No longer is the Caprice merely a re-jigged Commodore, but is now a stand-alone model that shares little with its VE Commodore stablemates. For the first time, luxury models have their own longer rear door design, but that's not all. Holden says the only panel common with the Commodore is the front door. The Caprice does, however, use similar running gear to the Commodore.
Our test vehicle was the V8-powered Caprice, which proved to be an outstanding vehicle. This is Australian engineering at its best, delivering a luxury vehicle that is as good, if not better, than many far more expensive European offerings.
In the past there have been shortcomings in Holden's prestige vehicles, mainly that they were seen as a compromise. But with the new WM models, all is forgiven, as these cars are light years ahead of their predecessors.
There were no shortcuts taken in the development and design of the long wheelbase Holdens, with $190 million spent on their development - and this is on top of the $1.03 billion VE Commodore program.
Holden's usual pattern is to release a new Commodore, followed by commercial vehicles and, finally, the long wheel base models. This time round - perhaps to emphasise the importance and unique character of the models - the Statesman/Caprice models were revealed up front, with commercial models pushed back. Certainly this makes commercial sense as the new models are important links in Holden's export chain. While domestic sales of the LWB models have been shrinking, overseas sales - where the Caprice is badged as a Chevrolet - have been expanding. In the Middle East in particular, sales have been booming, with healthy numbers also going to Korea and China.
So what makes the 2006 Caprice special? Basically, it's a total package that, while having some room for improvement, has addressed and improved many key areas. Externally, the Caprice has a brilliant road presence. It cannot be mistaken for a VE Commodore, yet obviously reflects the new Holden family theme. It has an imposing silhouette and a wide stance that is accentuated by flared wheel arches, excellent proportions and a sweeping roofline. The design of the aforementioned rear doors cannot be understated as this is a key to the car's proportions and classic saloon look. The radiator grille is a focal point that is enhanced with LED repeater lamps in the fender vents and bright chrome accents, along with Bi Xenon headlights unique to this particular model.
Engines and transmissions mirror those in the VE with an entry level 195kW 3.6-litre V6 driving through a five-speed automatic and a 270kW 6.0-litre V8 matched to a six-speed auto.
Inside, the Caprice is roomy - very roomy, in fact - and has a distinct luxury feel. While you would never notice it, some dimensions are actually down over its predecessor. However, rear passenger legroom remains generous, as does the boot, which easily consumes a couple of sets of golf clubs!
The Caprice features a wide instrument pod, unique chrome-ringed instrument cluster and integrated centre stack with a high resolution 6.5-inch multi-function colour screen, zoned audio, climate control, and satin chrome detailing.
Seating is comfortable, supportive and tailored in stitched leather. The driver's seat has 10-way electric adjustment. There is a Bose premium audio system, remote control DVD with roof console and a tri-zone climate control system with foot level ducting to the rear compartment.
Standard equipment includes an information centre that provides trip distances, actual fuel consumption, range and tyre pressure monitors. All doors have large storage compartments, and the centre console is topped with a sliding armrest.
Safety is also a priority with dual stage front airbags, thorax side impact airbags, curtain airbags and front head restraints as standard equipment.
Electronic stability control, traction control and anti-locking braking systems, electric brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution are also standard.
On the road, the Caprice handles extremely well and the rigid body and build quality is evident. The 6.0-litre Gen IV V8 packs enormous punch, delivering 270kW of power and an awesome 530Nm of torque at 4400rpm.
Ride quality is excellent, with the rigid body and compliant suspension delivering a refined and controlled ride.
For my time behind the wheel, I was fortunate enough to drive the Caprice over some windy, gravel roads in northern NSW. Even when driven enthusiastically, the Caprice is unruffled, and has a sporty feel that belies its length and weight. The auto transmission has a manual mode that, on hills and descents, requires minimal braking, allowing the driver maximum control. Of course, electronic stability control is a major plus, and even if you do tackle a corner a little too aggressively, Holden's safety systems unobtrusively sort the line out with a minimum of fuss. You can throw this big car around with confidence, knowing that the suspension is efficient and the car is extremely well balanced. It hugs the road with confidence and the urge of the V8 is persuasive, as ride quality is so good.
In more sedate surroundings, the Caprice is a luxury saloon that has a sporty character which many drivers may never explore.
With the new Caprice, Holden have lifted the bar considerably, delivering an appealing prestige vehicle with very few compromises.
In brief: 2006 Holden Caprice
Engine: 6.0-litre 90 OHV V8
Compression ratio: 10.4
Power: 270 kW @ 7500rpm
Torque: 530Nm @ 4400rpm
Transmission: 6 speed auto
Brakes: Four wheel ventilated discs - front & rear.
Electronic Stability Program: Incorporating anti-lock braking system, electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic brake assist, traction control system.
Suspension: Front: MacPherson strut. Direct acting stabiliser bar, Progressive rate coil springs. Rear: Multi-link independent rear suspension, semi-trailing arm. Progressive rate mini-block coil springs. Stabiliser bar.
Steering: Variable ratio rack and pinion
Turning circle: 11.7 metres
Track: Front 1602, rear 1618 mm.
Wheelbase: 3009 mm
Boot volume: 535 litres
Towing: Max towing 2100 kg.
Fuel capacity: 73 litres