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Car reviews - Holden - Statesman - Caprice V8 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, performance, refinement, size, differentiation
Room for improvement
Handling, automatic transmission, fuel economy

2 Mar 2004

WITHIN the constraints of a midlife facelift, Holden went reasonably adventurous with the WK series Statesman and Caprice.

In fact, the grafting of stark, hard-edged front and rear-ends onto the basic car’s well-rounded body must have presented something of a challenge for the Holden design team.

But, unlike the current Mitsubishi Magna that also makes a surprisingly bold front-end statement – one that many people don’t seem to like - in this case it works pretty well. Certainly neither the new Statesman or Caprice could ever be mistaken for the previous models.

The new look also heralds the company’s decision to more distinctly separate the two upmarket Holdens: the Statesman continues as the traditional company limo, while the Caprice takes on a decidedly more sporty persona.

Like Ford with its Fairlane and LTD, Holden is keen to give its long-wheelbase cars a more vibrant personality, maybe grabbing back some ground from the Europeans who have been dipping into local big-car sales in recent years.

So, while both new Holdens have the sharp new front and rear styling, the Caprice goes a few steps further in the quest for Euro-style dynamic credentials.

It gets lowered, firmer suspension, bigger 17-inch alloy wheels with low-profile 225/50-section tyres and a few external flippancies like black-and-chrome dress-ups around the headlights, cornering lights, a graphite-finish honeycomb grille and twin chrome exhaust tips.

The Statesman/Caprice interior has been freshened up too, providing a clear separation from base Holdens and better differentiating the top top-shelf models themselves.

The seats are new, more supportive and comfortable – both with Saab-style active head restraints to help prevent whiplash injuries – and the Caprice gets a more subtle, almost Euro feel in terms of trim selection and detail finish.

The Caprice driveline also has a performance edge, with a few extras kiloWatts squeezed out of the V8 – up to 245kW, or 10kW more than the Statesman – and a more audible dual exhaust system that delivers a distant but unmistakable growl.

The powertrain has been given a tweak too, giving what Holden says are smoother gearshifts as well as an extension of transmission service intervals from 10,000km to 15,000km. Additionally, there’s been some structural work in the side pillar and floor areas to lessen the chances of lower limb or side impact injury.

WK time also means that, finally, a Holden can be fitted with a factory sunroof. On top of that, there’s park assist at the rear to help inch the car into tight spaces, glare-reducing "projector" headlights and, on Caprice, an electrochromatic interior rearview mirror. The list goes on.

So how does the new, more athletic Caprice V8 acquit itself on the road? Certainly there’s a tighter, more eager feel to the big Holden. The dual exhausts (in stainless steel) remind you constantly of which powerplant is up front and the lazy torque is usually enough to disguise the inadequacies of what is now a quite dated transmission.

There’s enough power available, practically at all times, to negate any need for a downshift.

The Caprice V8 (it is also available with the 152kW 3.8-litre V6, for a saving of around $4700) has the pleasant, easy feel that only comes with a really big engine. Cruising at legal speed it’s barely above idle, yet acceleration is always strong.

The relaxed feel of the car is one of its chief virtues, particularly when compared with any of the more manic, high-tech Euro V8s.

The Caprice is never likely to embarrass in any situation where power is called for, such as passing slow traffic on the open road, or slotting into the fast lane from a feeder road, but there is a penalty in terms of fuel consumption: it’s not hard to encourage the computer to register figures in the high teens.

On the other hand, with considerate use of the accelerator pedal it is possible to see less than frightening readouts, especially on a long, up-country trip. Real-life reports suggest the 5.7-litre engine tends to be more economical than the previous 5.0-litre V8.

The Caprice handles well enough too, not really feeling its weight (which is close to 1.8 tonnes). The steering remains somewhat "dead" – quite well weighted for a car with a sporting bent, but not very communicative in terms of what is going on down at the road surface.

The Caprice is as yet unassisted by the stability control electronics that protect just about every European car costing more than $50,000.

Always a comfortable-riding car, the long-wheelbase Holden in WK Caprice form loses some bump absorption to its more aggressive spring and shock absorber rates, but it still proceeds pretty quietly and smoothly.

The brakes are assisted by a full four-channel anti-lock system and there’s traction control, operating on both engine output and the braking system, to keep the V8 in check. It will either limit engine power, or apply braking selectively at the onset of wheelspin.

The other Caprice virtue is the incredible internal stretching space.

This is a car in which even tall back seat passengers can stretch out to their heart’s content.

To find the equivalent, you’d need to look at $200,000-plus European limos like the 7 Series BMW or Mercedes S-class. Look up to the roof and you’ll see flip-down, illuminated vanity mirrors, while on the back of the front seats are screens for the inbuilt DVD system, complete with headphones that allow viewing while other passengers are listening to the radio or CD player.

Then there’s Holden Assist, standard on Caprice and optional on Statesman, which is the daddy of all security systems and can actually track a stolen car and immobilize it if necessary. Just be certain you remember your security code if the system detects something sneaky is going on.

In the test car, we were questioned by the system because we had been sitting in the car for a half-hour or so with the key in the ignition. Apparently the sort of thing that raises suspicion.

From a passive safety perspective the Caprice indicates that local cars are doing pretty well. In addition to a revised, tauter and safer body, there are the new, more structurally sound seats with their active head restraints and new front seatbelt force limiters.

Holden doesn’t talk a lot about the airbag system except to say the passenger and driver bags have been "re-optimised" for WK. Side airbags are fitted for front passengers only.

The Caprice is a pretty complete car, with only a couple of options to be ticked - satellite-navigation and that factory-installed power sunroof.

Even with those added, the price differential between it and anything of similar size from Europe is laughable.

There can be no pretending the big Holden is a Mercedes or BMW, but it certainly has a function for those who desire the space and features, and it’s not too shabby on the road either.

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