Until this week I had never been inside a police car (knock on wood) but at the MAMA Spring Rally not only was I allowed to poke around a Chevrolet Caprice Police Pursuit Vehicle that GM was showing off, their rep was offering test drives to anyone who asked.
You are probably quite familiar with the basics of the Caprice PPV. Based on the rear drive, Australian built Holden Commodore, the Caprice is equipped with a 3.6-liter V-6 rated at 301-hp or a 6.0-liter, 355-hp V-8 (available as a no-cost option). The U.S. version is purpose built for police use only with no civilian version planned, though rumors to the contrary continue to run rampant.
Its styling is nondescript in the extreme with a plain-Jane face and generic Chevrolet rear end. View it from any angle and you’ll know you’re looking at a Chevy . . . of some kind. Undercover officers will probably appreciate its anonymous looks.
Inside it’s a dead ringer for the late, lamented Pontiac G8 but with any and all pretense of refinement removed. The two front bucket seats are upholstered in a basic nylon fabric but every other surface is swathed in charcoal-colored vinyl. The front seat area is fairly roomy and comfortable despite the space given to all the hardware that police departments will want to install. The shifter lever is moved to the far left side of the console but remains on the floor (police often prefer that it be on the steering column, completely out of the way of other equipment, coffee and donuts).
The driver’s seat has power adjustments for every position except basic fore-aft movement. The rep explained that if an officer with a bulky utility belt (or just a bulky officer) needs to exit the car quickly, it’s much quicker to push the seat back on the track with a manual adjuster. Good point.
The rear seat is rather less hospitable, especially with the obligatory safety partition installed, but, hey, if you find yourself in the back seat of a squad car you’re in no position to complain about comfort. The rep pointed out that most of the interior fitments, including the partition, can be carried over from a department’s existing Crown Vic fleet with minor modification, saving taxpayers a bit of coin.
Driving the Caprice PPV is actually quite engaging. This one was equipped with the 6.0-liter V-8 which provided plenty of thrust and excellent throttle response. The 6-speed automatic cannot be manually shifted but does offer a Sport mode which recalibrates shifts points to maximize performance.
The GM rep allowed me to take the Caprice anywhere I wanted so I headed straight for Elkhart Lake’s historic race course, a series of public roads as entertaining as you’ll find anywhere. On the twists and turns of those narrow old roads, the Caprice, a rather large car, almost felt light and agile and I could toss it around nearly as easily as my Miata. The transmission was quick to respond to throttle inputs, the only control I had over the transmission, and was almost always in the gear I would have chosen were I rowing the gear box manually.
Apparently the benchmark for many of the performance parameters for the Caprice was the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, understandable since that car controlled some 75% of the police car market. The GM rep kept tossing out key talking points regarding the Caprice’s superiority over the Crown Vic: faster acceleration, more room, better fuel economy, etc. All of that may be true, but the Crown Vic is gone and won’t be coming back. The Caprice is up against new competitors, the Dodge Charger Pursuit and the Ford Taurus Police Interceptor, both of which also outperform the Crown Vic in most areas.
The fact is that the differences in performance between the three are probably marginal and total purchase cost and projected life-time costs play a bigger factor in fleet decisions at the local level. Also a factor is a department’s purchase history and its relationship with a local dealer for service. (The police department in nearby Janesville, Wis., has purchased Chevrolet police cars for decades because General Motors built Chevrolets there for decades. The plant has been idle for some time now but Janesville still buys Chevy cop cars.)
The Ford and Chrysler offerings are police versions of regular production vehicles produced in North America. The Caprice is a purpose built version off an Australian model that is not sold here, and that’s too bad. It’s a solid, entertaining car to drive and could make a competitive sport sedan.
Wait. Didn’t GM offer just such a car called the Pontiac G8 GXP? Whatever happened to that?