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The 2011 Chevrolet Caprice PPV police cars: an inside look

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2011 Caprice PPV

A few days ago, I received a telephone call from a friend and former neighbor. We had a bit of "catching up" to do, and yakked on over the phone for over an hour or so. He had retired with minimum time from a major law enforcement agency a few years back, moving his family to the north area of the state, away from the suburbs where we had been. He surprised me when he mentioned that he was still working part time, for that very same agency.

He asked me not to identify him or the agency because he wanted me to consult with him about a potential new police car that is going to be introduced by the Chevrolet Division of the General Motors Corporation. Sort of like an insider’s view, with no public invitation. I was naturally flattered. It has been quite a few years since my Fleet Manager abilities were called upon. The purpose of the autonomy is that Chevrolet is not letting all their cards out at this time. Apparently, and I say apparently (emphasis added), there are a few prototype units floating around major agencies throughout the USA. Chevrolet is very active in soliciting input from the police agencies and officers that will use these cars for their offices. Chevrolet would neither confirm or deny if that rumor was actual or if any more than a handful of prototypes did in fact, exist.

Chevrolet PPV

At this point, I would have agreed to anything! We had already seen the teaser ads running on the internet for the new Caprice. They do appear impressive. It is my humble opinion that the Caprice is aimed directly at the Dodge Charger Police Package. You will see why as we get deeper into the nooks and crannies of both cars.

Ford police carsThe Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is not a part of the equation. The Ford is not even close to the Dodge Charger with its 5.7 liter HEMI® V-8, and in any case, Ford Fleet has announced that the Ford CVPI will cease production in August 2011. Ford could change their mind, but has had the same message since early in model year 2008. The civilian version of the Crown Victoria is no longer in production, leaving the Mercury Gran Marquis, which is scheduled to go away soon. [Editor’s note: the success of the Charger has probably made the economics of the CVPI unattractive.] Ford announced, with great fanfare, its replacement: a turbocharged Taurus.

In the Motor Trend Car of the Year testing (January 2010, page 41), they reported that the Ford Taurus brakes have reverted to the "old" 390 standard! Two hard stops resulted in the Taurus brake pedal going right flat to the floor with no positive action to slow or stop the speeding vehicle. Just like the "good old days!" The car is also heavier than cars in the class (like the old Galaxie police models), handles top heavy, and is cramped in the interior. This is the car the Ford is going to try to make a police vehicle.

The Chevrolet entry of the current police Impala is also not really a part of the equation. It uses front wheel drive on a mid sized platform (though the EPA rates the Impala itself as full sized). The PPV and the Dodge Charger fall back on the tried and true police rear wheel drive four door sedan architecture with a V-8 engine. A V-8 engine has been tested in the Impala police version, but, so far, has not been built for availability to police departments.

Chevy Impala squad

As to the future fate of the Impala as a police unit, we have no idea at this time what Chevrolet intends to do. The Impala is the sole entry built on the "W" platform in the entire General Motors worldwide fleet. The PR types would not address the issue, and I don't blame them. The Impala has had some impressive sales as of late, so why shoot the goose that is laying the golden spheres?

Impala squads

The units have withstood the rigorous abuse of police work quite well, and fleet managers are happy with the costs of owning them. I do not believe that any of the major state police agencies or state highway patrols currently use the Impala as an enforcement class or pursuit unit, although some have tried it out in the past (including the Virginia State Police and the West Virginia State Police). Neither went for very long before the big rear wheel drive sedans were back in their place. The Ford CVPI, and the increasingly popular Dodge Charger, make up the bulk of vehicles in that segment.

In the spirit and essence of my agreement, I cannot say exactly what vehicle we were given to check over and drive. Yes, drive, all on our own, away from the brass and press. Chevrolet officialdom seemed to act dutifully non-plussed when their cars disappeared from their view and control.

There are many pictures on the internet that depict the Holden Commodore. I will display a couple here for visual comparison to the above PPV. I am not saying that this was the car that we were shown, able to drive, and while barred from written notes, to mentally compare with our experiences.

Holden CapriceThere is an obvious visual connection between the Chevrolet and the Holden. The Caprice is going to built in Elizabeth, South Australia, and shipped here. It is a police vehicle only, with no plans for any models sold to the general public. How long that might last when the dealers get hold of the units is anybody’s guess. From my experience, like Ford dealers pledging not to sell police units to the public, anyone with the money to make a purchase could buy a police package, no questions asked, back when.

Many questions arose as to whether the production will continue there in Australia or get moved to the Oshawa, Ontario, Canada plant where the zeta platform-based Camaro is being assembled.

What makes this Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV as designated by Chevrolet) so different? Plenty, and all of it aimed directly at fleet buyers, officers, and budget makers in departments all across the USA.

1996 Chevy Caprice LT1A lot of questions have been aimed at Chevrolet since the Caprice went out of production in 1996. The 1996 Chevrolet Caprice probably represented the pinnacle of the quintessential police vehicles. That car came up against the old standard bearer, the 1969 Dodge Polara, and beat it outright. When equipped with the 260 horsepower LT-1 V-8, it had 145 mile an hour speeds, outstanding brakes, plenty of room for comfortable 8-12 hour tours, a nearly unbreakable 3 speed automatic transmission, with the right rear gear set, and decent gasoline mileage to boot. Many departments kept their Caprice models over double the usual time for turnover. Some went 300K and were still running well when they finally got bid away. In most cases, people were lined up to buy those well used police models.

All the major police agencies, such as the State Highway Patrols and State Police agencies, had the Caprice in their stable. Name any state, and you will find that the Caprice served there. Chrysler was long gone from police duty by 1989, and the only competition was the Ford CVPI. The former Caprice models as were tested by the Michigan State Police held the bidding for 10 straight years, a record (the current Dodge Charger is about ½ of the way to breaking that, at 5 years as the top dog. It should be noted that the Charger has broken a previous record held by the Chevrolet Caprice in that the Caprice captured all categories tested three different times. The Charger has captured all the categories five times, all in a row!)

2011 police car

From the first blush at introduction with the new Caprice, I was drawn to the center mounted shifter. Chevrolet is going to build them all with that center console mounted shifter. They get around having to relocate the selector to the steering column, as Dodge had to do, by installing a standard 12 inch interactive touch screen right in the middle of the dash. This touch screen unit will function as the control for all or most of the things that police install for their equipment. Lights, siren, gun lock, truck opener, rear door locks, and other items that normally would take a separate piece of equipment will now be up and out of the way. It also means more elbow room for the bucket seated occupants in the front.

It was in that area that I picked up one clue about the total development of this vehicle. The engineers on site proudly stated that Chevrolet has spent the last two years on focus of the front seats. That is correct, two full years ago they started at development of this PPV. You can almost hear Bob Lutz laughing when you see them. Certainly, then, the level of commitment has been very high as well as dedicated to see this vehicle come out for Police Officers. The front seats, are truly, in my opinion, simply the best thing out there for uniformed, belted, equipped patrol officers. They have molded cavity like pockets on both sides of the seat so that the pistol holster fits easily and allows an officer instant access to draw the weapon if need be. The seat back has been built so that the equipment on the belt does not hold the officer up and away from the seat back, as a regular seat does. This seat is designed so that the equipment would fit into the back, allowing the officer to fully rest his shoulders and back in the contoured seat.

police car interior

You can see the center dash mounted touch screen prominently placed for easy access from either seat. Take careful note of the bucket front seats. The investment of development for over two years certainly does show up for their comfort, ease of access, and support.

Once inside the Chevy, you begin to realize that this is a spacious car. There is plenty of room in the front and the back. Chevrolet engineers are quick to point out that it has been designed to flesh out at 112 cubic feet of interior space. By comparison, the Dodge Charger measures 104 cubic feet, which is just slightly smaller than the current Impala, which is 104.8 cubic feet. The CVPI is a big larger with 106.4 cubic feet of space inside.

The rear entry way for the Charger draws more than its share of critical commentary, being rather difficult to put larger transports inside. The PPV wheelbase measures 118.5 inches (big as the former R bodied Chrysler-St Regis-Gran Fury of 79-81). The current Impala measures 110 inches, while the Ford CVPI sits on a 114.6 wheelbase, and the Dodge Charger comes in at 120. In a view from the back seat, the Caprice is very large.

police nightlight

This Caprice is as different from the old Caprice as the Impala is different from the original Impala. The Zeta-based Caprice comes from the Australian Holden Commodore, and its origin can be traced to 1999. While both the Pontiac G8 and Caprice come from the Zeta platform, GM has been firm that the Chevrolet Caprice PPV is based directly on the Holden Commodore, and not on the G8. The Caprice is unlike the G8 in the same way that the Camaro is unlike the G8, though they share a common base.

[Editor’s note: the Pontiac G8 was almost identical in size, acceleration, economy, braking, and cornering to the Charger. As described here, the Caprice will be larger and may have different dynamics.]

I believe the GM people when they say the G8 vs Caprice is a true difference, and not just a PR trick. The bodywork is different, especially in the rear doors, back seat, and trunk area. There are differences in the suspension components and structure as well.

Production started on the Zeta in 2006. It quickly became General Motor’s global rear wheel drive architecture. The Zeta is the base platform for the Australian Holden Commodore, the 2007 Middle East Chevrolet / Holden Caprice, the short lived Pontiac G8, and of course the new Camaro.

The Caprice powertrain will also be dedicated to the car. In early calendar year 2011, it will have only have the V-8 engine. That is a 6.0 litre 355 horsepower unit with active cylinder management, which shuts down cylinders to increase economic operation. It mimics the same MDS system that Chrysler introduced on its 5.7 liter (348 cubic inch) V-8 HEMI®, which has a 370 horsepower output.

The transmission for the Caprice is expected to be the GM six-speed, which currently backs up the Police Package Tahoe which has a 5.3 (324 cubic inch) liter V-8. The Charger uses a five-speed transmission, although rumors continue to circulate that this will change in the near future. Top speed is limited to about 150 miles an hour on both cars, while the target for 0 to 60 is the same as the Charger, at around 6 seconds flat. Undoubtedly, lower limiters will also be available to keep speeds down, should some departments specify that, much like the Charger can be programmed down to 129 miles an hour.

The Charger is currently available with a powerful 3.5 liter (214 cubic inch) V-6. When so equipped, it is as quick as the Ford CVPI which is a 4.6 liter (281 cubic inch) V-8. Dodge will bring in a new V-6 in the future that will have at least 280 horsepower, with 300 horsepower easily developed. In response, the Chevrolet PPV will receive a V-6, directly matched to the Charger — the current General Motors 3.6 liter (220 cubic inch) engine which puts out 256 to 304 horsepower depending on its application.

2011 jeep grand cherokee

2010 chargerDodge also has a 6.1 liter (372 cubic inch) V-8 in its SRT models, and departments can order those if needed, albeit without an official police package. According to Chrysler Fleet, the regular Dodge Charger is built just as tough as the Police units, and no special lines have or are set up to manufacture the police units. The main difference seems to be the exterior paint and interior amenities.

This is a new delivered HEMI® V-8 Charger sitting in a police parking lot, waiting for the equipment installation and decaling for the department. Dodge will paint the car per special order, of course, for a price, unless a good number are ordered. So far, this department has ordered about 25 units, and are awaiting delivery. They keep them all white, but use multi colored decals to designate them. At the end of their cycle, the decals are removed, and the unit goes back to all white for resale.

HEMI engine - variable cam

Inside, the PPV will be equipped with a series of airbags to protect the occupants in event of a collision. However, if chosen, the rear bags, where potential transports would ride, can be deactivated. Hmm.

The longer wheelbase of 118.5 inches does translate into rear seat room. It is plenty roomy back there, as large as anything we have seen lately. Compared to the Charger, Ford PI, and the Impala, the PPV is nothing less than cavernous in scope! Yes, it is that big back there. The rear door opening (a source of Charger nitpicking) is very large, which will allow transporters to assist transportees carefully into the back seat area, with a full prisoner partition in place. Chevrolet engineers are also quick to point out that this is also a major area of difference between the now nearly gone Pontiac G-8 and the PPV Caprice.

The wheelbase also bodes well for the PPV trunk space. As we saw, the Caprice has a full size spare, but it is stored below the trunk floor. As measured by the EPA, the PPV has 18 cubic feet of space. By comparison, the Dodge Charger is 15.7, with an exposed spare, while the Ford CVPI has 20.6, but loses due to an exposed full size spare tire, while the Impala has 17.5 cubic feet, but carries a much maligned mini spare.

Caprice PPV police car trunk

The EPA rates a "large" car at 120 cubic feet of combined space, trunk and interior. The Dodge Charger "just" makes the cut at 120.2 cf. The Ford CVPI measures 127 combined cf. The Impala gets 123.4 cf, and the PPV Caprice measures out at 130 cubic feet. Big indeed.

I was drawn to the center console in the PPV Caprice because of its console mounted gear selector shifter. Chevrolet claims to have worked very diligently to keep this feature in place. They have freed up space at the back half of the center console to accommodate equipment controls installed by the departments. Chevrolet seems quite proud of this accomplishment, and a large body of reference material points to the built in 12 inch center mounted interactive computer touch screen. Chevrolet claims that this built in device will function to fulfill the multitudes of equipment functions usually reserved for things jammed into the space between the front seats. Given the amount of room shown in the models we saw, they probably have earned the right to brag about it. They do have, however, plenty of research done to move that selector lever to the steering column, as did Dodge Charger, if the console isn’t working out so well. So far, it does appear that it has found a permanent home as the focal point of the center console.

2011 Chevrolet Caprice PPV prototype test drive

We were cautioned, that these vehicles were, in fact, prototypes, and not all finalized, not being readied for full production, just yet. Caution was always advised in judicious exercise of the cars when we were out of sight of the ever present, ever mindful Chevrolet PR types, and engineering staff. Of course, we were. Always!

We flung the cars into corners, slapped on the brakes, and floored the accelerators as much as we thought we could without breaking the cars! Hey, that is what testers do, and I am certain the Chevrolet folks were all well aware of this. We were not the only representatives there. Other departments were present, including members from one of the largest west coast users. A couple of their prototypes were also there, having been submitted to them for their opinions. We were not told how long the units had been out there, or what the results were from their tests.

police cars

The 6.0 V-8 in the PPV felt reassuring. It was fairly loud (but no match for the Charger Hemi induction roar) with plenty of intake roar. You know that the engine is ingesting a large quantity of air. The dual exhausts barked with staccato authority when tasked to move out with maximum effort. There really wasn't any strum and drang associated with full bore acceleration, in that, it was all purpose, and plenty of it.

The standard dashboard mounted tachometer showed brief touches into the red zone, labeled at 6,600 rpm; the transmission shifted with authority and purpose. I could not tell if the transmission was a 3, 4, 5 or even an 8 speed unit. It was unobtrusive, shifting positive, and kept the engine in the full power range, without a huge power drop or big loss of rpm, as long as the operator had the intestinal fortitude to hold the accelerator pedal to the floor.

The PPV also has part throttle kickdown, as does the Dodge Charger. We tried different speed ranges, from 20 miles an hour upwards of 80 and 100, to try to thwart the downshift. It didn't hesitate or not shift at any point. The engine wrapped up very quickly, with no hesitation at all, each and every time it was tasked. It felt good, and yes, every bit as quick as the Charger we have driven in the past. It displayed all the characteristics of the Chevrolet V-8 engines that we have seen since their introduction in 1955.

The PPV Caprice uses a 4 wheel independent suspension, as is the Dodge Charger. It consists of a sophisticated set of McPherson struts, with lower A-arms in the front suspension, and a Quad Link rear system. Included in the package are General Motor’s Stabili-Trak, similar to the Chrysler system. Both Charger and PPV Caprice use special calibrations, as well as all-speed traction control, electronic brake assist, and electronic brake force distribution, which is quicker and more accurate than a proportioning valve set up. The system we tested was pretty stiff, slapping each tar strip, and lumping over small indentations in the highway, which is just fine for police work, especially for pursuit vehicles. The Dodge Charger isn’t a powder puff ride, either. Just right in our opinion!

nc squads

One area is left that is of prime importance in a police pursuit vehicle: the brakes and braking system power.

Chevrolet was rather quick to point out that it was Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov that added metal bits to brake linings in 1959 Chevrolet Police Package Biscayne. GM claims to have lead the police car market for years. They just sort of have forgotten that Chrysler Corporation through a subsidiary, Grey-Roc, had top notch brake linings for years before that, always leading the segment in both braking power, and for fleets, just as importantly, longevity.

australian Caprice

They also didn’t go into the horrible brake system installed on the 1958 Chevrolet police package that actually separated the rear ends from the vehicles! Many settlements followed, especially when the prestige of the Michigan State Police, and the Los Angelos County Sheriff, and Los Angelos Police Department were all using the 348 cubic inch Chevrolet Police Package. Sadly, the installed brakes on those cars was exactly the same as Chevrolet had on their 1951 model cars! So it was a necessity born out of a desperate need that the Corvette engineer went to work in earnest to save the Chevrolet police package brake system.

We all know that the sintered metallic brake lining worked extremely well, when designed and made correctly. The early metallic linings were grabby when they were cold. Instructions were, at that time, to ride the brakes for awhile, until they got hot. Then, the hotter the linings got, the more power they had! It was relatively easy to instruct cops using the metallic lining brakes, because they knew they had to depend on them. However, a lot of civilian users always seemed to not grasp the meaning of heating the linings, and constant complaints came into the service departments.

The 1956 Dodge Police Package tested by the California Highway Patrol had great brakes, and just beat up everything that Ford and General Motors threw at it. This included Pontiac, Chevrolet, Buick, Ford, Mercury, Nash, and Oldsmobile. The ’56 Dodge brakes just buried everything else. They were 12 inch by 2.5 inch drums, equipped with dual cylinders on all 4 wheels, easy bolt on items straight from the Chrysler marque cars. They brought the big Dodge down at an incredible, at the time, 25 feet per second squared. Nothing else was close. That is nose bleed territory, and unbelievable in 1956!

The CHP invested heavily in the Dodge in 1956, with a first buy of 400 units, and a second buy of another 400 units. The first buy were equipped with the 315 cubic inch poly head V-8, with a Carter 4 barrel WCFB carb. It was rated at 230 horsepower. However, the second round of testing, showed that the incredible HEMI power just blew everything else away. So, 400 Hemi equipped 1956 Dodge units were purchased, and the incredible Hemi power legends were born. The single 4 barrel hemi of 315 cubic inches had 260 horsepower and proved earnestly anvil reliable in fleet use. However, it was the great brakes that Troopers found much to rely upon.

So it is with the current Dodge Charger in Police Work. They have the absolute best brakes in the business. The Chrysler fleet determined when the Charger was first introduced for Police Fleet work that they would just have the most powerful brakes in the industry. They got it. The materials were changed in late 2007, in time for the 2008 and later models that still kept the powerful stopping ability, but, promote longer pad life. A boon for fleet operators!

Again, aimed right at Charger, the PPV Caprice will continue with Chevrolet excellent brake system. We could not really tell in a definitive way just how really powerful the tester brakes were, they felt linear and of course, quite powerful, even as we tested when we deliberately abused the brakes. Let us recall the 2000 through 2010 Impala, which has always had excellent brakes, and the 1978 Chevrolet through the end of production 1996 Chevrolet Caprice all had excellent brakes, which showed in the first Michigan State Police Tests in 1978, as well as the Los Angelos testing during the same time period. So, aimed again squarely at the Dodge Charger, you can bank on the PPV Caprice having great brakes.

GM squads

We tried to talk to the west coast guys, who said they "weren’t there," and got nowhere. However, there is photo evidence, let out by Chevrolet, that the LA area has been a target. The Victorian (Australian) Chevrolet Impala photos, with their 2008 copyright date, have Australian license plates — and the Los Angeles police department logo blazed on their doors.

Chevrolet Caprice and Ford Interceptor updates (3-30-2010)

Motor Trend reported that Chevrolet engineers are hustling to fix the shift selector location in the upcoming Chevrolet PPV Caprice. In our preview of the PPV, we made specific reference to the console location of the transmission shift selector on two different occasions. We were skeptical about it at that location. Whether it is booty, bottles, bodies, or bombs, things tend to get tossed into center sections of Police Cars. Certain implements, like gear selectors, would be interfered with there!

Chevrolet bragged that they had expended two years on development of the Caprice PPV vehicle front seats. They should have spent about 6 less months and worked on fitting a steering column mounted gear selector a la Dodge Charger instead. Now they are scrambling to get it fitted. Things like machine tools, production lines, training installers, and costing take a bit of time to accomplish, given when engineering is done. Looks like the cops have scored another one. But, they know what works in their equipment.

Speaking of cops, the new Ford Taurus Police Interceptor has been unveiled. It was widely rumored that this was the vehicle that Ford intended to utilize to try to capture the loss of the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor when production ends for it in August 2011. It should be pointed out, to date, not one: REPEAT: NOT ONE police agency has used a turbocharged engine as their standard patrol vehicle. They break, as all police vehicles tend to do occasionally. A turbo just costs that much more to fix, and police chiefs and vehicle management folks really don't appreciate the costs associated with those fixes. Ford might better find ways to improve the power of the V-6 in normal aspiration forms, and hope it would be able to run up near the Dodge and new Caprice (and possibly Carbon) in 2011. Or, start working on a V-8 that will fit the Taurus. We don't think it will work, unless perhaps Ford tosses in FREE turbocharger repairs if you buy one.

Curtis Redgap is a retired Sheriff's lieutenant.

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