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First drive: New WK Statesman and Caprice more sporty

New look: The Caprice has gone for an image makeover.

The new WK Holden Statesman and Caprice look different and drive better

23 Apr 2003

HOLDEN has injected more differentiation into its long wheelbase luxury lineup and is trying to turn the flagship Caprice into a sporting saloon to boost its disappointing sales.

The WK mid-life update of the Statesman and Caprice range was launched to the press last week and goes on sale in May, boasting the usual additions of more equipment, updated mechanicals and a few extra dollars added to the asking price.

But Holden has also individualised the two cars far more than the WH versions they replace, with distinctive and technical grilles that will undoubtedly shock the traditionalists.

The rear-end treatment is just as interesting although basically the same for both cars, with a chopped off boot that manages to evoke both Euro and US styling. The truncated look is the prime contributor to a 44mm shorter overall length for WK compared to WH.

Holden is also claiming the body has a six per cent improved aerodynamic coefficient of drag to 0.30 and less wind noise thanks to sharper lines and new mirrors that were first seen on VY. There are also improvements to body strength in both offset frontal barrier testing and side impact performance.

Essentially, Holden has done with WK the same as it did the short wheelbase VY, book-ended an organic centre section (the roof and doors are carry-over from WH) with more geometric front and rear-ends. Initial impressions are that the longer wheelbase has given chief designer Richard Ferlazzo more room to achieve an integrated look than Max Wolff had with VY.

It is Caprice where Holden has pushed the hardest for change. Gone are the vertical bars and acres of chrome previously reserved for the most expensive car in the range, replaced instead by a honeycomb grille with a large horizontal bar across the centre, new projector headlights with black bezels and a noticeable lack of shiney metal.

Holden says it has created a "Euro Sports" look for Caprice, and it's tried to inject some of that into the driving as well. The car is equipped with a 245kW/465Nm version of the Gen III V8 - the most powerful version yet seen in Australia (outside of HSV of course) - a more sporting and lowered suspension and the steering modifications first seen on VY Commodore. Rounding out the chassis package are 17-inch alloys and low profile tyres.

Inside Caprice gains a first for an Australian-built car in having a standard dual DVD player with screens inset into the back of the front seats. Curiously though, satellite navigation remains an option.

So why is so much attention being chucked at Caprice? It's all to do with the bottomline.

"Caprice is our flagship, but in my view a flagship in name only," said Holden executive director sales and marketing Ross McKenzie. "A few hundred sales per year does not constitute success in our eyes.

"We have come to the realisation that a prestige car does not have to be inherently conservative or staid, witness the renaissance of Mercedes-Benz, injecting performance and design character into a once conservative lineup.

"We are in our own way injecting more character into Caprice, more performance, more technology, a bolder character and we think that is going to work very well for us."Caprice sales are indeed unimpressive the best WH effort being 804 in 2000. Having said that it has comprehensively spanked Ford's AU LTD, just as Statesman has kicked the Fairlane's butt.

But all that could change soon, with the BA Fairlane and LTD set for launch on July 1, including a sporty new G220 version of Fairlane.

Statesman isn't only a success in Australia of course, selling between 4000 and 5600 per year since WH came along in 1999. It also underpins Holden's Middle East export business and could soon be on its way to China and South Korea as well.

In other words, if it ain't broke don't fix it. Therefore it retains an interpretation of its horizontal grille - with some suggestion of the Benzes about it. There's now also more chrome than Caprice and the retention of 16-inch alloy wheels.

The Statesman has the choice of 3.8-litre normally-aspirated or supercharged V6 engines, or the 235kW/460Nm version of the Gen III already standard on upper-spec VY Commodores. It also picks up the VY heavier VY steering and some - but not all - of the suspension tune changes that are on Caprice.

The WKs share a new-look dash and centre console including two-tone instrument panel and silver-ringed instrument cluster. The centre fascia and steering wheel are new for WK. There's a high-mounted "infotainment" display at the top of the centre console and new front seats with active head restraints.

Standard trim in Statesman is velour, in Caprice it's leather.

On top of the loads of standard equipment tou already get with these cars, WK adds an in-dash six stack CD player, new Blaupunkt audio system, rear park assist, twin fold out cupholders in the instrument panel and retractable cupholders in the rear armrest, accessory power outlets in the boot and centre console, a mobile phone power point, sunglass holder mounted above the rear view mirror, mobilephone concealed storage compartment and dimmable vanity mirrors. And for the first time, the cars can also be ordered from the factory with a sunroof already fitted.

Pricing - as we said at the outset - is up. By $500 for the two V6 Statesmans and $550 for the V8. The Caprice with optional V6 rises by $900 and the V8 by $1000.

Holden is forecasting a 23 per cent sales rise for the WKs compared to WH, which by our calculation would mean a rise from last year's combined 4958 sales to almost exactly 6100.

Holden Statesman V6 $53,490
Holden Statesman V6 s/c $54,490
Holden Statesman V8 $58,240
Holden Caprice V6 $68,250
Holden Caprice V8 $72,990Options/Accessories:
Level ride suspension $495
Leather trim (Statesman) $1980
Holden Assist (Statesman) $1990
Online sunroof $2050


THE first time you see a WK front-on it's a bit of a shock, particularly the Caprice, which is guppy-mouthed and a lot different to what we have come to expect from Holden's top of the line luxury car.

The ornateness has gone along with the sense of overblown luxury that came with it. Instead Caprice in particular is somewhat challenging and affronting and definitely more aggressive.

Inside both cars, the treatment is less in your face and easier to adapt to. There's an elegance and simplicity to the instruments and a nice feel and logic to the centre console display. Typical of local LWB cars, you feel well looked after when you settle into the armchair-like drivers' seat and grasp the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Similarly the drive experience is easy to absorb and enjoy. Like the styling, the chassis balance of the Statesman and Caprice has become sharper and more athletic. They are surprisingly fun to drive.

Yes, they are big and heavy cars that are nearly 5.2m long and weigh in at up to 1780kg, but thanks to firmer suspension and heavier steering than their predecessors they drive flatter, more urgently and with more precision. Yet the ride quality is not curtailed to the extent that they become uncomfortable. There's a lot to be said for 2.939m wheelbase!In V8 form they are fantastic plenty of urge for overtaking, conquering hills or simply to enjoy, all accompanied by a lovely engine note, and better mated to the four-speed automatic gearbox than the V6 versions.

With less torque in the V6s to help out, the shifts come more often and then the crude nature of the box is more exposed. It was possible on one up and downhill stretch to modulate the throttle so the gearbox was constantly and indecisively changing between third and fourth gear. That's annoying.

And then there are the V6 engines themselves. Despite obvious success at sound deadening, the Ecotec still hoarsely grates at high revs and loses much of its civility. The new HF V6 certainly can't come soon enough for Holden, along with - almost certainly - a five-speed automatic gearbox.

Transfer out of the drivers' seat into the back and there's still sprawling space aplenty - enough to make any executive happy. And now that the Caprice has that DVD player they can be entertained as well. The downer in the back for Caprice is its really only set up as a four-seater.

Not that we can imagine too many Caprices ? or Statesmans for that matter - being piled to gunwales with people too often. It just wouldn't do.

Overall, Holden's update of its long wheelbase range has delivered a dramatic styling change and an enjoyable boost to driving enjoyment. We'll find out later in the year if that's enough to maintain its dominance over Ford.

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