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Car reviews - Holden - Statesman - Caprice V8 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
V8 power/torque and refinement, improved auto, extra equipment, greater differentiation from Statesman, tough styling, crisp handling
Room for improvement
Lack of ESP with V8, lack of latest ABS with V8, four-speed auto still detracts from V8 package, fuel economy, firm ride not for all tastes

17 Aug 2004

HOLDEN’S formidable marketing department belted a huge home run when it attempted to arrest sliding sales of the previous WH Caprice.

Unveiled with the release of a facelifted long-wheelbase flagship in May last year, the cunning plot involved a sporty new look and exclusive levels of performance and equipment for WK Caprice, which was supported by an expensive but effective advertising campaign to lure younger buyers and more of them.

The plan worked: sales doubled and Caprice’s major rival - Ford’s long-wheelbase, Fairlane-based LTD - was outsold seven to one in the luxury class, a market segment once owned by Ford.

As the saying goes: when you’re on a good thing - stick to it, which is exactly what Holden has done with the latest WL Caprice, due in showrooms in September.

Again Caprice comes brandishing an exclusively higher, SS-mimicking level of V8 performance, this time delivering a big 250kW power maximum – as much as HSV models offered less than five years ago – and an even more useful 470Nm of torque, albeit at a less accessible 4800rpm.

As with VZ SS, it’s not the extra 5kW of peak power that’s noticeable, even at redline – it is only a two per cent increase, after all – nor even the extra 5Nm of peak torque.

No, Caprice V8’s more attention-grabbing launch feel comes courtesy of new ECU mapping and an electronic throttle that seems to deliver more performance with less pedal input.

Sure, the more refined pedal feel helps here too, but the standard Caprice V8’s impression of doing more work with fewer revs is a direct result of electronic improvements, rather than any raw power or torque increases.

That said, it’s raw power and torque that give Caprice the upper hand over LTD’s 5.4-litre twin cam V8, which delivers only 220kW.

Similarly, revisions to the Holden V8’s trusty but tired four-speed GM auto have also reaped real-world gains in refinement, with slightly smoother (but no quicker) changes and less flaring during downshifts. There’s also less hunting between third and fourth ratios under a constant throttle on open roads.

If anything, however, the V8's increased refinement highlights the auto's lack of finesse even more.

While the extra V8 performance and refinement is apparent and Caprice V8 remains the ultimate homegrown performance limousine, it won’t surprise us if an increasing number of Caprice customers opt for the less expensive V6 version, which offers an even greater level of sophistication and active safety thanks to a combination of the premium Alloytec 190 V6, five-speed push-button auto and stability control.

While the new 3.6-litre Holden-developed and built V6 may not sound like a BMW straight six or even match Ford’s DOHC six for power in base 175kW form, in premium Alloytec 190 guise, complete with variable induction and exhaust valve timing, it is creamier and more flexible, even if the Ford engine still outdoes it for torque.

Combined with a five-speed auto that holds gears during enthusiastic throttle inputs or allows full manual override via steering wheel shift buttons, Caprice V6 is a far more refined overall package that is hard to beat if V8 sound and urge isn’t a necessity.

The V6’s availability of top-shelf stability control and its associated ABS improvements are simply icing on a cake that will appeal to heads rather than hearts.

Extra equipment on top of Caprice exclusives like the DVD player - including handy front parking sensors and tyre pressure monitors – aren’t the only reasons for choosing Caprice over Statesman.

Thanks to a sportier "FE 1.5" suspension tune, Caprice offers far more responsive handling than the plush riding Statesman, which trades noticeably flatter cornering attitudes for ride quality and more understeer, and will attract more conservative drivers.

Steering changes – including a new power steering pump that gives better straightline feel and a new front stabiliser bar that sharpens steering response at the expense of an earlier understeer threshold – are common to both Statesman and Caprice, but it’s Caprice that seems to capitalise most from the changes.

Now further differentiated from Statesman in the latest WL specification - despite the flagship Holden’s inferior safety features - Caprice does an even finer impersonation of an overgrown sports sedan.

As Holden’s ultimate expression of long-wheelbase luxury, Caprice has long been a comfortable, well-equipped local limo that offers more space and performance than anything at this price.

Now with even more performance, refinement, equipment and style, it’s hard to see Ford’s slightly less expensive LTD bridging the sales gap any time soon.

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