Car reviews - Holden - Statesman - WM sedan range
Classy looks, concert-hall interior handling of Caprice, ride comfort of Statesman
Room for improvement
V6 still doesn’t sound like a happy camper at revs, passengers less happy in hard-driven Caprice
1 Sep 2006
By CHRIS HARRIS
HOLDEN’S WM Statesman/Caprice may not seriously expect to challenge a BMW 7 series for on-road dynamics but, according to Holden, the basics to do that are there.
Chassis engineer Andrew Holmes says the fundamentals of the new long-wheelbase models are about as good as you’d expect to get in terms of basic geometry and, to lift the levels significantly beyond where they are now would be simply a matter of adding technology. And cost.
Things like active damping, the replacement of suspension components with alloy and air springs would lift the big Holdens to the best international levels. But the economies of scale required to bring prices down to acceptable levels are still a way off for local entry-level prestige cars.
So what we have, right now, is the very best Holden can do with what it’s got.
And the result is a two-model range that lifts local handling/ride dynamics to levels where one begins to think of European best-practice comparability.
And, as before, the Holden long-wheelbase buyer can decide whether to go the cushy route or opt for a more aggressive, tighter handling package where the Euro comparisons come into play.
On a sinuous drive route south of Adelaide the new Holdens revealed their dramatically raised levels of dynamic competence as well as the deep-lunged punch of the 6.0-litre Gen IV L98 V8, as well as the surprising urge of the 195kW 3.6-litre high-output V6.
The Statesman/Caprice also showcased the significant lift in build quality, and the massive dimensions that make even more rear-seat legroom available while providing an almost gargantuan boot.
And with the new styling that includes 43 unique panels and shares only the front doors with VE Commodore, the top-level Holdens look, to some eyes, even more resolved in a styling sense than their short-wheelbase siblings.
The extended rear with its semi-fastback roofline works well, and doesn’t look out of place with the blunt, heavily sculpted front-end.
Inside, the Statesman/Caprice play up to their local-limo role with a seriously stylish look where pains have been taken to both simplify the presentation while raising levels of perceived quality.
The instrument layout is visibly quite different to Commodore with the gauges set into four deep recesses in a clean, angled panel trimmed in either fake wood (Statesman) or real aluminium (Caprice).
The unique centre stack aims at ergonomic simplicity with big, easily identified controls for heating, air-conditioning and sound system, and flows into the console containing the shift lever, cup-holders and power window controls.
For some reason, most of the time during the introductory drive we kept looking elsewhere – the doors – to operate the windows.
Both cars look pretty sumptuous inside, with the Caprice’s upmarket role evident in the soft-leather seat trim and the more pronounced side-bolstering in both front and rear seats.
This proved effective later in the program when the roads tightened up and the cars were given free reign to demonstrate their new suspension dynamics.
In fact, it’s when the WM gathers pace that its differences with the outgoing WL models become glaringly apparent.
Gone is the heavily-weighted steering that so loved to wrestle with the driver. In its place is a more wieldy system with good road feel yet less sensitivity to being thrown around by bumps – particularly in the softer-suspended Statesman with its smaller, 17-inch wheels and more comfortable 225/55 R17 tyres.
The Caprice is altogether more focused, really homing in as a sports sedan when fitted with the L98 V8, which comes with bigger 17-inch brakes to compliment the already-firmer dampers.
The V8 Caprice as a consequence points with more precision, stops with even more assurance (the WM’s braking system was developed over eight years and shares with the VE Commodore prodigious abilities) and blasts from corner to corner in the manner you’d expect of a car able to stop the clock over 400 metres in just 13.9 seconds.
However, while the driver and passengers are held more firmly against lateral G-forces by the more deeply sculpted seats, there’s a more frenetic air in the Caprice that is less relaxing even when it’s not being pushed particularly hard.
The softer-damped Statesman is a more passenger-friendly car even when being pushed moderately hard to demonstrate its also-impressive handling. Even fitted with the V8, the Statesman retains the comfort suspension calibrations and 17-inch wheels but does get the bigger brakes.
The overall reality is that the WM cars are composed on virtually all types of road surfaces and unbelievably more confidence-inspiring than their predecessors, even without the thought that standard ESP is always lurking there to step in if needed.
The ride quality, with the even further stretched wheelbase, is excellent in the Statesman – which could well be the cushiest LWB Holden yet – and nicely assertive in the Caprice.
And what of the powertrains that motivate the new cars?
Well, even though the Alloytec V6 has been given a little more audible character in VE/WM tune, it’s the V8 that impresses more. Forget the original 5.7-litre engine’s lack of bottom-end torque and its surprisingly torpid initial response.
The L98 has plenty on hand from the word go, delivering a deep, meaty thrum via its twin exhausts and happy to spin out to eye-widening segments on the tachometer.
The fact that the maximum 530Nm of torque comes in at a seemingly high 4400rpm is not indicative of the real world, while the 5700rpm required to produce 270kW realistically indicates this is a big V8 that doesn’t mind a rev as well.
But if the V6 pales in any comparison with the all-alloy V8, it is still surprisingly effective in the 1.8-tonne plus car and never, ever feels wanting in response or high-rpm eagerness – even if it does begin to sound a bit thrashy when used enthusiastically.
The six-speed, US-built "Active Select" auto transmission that comes with the V8 shifts smoothly and intuitively, dropping down a ratio on descents when the brakes are applied and holding gears on throttle lift-off to minimise "hunting".
Like the five-speed auto used with the V6, it offers a reverse-action (forward for downshifts, back for upshifts) sequential control actuated via the console shift lever.
Holden revealed the official fuel consumption figures for the WM on launch, indicating a virtually inconsequential improvement for the V6 and a drop for the V8, but the real world suggests some conservatism here, because we had no trouble bettering the 14.5L/100km quoted for the V8 on a previous tough run that included the obtaining of performance figures.
What’s not to like in the WM Statesman/Caprice?
At this stage it’s really difficult to get picky, apart from saying the V6 still has some way to go before it becomes a happy-sounding engine like, for example, the 3.2-litre version used by Alfa Romeo in its 159 and Brera models.
The V8 is simply great, and the general handling qualities, ride comfort, safety, interior quality and presentation – as well as the classy exterior – augur well for a big Holden that may help bring more Australian sales to a model that has so far been entirely dependent on exports to exist at all.
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