70-odd grand car, though, the Caprice doesn't come with electronic stability control - even as an option.

Emergency brake applications show the Caprice's 4-channel ABS-controlled four-wheel discs (ventilated at the front) give good stopping power and excellent steering control while ABS-ing - as we said, the chassis always feels very stable.

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Like all of the Australian-spec LS1s before it, the Caprice's 5.7-litre alloy V8 has disappointing low rpm torque. What is different, however, is there's now a stonking 245kW and 465Nm on tap at 5600 and 4000 rpm respectively - this makes the Caprice the most powerful Holden ever produced (putting aside HSV, of course). Exhaust and induction mods can be attributed for the 20kW gain over the previous WH Caprice.

From about 3000 rpm up, the LS1 swells with torque and runs to about 5800 rpm with good breathing. There are no fireworks anywhere in the power delivery, just a pleasant surprise when you check the speedo. A distinctly V8 exhaust growl can be enjoyed anytime you give the LS1 a big prod.

Note that the base Caprice is also offered in naturally aspirated V6 form.

The Caprice's standard 4-speed auto trannie performs well during most driving conditions but there are a couple of vices. On some occasions there's a reluctance to kick-down and, more importantly, there's no sequential style shift; Ford will have a great time trumpeting that one.

At 1780 kilograms the Caprice is 60kg heavier than a fully loaded Holden Calais, but with ample torque and power it's still capable of some quick acceleration times - we recorded effortless low-to-mid 7-second 0 - 100s. From a standing start, the Caprice's standard rear limited slip diff gets all that LS1 torque to the road with only minimal traction control intervention (depending on the road surface, of course).

During our test, the Caprice guzzled an averaged of 17-litres per 100 kilometres; this is typical of what we've seen from other LS1-powered Holdens and HSVs from the past. Note, though, the trip computer showed an average of 10-litres per 100 consumption at cruise on the open road - so there is some potential for semi-decent fuel economy... At least - despite a 10.0:1 compression ratio - the Caprice is rated for the cheaper normal unleaded fuel brew.

Oh, and previous LS1 oil consumption problems should be kept in mind, regardless of any claimed engineering changes to the engine - we'd recommend checking the oil level at every fuel fill, just to be safe.

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Apart from not having a sequential gearshift arrangement, the cabin is comprehensively loaded. In addition to the basic luxury features - electric windows, mirrors and central locking/immobiliser - you get an electro-chromatic interior mirror, dual zone climate control, programmable rest reminder, cruise control and Holden Assist. The Holden Assist system - among other things - allows you to send for police help in an emergency situation or if the car is broken into. It's a great system that more local manufacturers should adopt.

Standard rear parking sensors are fitted to provide valuable assistance for the challenge of parking the Caprice. The left-side exterior mirror also dips whenever you engage reverse gear - good for checking how close the factory alloy wheels are to the gutter...

Our test vehicle was also equipped with an optional ($2050) factory fitted power tilt'n'slide glass sunroof. This works a treat with absolutely no buffeting and low wind noise.

The centre of the dash houses a myriad of buttons (which all look the same and require some familiarisation) as well as a multi-function LCD display. This display is configurable and can provide information on climate control system, entertainment systems and driving data. The trip computer is integrated into LCD screens in the instrument cluster, which otherwise contains a tacho, speedo, fuel level and coolant temperature gauges. Everything is well arranged and easy to read.

The Caprice's Blaupunkt 430W premium sound system is brilliant. The integrated front-end provides a 6-stack in-dash CD stacker, digital sound processing, speed dependant volume and a total of twelve speakers. Music clarity remains up to very high listening levels and the big Blaupunkt rear shelf speaks can pump out ample bass.

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Safety features extend to active front head restraints, front seatbelt force limiters and pre-tensioners plus front and side airbags. Compared to the previous Caprice, structural safety improvements have also been executed and new projector lamp headlights put out a 42 percent superior low-beam light spread. Fog lights are also standard fitment.

The Holden family resemblance is obvious in the Caprice but, thankfully, it is appropriately differentiated from lessen brethren.

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Aside from being larger than Commodore models, the new Caprice has been freshened up with a bold new front-end featuring a "sports graphite honeycomb grille" and projector headlights while the rear is completely revised - the styling of the new rear-end, though, we find very dull. Holden claims that the sheet metal of the WK Caprice is all new aside from the roof and doors - its aerodynamic Cd has been reduced to just 0.30 and total aero lift has been reduced by 57 percent.

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Aggressive nine-spoke 17 x 8 alloys and 225/50 Bridgestone Turanzas fill the Caprice's guards and, as mentioned, the ride height is slightly lower than the Statesman's. The official word from our local Commodore club was to tint the windows, whack on some 20s and you'd have "a top lookin' cruiser."

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It's fair enough to expect a 70-odd grand car to be well screwed together. We went over the Caprice with a fine comb and found its overall build quality is certainly up to standard - the paint had a deep finish, panel margins were even, the doors shut well and the leather quality looked good. However, points were lost for a folded metal lip at the top of the doorframes that looks daggy, the odd rattle from inside the roof (perhaps the sunroof mechanism) and some groaning from the power steering system.

Now let's talk about money...

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Starting at $72,990 (plus ORCs), the LS1-powered Caprice is nearly $5000 dearer than the base V6 version and just over $1000 dearer than its direct competitor - the Ford LTD V8. Note, though, the LTD is still being sold with the old Windsor motor. For that reason alone, the Caprice offers better value than the current Ford product - let alone adding into the equation its DVD entertainment system, brilliant sound system and sporting chassis tune!

Why You Would...

  • Absolutely massive interior space
  • Huge list of features - including quality DVD installation in the rear
  • Deceptively quick
  • Comfortable ride without too much of a handling trade-off
  • Much cheaper than an equivalent Euro luxury car

Why You Wouldn't...

  • 17-litre per 100km fuel consumption
  • Uncomfortable seating for fifth passenger
  • No sequential transmission
  • LS1 oil consumption issues - are they in the past?

The Caprice was provided for this test by Holden Australia.

www.holden.com.au

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