Owner Review

2012 Holden Caprice review

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The Holden Caprice has always been a sort of the neglected child of the VE/VF Commodore line-up. Prized by those who owned them, but never generating enough sales to receive any serious attention from anybody at Holden head office. The WM/WN Caprice might be the only car in which you can buy the 2006 model and it will look almost the same as the 2017 model. Throughout its 11-year life, it received no exterior updates apart from some new wheels and badges throughout the years and a new chrome door handle and roof antenna as part of the VF/WN update in 2013. Though I have to say, the design has aged quite well. In 2021 it still presents a conservative but bold look that still does not look out of place parked outside a nice restaurant or hotel.

Of course, the reason the Caprice received little attention was due to its lack of sales. In its later years, it mainly existed to satisfy the demands of export markets like Saudi Arabia and the UAE which wanted a car larger than the Commodore. Locally it was only really sold to the more umm, “experienced” folk and of course the traditional buyers of the Caprice, limo, and taxi drivers. It’s a unique formula which is quite simple: take a regular family sedan, stretch the wheelbase for a huge back seat, tweak the roofline to add some extra rear headroom and the signature Aussie LWB rear quarter window, stretch the boot for extra capacity, play with the interior and exterior to differentiate it and slap a hefty price premium on it.

So why did I buy a Caprice and why this Caprice? Well, my first car was a 2003 Ford BA Fairlane Ghia 4.0, of which I have written an owner review on this site as well. So, I’m very much into my Aussie long wheelbase cars. The Fairlane was a great car but after having it for over 3 years, I felt compelled to upgrade to something more economical and modern. I do like the Ford Barra engine for its easy torque and would probably have gone for an FG Fairlane if it existed but as I’m sure you know, Ford killed off the Fairlane and LTD just before the arrival of the FG series, leaving the Caprice/Statesman as the only remaining Aussie long wheelbase car on the scene.

Other options were considered like the Hyundai Genesis and the previous generation Skoda Superb. The Superb was strongly considered, as the rear knee room was very close to the Caprice (only about 3-4cm less) but it did lack headroom in its sedan form and was about 15cm narrower across the rear bench. Therefore carrying five adults, something I would do on a semi regular basis, would be a bit of a squeeze. The Genesis felt very well built and filled to the brim with tech and refinement, but rear space was only on par with a short wheelbase VE/VF Calais and headroom was a bit touchy. So, the Caprice was the only option left that offered a commodious amount of legroom, enough width for five big adults and was priced within my budget and age requirements.

I initially wanted a Statesman because I liked its more chromed and conservative styling. But the Statesman was killed off with the arrival of the WM Series 2 models which brought the Holden IQ system, reversing cameras and more. With such a large car, I thought having a reversing camera would be a good idea and having a modern touchscreen infotainment system would be nice too. So, I aimed for a WM Series 2 Caprice as my goal. I did consider a WN Caprice as I think the interior is nice and the extra technology and refinement wouldn’t go amiss. But the WN Caprice was only available as a base trim with an LPG engine or the flagship “V” with the V8.

The problem here was that I really didn’t want an LPG engine which ruled out the base model, and the V spec cars came by default with a sunroof. The sunroof was a big deal breaker for me as my body shape, with a long body and shorter legs, I sit relatively close to the wheel for someone who is 188cm. At this position, my head hits the sunroof which was the deal breaker. So as none of the WN Caprice models suited me, I turned to the WM Series 2 Caprice (non V) as that was the last model that was available with a petrol engine and no sunroof. And further to that, I aimed for at least a MY12 vehicle as that was the last update to the WM Series 2 models that brought the new LFX V6 to replace the LLT engine along with a more efficient 6-speed transmission.

I happened to come across a very nicely kept ex-airport limo during my search which had been an executive car for Queensland Rail initially. The limo company was selling it due to a lack of business from the COVID-19 pandemic. It had done 225,000km but the servicing record and the interior presentation were top notch, almost looking like it had only done 50,000km, so I was happy to overlook the high mileage.

Now, what are my impressions of this new Caprice after having had it for a few months now? Well overall the impression is good, but I will go into a lot more detail below and compare it a little bit to my previous Fairlane.

The main reason you buy a Caprice is for the back seat so it would make sense to start there. Legroom in the back seat is nothing short of staggering; I have 30cm of distance between my knees and the driver’s seats set in my position, compared to the 23cm I had in my Fairlane. That figure is the highest I’ve measured outside of a German limo which was a G12 7 Series at 34cm. There is also a very large amount of space under the front seats for your feet to slide under, even with the front seat set to its lowest position.

Regarding headroom, the Caprice is possibly the sedan with the most rear headroom I’ve ever sat in. Due to my long torso, most sedans are lacking in headroom to allow me to sit up straight and put my head fully back on the headrest without hitting the roof. In the Caprice I can lean back and my head will barely graze the roof lining while not hitting it. There’s even enough headroom to sit in the middle and not hit my head, a rarity in most sedans. My Fairlane had similar amounts of headroom but the strong tumblehome meant lateral headroom was somewhat limited. With all this space, you can just stretch out and relax in the back seat of the Caprice. Shame they never introduced the luxury features found on the exported Daewoo Veritas such as reclining rear seats and window blinds.

If you read the dimensions, the Zeta platform Caprice and Commodore had some of the largest amounts of shoulder and hip room in the world of any sedan. That is clearly shown with the extremely wide rear seat capable of easily seating three adults abreast with little to no complaint for a decently long journey. This is something that can’t be fully said of regular medium size sedans like the Camry, though the driveshaft tunnel does impede on foot space for the middle passenger. On the upside, the tunnel is on the moderate side for a big rear-wheel drive sedan and there’s plenty of space either side for feet.

The boot is another big strong point of the Caprice as it is stretched about 15cm over the regular Commodore giving a capacity of 535 litres. It’s very wide but not really all that deep. But its greatest strength is its length, it is hugely long thanks to the cars massive rear overhang. Overall, it’s a better boot than the Ford Falcon/Fairlane mainly because it has a flat floor and not an annoying indentation where the spare wheel well is.

The big downside with it though, is the lack of folding rear seats to carry longer items. There is however a fold down centre section. This is much wider than your average car centre seat armrest as it is basically the entire centre seat folding down. Larger passengers either side of it might feel a little uncomfortable as the centre section slightly forces them to sit askew. The centre section however, houses two cupholders and a large flat, slightly recessed area. This area, I find is perfect for using as a table when you need to use a laptop or eat something. I do find it annoying that there are only centre cupholders in the rear fold down section, apart from the ones in the doors. The previous WM Series 1 cars had slide out cupholders in the base of the rear seats but that was removed for the base model Caprice in the WM Series 2.

Up front, the seating position is remarkably different to the Fairlane. You sit much lower with a much higher belt line. You feel a lot more cocooned in here and the higher belt line means that the armrests on the doors fall almost perfectly to match my elbow height. The door armrests on the Ford were borderline useless due to their shape and position. There is also improved upwards visibility with the edge of the roof impinging less on your view. But the A pillar is much thicker in the Caprice compared to most cars I’ve driven, resulting in more head movement as you try to see around your blind spots.

To be honest, the higher seating position, lower belt line and better overall visibility in the Fairlane meant I was a lot more confident when manoeuvring the old car in tight spaces. The wide transmission tunnel of the Caprice up front also makes the driver’s footrest feel a bit narrower and skewed than other cars but it’s by no means bad.

The Caprice comes with a 5-inch colour touchscreen running Holden’s IQ system. It’s by no means a bad system. It handles functions such as radio, Bluetooth and phone calls all without much fuss. But the GPS system is downright frustrating. The map is so slow that trying to use the touchscreen to pan the map around is basically impossible. You are a lot better off just setting a destination via address and just leaving it, or just using your phone in a mount.

So how does it drive? Well in a word, very well. The steering is lighter than the Fairlane’s but not overly light like some modern cars. Out on the highway, you feel that it’s a lot more planted and stable in a straight line than the Fairlane, probably due to its variable ratio steering rack that is mounted in front of the wheels rather than behind it. The Fairlane always had a nervous feel to the front end at highway speeds and seemed to be easily disturbed by bumps and undulations. This results in a much more relaxing drive on the highway with the Caprice though perhaps not as sharp steering on centre.

When taking it out onto a twisty road, the Caprice has plenty of steering feedback and the wheel weights up nicely once you start turning it off centre. The chassis is well sorted and eager to turn in but not too prone to body roll around corners. The suspension is well calibrated and comfortable though it can feel a little light without any passengers or luggage in the back and can have the occasional rebound that should have been damped.

Regarding cabin noise, it’s decently hushed and refined but I was really surprised to find that it was only slightly quieter than the Fairlane considering it’s a whole generation newer. There is a bit of wind whistle coming off the driver’s side mirror at highway speeds that seems to be common for the VE series, but it isn’t too intrusive. Upon buying the car, I quickly switched the Chinese brand tyres on the car for a set of Michelin Primacy 4’s since I had good experience with the Primacy 3ST on my Ford in regards to comfort and noise.

The interior layout is fine, looking its age but it’s functional. I particularly like the steering wheel. Some say it’s too big, but I find the big wheel perfect for doing small corrective actions on the freeway and the thumb grooves at 3 and 9 o’clock are very comfortable to hold. I do however not like how the cruise control buttons are mounted on a stalk meaning I must take a hand off the wheel to access it but otherwise the controls are fine.

Interior quality is okay - there are soft touch plastics where you need them, like the door cards and the top of the dash, but the rest is hard, cheap plastic that doesn’t feel like it belongs in a $60k car - but of course that was to be expected when it’s basically a Commodore. In addition to this, I personally don’t like the black headlining found on the Caprice. It makes it feel a lot less airy, with airiness being something I thought would be wanted in a LWB limo. Understandable on the sport-focused V series models but not sure about it being on the base model aimed at limo and taxi companies.

Finally, I find the small LCD display between the dials to be an excellent addition, with the option to adjust various car settings through it and display navigation directions without having to look down at the main display. I usually just leave it on the digital speedometer setting which I find to be extremely useful.

A lot of people complain about the handbrake design on the VE series of cars, but I have found it to be fine personally. I haven’t had it pinch my hand at all and it holds the car properly unlike the Ford handbrake which liked to work itself loose over time.

The 3.6-litre V6 offers up 210kW and 350Nm of torque but is of the short stroke design rather than the long stroke variation found in Ford’s Barra engine. To drive, it is certainly more than adequate in the power department when you need to get going but it’s never going to pin you back in your seat like a V8 or Barra Turbo. The engine is at its best when you let it sing out towards the redline. It has decent midrange punch but doesn’t have that satisfying torrent like the Barra. Around town, you felt like you didn’t need to prod the accelerator much on the Barra and could simply ride the low-end torque of the engine up to the speed limit whereas in the Holden it requires more throttle persuasion to get moving at a decent rate.

The brake pedal in the Holden is acceptable in my view; there isn’t much bite in the first bit of travel and then it comes on rapidly after that with a firm pedal feel. This can make it a bit hard to stop smoothly if you’re playing chauffeur but should be fine for everyday driving.

The 6-speed automatic is a decent unit, much better than the ancient 4-speed unit in the Fairlane. It shifts much more smoothly, and the greater number of gears allows for much better on road performance. The Ford has an uncomfortably long second gear and, in many situations, if you push the accelerator to demand more power, it simply holds onto the gear as the revs slowly climb. Then you push the pedal a bit more and then suddenly it kicks down a gear, the revs jump and the whole car jerks forward. But the 6-speeder is not without its caveats. It can be jerky when warming up in the morning and the shift programming can sometimes command an unnecessary shift when the present gear was fine.

Overall, the drivetrain likes a rev and in turn uses more fuel in some situations. The fuel consumption of the Caprice is around 12 litres per 100 kilometres with a mix of urban and motorway driving which is only a slight improvement over the Ford’s 14.4L/100km despite advantages such as two more gears, smaller displacement and direct injection. Though on a recent round trip from Sydney to Coffs Harbour the car averaged 8.5L/100km on the motorway which was certainly better than the 10L/100km the Ford got on a similar previous trip.

Exterior wise, I do think the Caprice/Statesman was the best looking out of the VE range. The extra length really makes the car look more elegant in my opinion. When you look at it from the side, the size really does it make itself known and is quite imposing. There are several touches on the WM/WN cars that are cool in my view. The long LED side indicators are quite distinctive and noticeable (especially at night), as well as the big full LED rear brake lights. The drop-down hood, additional rear quarter window and the elegant, wreathed Holden lion badge are additional classic Holden LWB styling cues.

The long rear overhang is well disguised via the sweeping rear C pillar that ends in a short boot lid which does make the boot opening smaller than the giant one on the Fairlane and can make loading items into the back of the boot a bit difficult.

The WM series finally brought bespoke lengthened rear doors to the Aussie LWB limo, which made entry and exit from the rear seat a lot easier, as when exiting you didn’t need to lever your thigh against the door frame to pivot your body out of the rear seat.

Overall, I do love this car and have very few gripes with it. The WM/WN Caprice represents the last generation of the big Aussie LWB limo offering the sort of handling, power and interior space that would only be found on luxury cars costing three times the price, while far from being a third of the car. I doubt that there will another car offering such a capability set for this sort of money anytime soon.