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Is there a car out there that gives back-seat drivers less to complain about than the home-grown Holden Caprice V? Well… yes. But probably not at $59,990 plus on-road costs.
The WN Caprice, the sole surviving Australian-made upper-large sedan, has now been on the market for more than 12 months.
Entry LPG versions remain a favourite of charter limo services in entry guise — you know, those well dressed blokes driving to and from the airport — but how does this V8-powered flagship V-Series stack up as a private car?
Like its VF Commodore sibling, the Caprice has experienced a significant sales boost this year, up almost 80 per cent over the first half of 2013. Industry sales figures group the Caprice in with the less capacious Chrysler 300 in the Upper Large segment, but in reality the big Holden sits in a class its own… perhaps with the exception of Skoda’s unheralded Superb.
It is a match for high-end limousines from the big three Germans (Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz), plus Lexus and Jaguar when it comes to sheer passenger and cargo space, as it always has been. And this one gets a less dour cabin than its predecessors, albeit one with almost complete commonality with the Commodore.
Of course, it would remiss of us to continue to compare the Holden with cars like the S-Class, they’re simply different beasts in every way beside their massive dimensions.
More relevant is Hyundai’s forthcoming Genesis due in November, which will be priced on a par with the Holden and offer a list of equipment as long as the very longest of arms, and then some.
The $60k Holden is also priced alongside much smaller but more ‘premium’ fare such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series. It lacks the emotional appeal and the high-end quality inside of those two, but you get a lot more metal for the money.
So how does the longest car made in Australia fare as an everyday proposition?
Let’s start in the back row. Acres of legroom has always been a Caprice hallmark, and since none of the hard-points changed between WM and WN generations, this new one loses nothing to its predecessors. You get 1100mm of rear legroom and 1497mm for the shoulders.
I’m about 194cm — 6'4" in the old vernacular — and could sit behind the driver’s seat with my body leaning back and stretching out. Domestic business class airline seats offer less room.
The leather-clad seats are not just hugely spacious but well-padded and comfortable too, while a pair of screens embedded in the back of each headrest plays DVDs, has an AUX input jack and comes standard with two pairs of wireless headphones.
Up front, the fascia is familiar from the VF Commodore, dominated by an excellent 8.0-inch colour touchscreen replete with Holden’s MyLink infotainment, embedded Pandora and Stitcher apps and a system that reads your texts aloud and allows you to respond.
In fact, the list of equipment is nearly as long as the car, including a key that can start the car remotely, a leather multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, a colour multifunction display between the dials, rain-sensing wipers, heated mirrors with puddle lamps, a rear-view camera, automated Park Assist, satellite navigation with live traffic updates, a large sunroof and La-Z-Boy-esque heated front seats.
There is also an excellent head-up display. I could mount a good case as to why systems like these should be made standard on all cars, frankly.
Our test car has around 16,000 (hard-earned) kilometres on the clock but still felt pretty taut.
As in the VF the ergonomics are largely top-notch, with all controls clear-cut and easy to reach. There is a bit a hodge-podge of finishes and textures though — some cheap, hard plastics on the dash and transmission tunnel, odd bits of cloth finish running the breadth of the cabin and some shiny plastic bits on the (squeaky) gear shifter and air vent surrounds.
It is undoubtedly a comfortable and quiet place to spend time, however.
There’s also a 531-litre boot which may not be super deep but has one of the longest loading areas out there. There is also a full-sized alloy spare wheel and a handy cargo net. However, the lack of a split-fold rear seat reduces the practicality equation (though there is a ski port).
Outward visibility suffers somewhat as a result of the tiny side mirrors (a problem I have noticed with all new Commodore models too) and a large A-pillar that can inhibit the view into and around corners.
The list of active and preventative safety gear is good though, including a lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor (reduces the impact of those small mirrors) and reverse traffic alert (for when you are backing out of a driveway and someone comes flying down the road a bit too quickly). The only gripe is the hypersensitive front parking sensors.
Our test car was fitted with a 260kW/517Nm 6.0-litre V8 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. Push the starter button and you are greeted with a subdued and somewhat characterless burble — Holden no doubt wants refinement over edginess, and we can understand that.
The engine makes easy work of hustling about the 5.2-metre long, 1900-kilogram beast. Oodles of torque — peak arrives at 4400rpm but you’ve got plenty of guts from 1500rpm on — makes for a linear and relaxed rate of progression. Stab the throttle and you’ll feel the rear end shimmy ever so slightly before you’re propelled forward at a clip.
Holden claims fuel consumption on the combined cycle of 11.7L/100km, though you’d do pretty well to match that. We sat at closer to 15.0L/100km on a mixed course of city and country driving without really pushing things along. On pure country stretches were you can cruise along at 110km/h with the big V8 ticking over at below 2000rpm, you could feasibly duck below 10.0L/100km.
The six-speed automatic transmission is of the slushy torque-converter variety, but is exceptionally intuitive. Its job is made easier by the engine’s linear of muscular nature — no need to hunt for gears with an engine like this — but throughout it remains as invasive as a Victorian-era butler. An auto you scarcely even notice is a good auto, in my books.
The suspension — multi-link rear, direct acting stabiliser bar up front — offers a cushy and compliant ride over most surfaces, calibrated as it is for Australian B-roads. It simply lopes along and irons out most surfaces, while taking a speedbump at a rate of knots remains an oddly peaceful experience.
The electric-assisted power steering system proved as direct and feelsome as the VF, with plenty of communication from the road. The Caprice also turns in eagerly enough, though the extra length and bulk cannot be disguised. Sequences of sharp bends will bring out some bodyroll, though asking Holden to defy the laws of physics by making such a big car feel as dynamic as a small one seems a rather harsh ask…
The only other bugbear is the excessive tyre droning that comes from the 19-inch wheels and hints of wind roar from the B-pillar.
Look, let’s not beat around the bush. The Caprice V does nothing to break the mould of generations past. In conception it remains a big, heavy, V8-powered luxury cruiser. If that’s your thing, you’ll probably love it.
As with the entire VF range, the WN Caprice V impresses with its feature-packed and well laid-out cabin, the rear seats remain the best in the price bracket, the handling is surprisingly tidy and the ride supple. It also remains a thirsty option, and its cabin lacks much in the way of differentiation from more humble Commodores.
With the Genesis on the way, Holden has its work cut out. But as far as big comfy highway-eaters go, it remains top notch. And for a buyer seeking maximum metal for the money in the luxury car market, the homegrown option is a good one.
Images by David Zalstein.