Car reviews - Holden - Statesman - Caprice V8 sedan
Massive rear seat space, muscular engine, equipment
Room for improvement
Politically incorrect fuel consumption, a bit of Commodore seeps through
8 Jan 2002
HOLDEN'S pride-of-the-fleet Caprice V8 really moves into the big league in WH Series II form as it creeps past the $70,000 mark on its way to direct competition with the prestige European brands.
But where it scores over, say, the Mercedes-Benz E200K which it approaches on price, is with its sheer size, muscular engine and comprehensive equipment levels. The Holden in fact is similar to the S-class long-wheelbase in size, if not weight or price.
You might not be buying the status of a three-pointed star, but you are getting no less than 5.7-litres of engine and there's not a lot left to choose from the options list. Satellite navigation and a power sunroof are the only significant omissions from the raft of standard equipment.
Designing the Caprice, Holden made a good job of separating it from the fleet of regular, everyday Commodores. The extended profile looks sleek and well integrated, as if it was always intended that way, and there are enough design cues at the front and rear to make it easily distinguishable.
And inside, the 151mm wheelbase hike has created massive rear-seat space, more than 10 centimetres better than the already quite good Commodore. Here, passengers can stretch out, on their individually-shaped twin seats, and act on important decisions such as cabin temperature or sound system volume without consulting the driver.
But the Caprice rates well as a driver's car too, especially with its newly reworked control-link rear suspension. As effective in many ways at Caprice level as it is on more prosaic Holdens, the revised rear end adds to both handling precision and ride comfort.
The Caprice always rode pretty smoothly with its long-wheelbase chassis, but now it's even better due to the adoption of a slightly smaller (by 3mm) rear stabiliser bar, plus a general re-tuning made possible by the new rear end.
The big car cruises very quietly, as you'd imagine, and soaks up the bumps with more ease than other Holdens although there is a slight "drumming" through the cabin that is obviously due to the football stadium proportions.
This has been achieved at the same time as a general improvement in the way the big Holden steers on a poorly surfaced road. The new lateral control links have a major effect on limiting wheel toe change under bump and rebound forces, which means the car tracks with much more conviction.
The same thing happens on a corner, too, with the back end exerting a more stabilising effect than before, and complimenting newly designed tyres aimed at improving both on-centre steering response and straight-line stability.
At 1755kg the Caprice V8 is a pretty weighty device - more than 300kg in excess of a Commodore Executive - so the Generation III engine's deep-chested 460Nm of torque is appreciated.
The fact that it uses only automatic transmission effectively hides the 5.7 litre engine's thirst for rpm, so it always feels lively - although for frugal types it's maybe a good idea to ignore the fuel consumption readouts displayed on the trip computer, especially in stop-start traffic.
At least the all-alloy V8 is happy to run on regular grade unleaded, and at least the plastic fuel tank holds a relatively generous 75 litres. But if you object to the economy anyway and don't have a hankering for powering away from the traffic lights, it's possible to save four grand or so and get the regular V6-engined version.
Traction control the Caprice does have, and this can be made to step in regularly, feeding back to the accelerator pedal if the engine management system is being activated and occasionally bringing a noticeable hesitation in forward motion.
The brakes are four-channel, all-disc (ventilated at the front only) anti-lock and the system feels well up to the Caprice's performance.
The driver will also appreciate the effects of the suspension rework on the Caprice's Variatronic road-speed sensitive variable-ratio steering. Is it lighter than before? The suggestion is that it is yet it still manages to convey messages of more security when cruising at highway speeds in a straight line.
Mind you, the preference for overall steering quality still goes to the Ford Fairlane/LTD, which has a more European feel than the Caprice.
The Holden doesn't really mind a corner either, even if the driver is aware of the bulk that's being piloted. For some, there is the consciousness that the added security of electronic stability control is still a little way off for our local prestige cars.
The Caprice interior cuts it pretty well as an executive limousine, although the finesse isn't at the level of a top-line BMW or Mercedes. Despite the use of wood grain trim on the steering wheel, centre console and doors, and despite the use of nice, soft leather trim, there are still plenty of Commodore cues, particularly in the way controls function and in some of the finer points of detail.
You needn't look far to find the ordinary Holden lurking within, although things like the new indicator stalks with their improved touch-and-feel are appreciated - particularly the ease with which the cruise control is now operated.
The seats are excellent, particularly in the front with all-way power adjustment (including three-position memory on the driver's side) and there is a relatively spectacular sound system complete with 12 speakers (including two tweeters on the rear roof, alongside the separate climate control and volume controls) and a capacity of 260 watts.
Satellite navigation is optional, controlled via a removable, remote pad adorned with HSV branding. The system benefits from an easy to read screen and a reasonably intuitive operating system.
The Caprice's boot is bigger than a regular Commodore, because there's more overhang behind the rear wheels. This helps compensate for the premium Holden's use of a smaller ski-port giving access to the boot via the rear seat centre armrest.
This is where the car's origins are also evident because the hinges remain the same, primitive, intrusive and potentially luggage-damaging devices used on most volume-production, mass-market cars (mind you, the latest Hyundai Sonata has gutter-mounted, articulated hinges).
But the Caprice gets away with little aberrations like this because there's nowhere else this sort of luxury, in this size of car, is available for this sort of money.
It is as comfortable to ride in as it is enjoyable to drive and it looks pretty good too - certainly a more homogenous styling job than that of its main rival, the Ford LTD.
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