When, in the throes of bankruptcy, GM ditched its Pontiac brand, the G8 sedan went with it. The good news: That estimable car came back. The bad news: It’s only for cops.
The ’12 Caprice PPV (Police Patrol Vehicle) powerslides into an era of rare upheaval in the cop-car business. Ford’s Crown Victoria, the body-on-frame stalwart of taxicab and police-car duty, has ascended to that great 24-hour garage in the sky, providing new and exciting fleet-sales opportunities for such unconventional cherry tops as the front-drive Impala. The Caprice (along with the Dodge Charger Police Pursuit Vehicle) represents the segment’s recidivist tendencies: big V-8s up front, powered rear wheels. Hell, the Caprice even has optional wheel covers that’ll fly off during chases.
The pinched front end, with its anachronistically small grille, opposes a rear that steals its horizontal theme from the current Impala. Both revised end caps are designed to provide higher vagrant clearance. But see the car in silhouette and you’ll quickly make out the G8’s bone structure through the Caprice’s sheet steel.
It gets a 3.7-inch stretch between its axles, which gives scofflaws plenty of room to luxuriate—at 112 cubic feet, it’s bigger inside than either the Ford Taurus–based Interceptor or the Charger cop cars. And even though it employs a unibody rather than the easy-fixing construction of the Crown Vic, fleet managers will love concessions to swapability such as the bolted rather than welded front crossmember.
We drove the Detective model, with its cloth seats, as opposed to the Patrol model, rendered in fluid-resistant vinyl. Both are available with either a 301-hp version of GM’s 3.6-liter, direct-injected V-6 or (for no extra charge) the G8 GT’s 355-hp, 6.0-liter OHV V-8. A six-speed automatic, installed in both, has a gear-holding sport—nay, pursuit—mode, just like the G8 did.
Because it wore the more basic Detective trim, our press car didn’t have any cool Five-O stuff on it—no partition grate, no lights, and, critically, no rifle holder—but evidence of the cabin’s copification is everywhere. The front seats are scalloped around the love handles to accommodate utility belts, and the Patrol model has an offset shift lever to clear monitors and the like. An optional auxiliary battery can supplement the standard 700-CCA (cold-cranking amps) unit to help keep lights, computers, and recreational tasers juiced up. The entire driver zone, with its cruller-proof plastic steering wheel and just-the-facts-ma’am AM/FM/CD stereo, feels like a single, vast injection-molded piece, a stark but utilitarian carrier for police-communication equipment. Unfortunately, though, the rear is so roomy and the tumblehome so slight that cops will really have to work to slam a perp’s head into the roof. Here’s hoping that the partition will facilitate this important aspect of police work.
A moment behind the wheel is enough to recognize this as the car born in Australia as a Holden and sent here as the last great Pontiac. The leather-lined cabin may be gone, but what we loved about it before is still here. The ergonomic relationships—pedals, wheel, minor controls—are first-rate, and visibility out is quite good despite the cricket bats posing as A-pillars. Its real appeal, though, is its dynamic integrity, its virtuous and controllable rear-wheel-drive behavior, its quiet and stiff structure. The steering is linear and uncorrupted by power; the heavy-duty brakes are stout and fade-free (even if the cop tires conspire to keep stopping distances at 175 feet); and the spring-stiffened Caprice still loves to get its long wheelbase sideways.
In acceleration tests, the PPV mirrors the G8 GT very closely. It’s off by just a tenth of a second to 60 mph and in the quarter-mile, where it posts 5.3 and 13.9 at 103 mph, respectively. In braking, the Pontiac, shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE050As, beat the PPV by a significant 12 feet from 70 mph, even though lateral grip is equivalent at 0.84 g. So, if you were to drive, say, a Mustang V-6, a Caprice might take you at the line, but you would beat it through corners. This information may prove either helpful or extremely ruinous.
Still, you might wonder why we’re reviewing a car most of us will experience only from the back seat. It’s because this cruiser is a stalking-horse for Chevy’s next rear-wheel-drive sedan, which will wear civilian duds. It will be based on a new version of the Caprice’s Zeta platform, and it will be called Super Sport. It will also be the inspiration for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup racer. And, irony of ironies, there will be a cop version, too.
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