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Car reviews - Holden - Caprice - V8 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Deep-chested V8 power, amazing interior space, smooth ride
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption

Holden logo12 May 2006

By TIM BRITTEN

SIX litres of pushrod V8 in a five-passenger car is beginning to sound more 1970s than third millennium.

Sure, there's no denying the aural pleasures of a deep-chested V8, nor the practical benefits of excessive twisting power, but today, more than ever, there's a price to be paid.

Particularly when you need to meet ADR79/01 emission regulations and your latest V8 requests a diet of 98 RON fuel - and particularly when your average consumption is quoted at 14.3L/100km.

More than ever, fuel costs are becoming a major factor in the economics of running a big-engined car. With regular unleaded prices about to creep past $1.40 a litre, the balance sheets justifying heavy V8s are looking less and less favourable.

All very much a pity, because V8s are part of the quintessential essence of our local car-makers.

And ironic too, because while it's thirsty, Holden's latest version of its GM-sourced all-alloy small-block V8 is the biggest, most powerful, cleanest-running ever.

If your needs run to owning a big, spacious sedan that can eat up the miles with insolent ease while providing comfort bordering on luxury for five adults, it's still difficult to see a better alternative though.

Buying a big V8, it all comes down to taking a deep breath and accepting that you're not about to be swayed by economic forces.

The new engine - the Gen IV L76 - now becomes the standard V8 across the entire Holden lineup from SV8, to SS, Calais and Berlina sedans, Berlina wagon, SS ute and Crewman, Crewman Cross8 - and Statesman and Caprice.

It is a rework of the previous Gen III, and if 260kW does not seem an increase proportionate to the capacity jump from 5.7 to a full six litres, at least the 510Nm of torque is up on even the most powerful Gen III, the 260kW/500Nm version seen in the last of the Monaros (In fact the previous engine was available in so many states of tune - from the 235kW version used in the Crewman Cross 8 to the fire-spitting unit that saw the Monaro out - prior to its Gen IV replacement that it became quite confusing).

The subject of this test, the V8 Caprice, was last seen with a 250kW/470Nm Gen III which, on 91 RON unleaded produced city/highway fuel figures of 13.5L/100km and 8.5L/100km. The new Gen IV's 14.3L/100km is marginally better than the Monaro which, with its low final drive ratio, consumed premium unleaded at the rate of 15.3L/100km.

In the US, the Gen IV engine uses fuel-saving cylinder deactivation but, according to Holden, "Significant testing and calibration development requirements" knocked it out of contention for Australia.

The changes in L76 over the Gen III LS1 V8 are a lot more than superficial, right down to a new cylinder block casting with larger, 101.6mm bores, revisions to the breathing ability of the heads, bigger inlet and exhaust valves, new, flat-top pistons, a lift in compression ratio from 10.1:1 to 10.4:1, more efficient ignition coils, a larger throttle body, external knock sensors and a revised engine controller to work in with the carry-over drive-by-wire electronic throttle control.

Importantly, the Gen IV has been tuned to deliver more of the muted V8 growl that is almost as necessary as its easy power delivery.

Holden says it has concentrated on proving more bottom-end torque than the outgoing V8 and the figures certainly show some promise. Although the maximum 510Nm still comes in at high 4400rpm (470Nm at 4800rpm previously), Holden says there's now a lot more at the lower end of the rpm band, introducing more of the flexibility you'd expect in a big V8.

The new engine sticks with a revised version of the tried and tested 4L65-E four-speed auto (an input shaft speed sensor is added) and copes with it well - but there's no question Holden has dropped behind the field where fuel-saving, smooth-operating six-speed sequential autos are becoming the norm.

The Caprice isn't otherwise changed, but the new engine does alter the car's dynamic profile enough to make it a more satisfying experience on the road, compensating for any increase in fuel consumption (actually, we managed to have the test car sitting on a reasonable 12.7L/100km, but that figure did include quite a bit of highway running). And the 75-litre fuel tank at least gives a good cruising range.

The Caprice, with its massive interior, continues to be the most commodious under-$80,000 sedan on the market, and builds-in reasonable levels of active and passive safety.

With the Gen IV V8 it is now equipped with the electronic stability control that was previously only available on the Alloytec V6 version, as well as traction control and an ABS system that incorporates electronic brake assist and cornering brake control to bring it closer to top-end Euro specification.

There are still only four airbags - dual front and front side - but the Holden does get active front seat head restraints that help minimise whiplash injuries from rear-end collisions.

In this big-seated interior there's a swathe of luxury equipment including a DVD system with screens behind the front head restraints, 12-speaker six-disc CD sound system, electro chromatic rearview mirror, front and rear parking sensors, trip computer with service reminder, tyre pressure monitor, leather-trimmed seats with power adjustment on the front seats and three-position memory on the driver's side, dual-zone climate-control and a remote key that restores seats and mirrors to the driver's preferred position. Things like satellite navigation, power sunroof and a 31-litre car fridge are among the few options.

With its easy, loping gait on the open road the Caprice V8 loves long distances, keeping passengers comfortable on the supportive seats and riding with a serenity hardly affected by its tighter-sprung (than Statesman) suspension.

The steering remains heavy but quite rapid with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock and the big car handles with a precision that, while it may lack the finesse of Ford's long-wheelbase Fairlane and LTD, tends to bely its size and weight. And now, there's the nice reassurance of electronic stability control at V8, as well as V6 level.

If your needs run to a car that provides much more than adequate lounging space for five adults, a massive boot that holds more than its 540-litre quoted volume suggests, and the rumbling surge of a broad-shouldered V8, then the Holden Caprice more than adequately does the job.

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