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First Drive: The 2011 Chevy Caprice PPV

As big as a Crown, as fast as a Camaro—that’s the new Caprice. And that should not surprise anyone. The mid-1990s police Caprice was larger than the Ford Crown Victoria and as fast around a road racing course as a police Mustang. It also had a higher top speed and much better brakes than the Mustang.

We had a chance to drive the near-production Caprice PPV on the famous “Black Lake” at GM’s Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Mich. Just for fun, GM Fleet also provided a new Camaro SS to drive. What GM intended as play, this group of fleet managers treated as serious work. At the end of the day, nearly 90 percent of the drivers preferred the handling and overall performance of the Caprice over the Camaro!

GM Fleet introduced the Australian-built, police package, 2011 Caprice PPV at the 2009 IACP conference in Denver. Check out the full details of the Caprice at click Resources, click Article Archives and then search for “Caprice.”

True “Large” Police Car

At 112 cubic feet, the Caprice PPV has a much larger interior than even the full-size 107.5 cf of the Ford CVPI. The amount of front seat hip room, critical for duty-belted officers, is the same for the Caprice as the Ford CVPI. The new Caprice has police-specific seats, which have been under development longer than the police package for the Caprice! The 17.4 cf Caprice trunk is a bit smaller than the 20.6 cf CVPI trunk. However, the Caprice’s full-size spare is below a flat load floor.

The 2011 model year will be a short one for the Caprice PPV. The 2011 Caprice PPV will come in two versions: the police package 9C1 and the detective retailappearing 9C3. Delivery of the detective Caprice 9C3 will be around April 2011, while the police patrol version Caprice 9C1 will be available around June 2011.

For 2011, the Caprice PPV will be powered by a 355 hp, 6.0L V8. This will have Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation) and be E85 FlexFuel compatible. For 2012, the Caprice PPV will come standard with the 3.6L “direct injection” V6 used in the Camaro and Cadillac CTS. The 6.0L V8 will be an option in 2012.

GM will continue to produce the current police Impala “for several years.” It will remain a V6-powered FWD sedan and the police vehicle with lowest initial cost available. GM will also continue to produce the current Tahoe indefinitely. It is scheduled to be restyled “in a few years.”

With the duty cycle properly extended to 150K miles and the current residual values, the Tahoe PPV has the lowest total lifecycle cost of any police package vehicle. The Tahoe remains a body-on-truck-chassis, full-size SUV powered by the 320 hp, 5.3L V8. The Tahoe comes as a police package 2WD and as a non-pursuit, special service package 4x4.

Communications-Compatible Floor Shift

Some patrol officers and fleet managers were concerned that the Caprice PPV would only be available with a floor shifter. Chevrolet engineers made numerous design changes to the original retail center console, including moving the parking brake, door locks, power window switches, transmission “sport mode” switches and StabiliTrak (traction control) switches. They also made changes from a dual-gate shift pattern to a straight shift pattern. Finally, they relocated the entire shifter assembly far left of centerline and lower on the console.

As a result, center consoles which fit other police sedans will now fit the Caprice PPV. The shift level is out of the way of the HVAC controls and allows the use of standard laptop or display mounts. Also, it does not interfere with right-knee room. The center console has about a 7-inch wide, 10-inch long open space right of the shifter and a 10-inch wide, 20-inch long open space behind the shifter.

Chevrolet did the impossible: designed a floor shift that is fully compatible with all the normal upfit gear. And, the shifter is in an extremely ergonomic position. The hand falls to the left-biased shifter more naturally than it would a standard centerline shifter. The 9C3 (detective) version will use the traditional dual-gate floor shifter.

Sport Mode & StabiliTrak

What is Sport Mode? The Caprice transmission can be push-button switched into Sport Mode. This holds the transmission in each gear to slightly higher rpms before upshifting and allows the transmission to downshift much more readily.

And StabiliTrak? The Caprice PPV comes with a two-stage electronic stability control. As the key is turned ON, the system defaults to retail-oriented traction and stability parameters. When “Police Performance” mode is engaged, two changes to StabiliTrak occur. First, traction control is disengaged. This allows the officer to “rock” the Caprice back and forth to get unstuck from snow or mud.

Second, the parameters are opened up for when the stability control features will kick in. The stability control cannot be turned OFF, but the Police Performance mode does allow much more aggressive cornering before it activates. When it does engage, StabiliTrak reduces engine torque and selectively applies front or rear, left or right brakes to return the car to the correct line through the corner. That, of course, raises the question of how intrusive StabiliTrak really is.

Driving Impressions

We had the chance to drive all of GM’s police vehicles on the “Black Lake” at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds. The vehicles included the near-production Caprice PPV, the current Impala 9C1 and the 2WD Tahoe PPV. Also available was a Camaro SS. The Caprice and the Camaro are built on the same basic Zeta-platform. This is GM’s full-size, rear wheel drive car platform.

The Caprice PPV was still under engineering development at the time of our Ride & Drive, but the vast majority of development is done. The 6.0L V8 and 6-speed had the production-level police calibration. The brakes, likewise, were very close to production- release. The suspension on the Caprice PPV was still under active development. As such, we had a Middle East version of the Caprice SS to compare.

The wide open cone course allowed straight-line acceleration up to 100 mph and high-speed sweeping turns. The course also included a lowerspeed sudden lane change, a mediumspeed serpentine, and high-speed braking around both sweeping turns and tight turns. Basically, this course tested everything important in either an urban or rural police car—high-speed stability, aggressive braking, steering and suspension response during sudden emergency maneuvers, full-throttle acceleration, and what level of aggressive driving the electronic stability control would allow.

We ran the long course in both the default StabiliTrak mode and the Police Performance mode. In either mode, by the time stability control engaged, you were in trouble and really wanted the electronic help. Because the Police Performance mode allowed wheelspin, and the 6.0L V8 is more than capable of serious wheelspin, the best overall performance came in the default mode. Just start the car and go.

Right away, it was easy to feel the stronger brakes and stiffer suspension of the Caprice PPV compared to its Middle Eastern retail cousin. That was supposed to be the “A to B” comparison during the Ride & Drive: the police Caprice PPV versus the retail Caprice SS. However, the drivability point was made so quickly, this group of a dozen fleet managers found a different A to B comparison—the Caprice PPV versus the Camaro SS.

The Camaro SS is powered by a 400 hp, 6.2L V8, while the Caprice PPV is powered by a 355 hp, 6.0L V8. None of us had a stopwatch, and it is hard to imagine that the Caprice PPV accelerated as fast as the Camaro SS. But it was very, very close. And, there is more to police driving than straight-line acceleration.

At the end of the day, it was the Caprice PPV that was the star. It felt as if it accelerated as fast as the Camaro SS. It felt as if it had the same braking power as the Camaro SS. By a landslide, however, the overall handling of the Caprice PPV was judged better than the Camaro SS. With a longer wheelbase by 6 inches, the Caprice PPV felt more stable, less twitchy, more forgiving and more predictable. The Caprice PPV turned out to be easy to drive hard—the ultimate measure of any patrol vehicle.

At the Police Fleet Expo in St. Louis, GM Fleet announced pricing for the Caprice PPV. The MSRP is meaningless to fleet managers, of course, as the fleet discounts run from $9,000 to $10,500 below MSRP (i.e., bid prices run about 75 percent of MSRP). While the local dealer sets the final price, and the bid price will vary from state to state, expect the Caprice PPV to be $2,000 more expensive than the bid price for the current Ford CVPI. Neither Ford nor Dodge has released pricing for their NextGen police sedans.

The new Caprice really does have the overall size and space of the outgoing Ford CVPI and the overall performance of a Camaro, Mustang or Charger. Let the games begin for the upcoming vacancy left by the Ford CVPI. The 2011 Caprice PPV was driven at the Michigan State Police tests in September and will be driven at the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s tests in November.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Sep/Oct 2010

Rating : 9.8

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