A High-Performance Trio

Chevrolet steps it up with new & improved patrol options

 


 

JP Molnar | From the November 2011 Issue Friday, November 4, 2011

As the old saying goes, “the only thing constant is change.” This includes the hotly contested field of patrol vehicles, and the Big-Three have been very busy as of late developing new products for 2012. GM is coming out of the corner swinging full force with an all-new Caprice vehicle, a much improved Impala and the don’t-break-what-isn’t-broken Tahoe PPV lineup. 

Together, this trio represents some serious hardware worth a test drive. In fact, I was recently able to spend a day at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds in Michigan, learning about each of the 2012 models and driving them around a test track to see if the engineering theory translated to competent, high-performance road manners. Here’s a look at the specific 2012 highlights of each of the models.
 
2012 Caprice
As I detailed in a previous issue, the 2012 Caprice PPV is a mix of old and new features. It’s based on the now-defunct Pontiac G8 GT—a car that ended up being the James Dean of high-performance, full-size sedans: It died before its time. GM axed the division, along with the G8, just after two years in the U.S. Thankfully, the G8’s cousin from which it’s based, the Holden Commodore, continues to be produced in its native home of Australia. So when GM went looking for a full-size, rear-drive option for a patrol vehicle, the long-wheelbase version of the Commodore transformed into the Caprice PPV.
 
The Caprice was actually initially offered as a 2011 model in either the Police (9C1) or Detective (9C3) model, but only a handful were built. So the car is really a 2012 model in terms of widespread purchasing capabilities. In case you aren’t familiar with the Caprice from my last review of the 2011 model (“The Beast is Back,” November 2009), see the basic breakdown of standard features according to Chevrolet, followed by new items for 2012, on the next page.
 
How It Drives: The 301-horsepower V6 is essentially the same engine found in the Camaro, and it works well in the Caprice. In fact, when comparing my driving experience in a similarly equipped Camaro last year, the engine seems like a better match for the Caprice. The throttle response is crisp and the torque curve definitely gets the car up to speed fairly easily.
 
Of course, it’s no match for the V8 version, which flat out rockets from a standstill—the six-speed automatic transmission gets you up to triple-digit speeds in no time. Handling is predictable, and repeated intentional inducements of the StabiliTrak system helped to stabilize the vehicle.
 
So then the question remains: V6 or V8? The introduction of the V6 for the 2012 as standard presents an interesting purchasing decision for agencies because the more powerful V8 can be had for no additional cost. The V6 offers better fuel economy, but torque is a cop’s best friend, and the V8 delivers it in spades. It’s a tough decision, ultimately decided by your agency’s needs.
 
Recently, I found out that my previous agency acquired six Caprice PPVs for review—all of which were V8 models. I received favorable feedback from those who had compared it directly with the department’s existing fleet of Hemi Chargers. In other words, the Caprice definitely holds its own against the Charger in a patrol environment. Plus, the Caprice has a voluminous trunk and rear seat area that the Charger can’t match. So, overall the Caprice makes for an excellent patrol option worth a drive.
 
2012 Impala
The Impala has been around for a while, and it has proven popular with agencies seeking a FWD PPV for urban use. However, the introduction of newer models from Ford, and even the Caprice, has meant that the Impala needed to step it up.
 
Enter the same 3.6 L engine that’s in the Caprice—which translates to a 70-horsepower increase from 2011. Since more power means more stress on the chassis and drive train, the 2012 Impala PPV comes standard with a new six-speed transaxle and StabiliTrak (finally) stability and traction control that’s calibrated for police use. Two other noteworthy additions are larger 17-inch wheels with Goodyear 235/55-R17 W-rated tires and a 2.44 axle ratio. A 170-amp alternator is also new. The front bumper area and grill have been modified to enhance brake cooling, but from a distance, it looks much like its 2011 predecessor.
 
How It Drives: When I was at my last agency, we had a fleet of Impalas that were assigned to a few officers. I had the opportunity to drive them when my Crown Vic was being serviced, and the one term that never came to mind was “torque steer.” That was because the first generation of Impala was underpowered to say the least. Now at 302 horsepower, the 2012 Impala definitely ratchets up acceleration to levels only previously dreamed about.
 
In short, power is good. The Impala now has the beans to get up to speed, but it does come at a cost. Hard acceleration from a standstill results in predictably noticeable torque steer as the front tires attempt to distribute power evenly. As with most high-power FWD, eliminating torque steer is tough to solve under full throttle from a standstill. It dissipates as speed increases, but the inclusion of StabiliTrak was definitely a must with the new drive train. I drove the car on a beautiful, clear day and torque steer was very evident, which makes me wonder how 302 horsepower will feel in heavy rain and snowy conditions—two areas where FWD is usually a boon to performance. Handling has always been good with the Impala and the larger wheels and tires help with the torque steer in the 2012.
 
But, in terms of overall execution, I’d say that Chevrolet should keep the motor, keep the car, but add AWD to get rid of the torque steer demons. Face it: The average officer is going to find themselves planting their foot deep in the throttle regularly.
 
2012 Tahoe PPV
The 2WD PPV and 4WD Special Service Tahoe are popular vehicles in many agencies—and for good reason. While it may look outwardly like the Tahoe you might see on a showroom floor, it’s actually vastly different from the frame up. Being purpose-built for law enforcement means, in my opinion, it’s the best full-size SUV patrol vehicle out there. Chevrolet didn’t see any reason to tinker with it too much for 2012. So changes are minor with just some new colors.
 
How It Drives: Since nothing notable has changed for 2012, the Tahoe PPV continues to amaze. The fact that something as big as the Tahoe PPV can hustle around a race track so well is impressive. It’s definitely a contender for agencies that need a big SUV.
 
Summary
Chevrolet is seriously stepping things up for 2012 with the powerful and spacious Caprice, plus a serious injection of go-fast for the Impala. As the year winds down, the results from Michigan and Los Angeles testing will be available to sort out who sits as “king of the hill,” but after spending a day with all the 2012 GM models, it’s clear they all merit serious consideration for occupying parking spots in your sally port.
For more information, visit www.gmfleet.com.   
      
Features Present in The 2011 Caprice
• 6.0 L V8 engine, rated at 355 horsepower and 384 lbs. ft. of torque, with fuel-saving Active Fuel Management technology and E85 capability.
• Six-speed automatic transmission with sport mode that features optimized transmission algorithms for high-performance driving.
• Four-wheel discs and police-calibrated anti-lock system.
• Eight standard airbags with rollover protection and StabiliTrak stability control.
• Eight-way adjustable front seats sculpted to fit the bulk of a typical equipment belt.
• 2.92 axle ratio.
• Limited-slip differential.
• 170-amp high-output alternator with idle boost feature.
• Engine oil, transmission and power steering coolers.
• Electric cooling fans and EPDM (ethylene-propylene-diene monomer) coolant hoses.
• Available industry-exclusive auxiliary battery for police equipment.
New Features for the 2012 Caprice
• 3.6 L V6 engine with SAE-certified 301 horsepower and 265 lbs. ft. of
torque as standard. Choice of 6.0 L V8 at no additional cost.
• Engine hour and idle hour meter.
• Driver and front passenger knee airbags.
• Head-curtain airbags for rollover protection.
• Front passenger door lock cylinder.
• Available passenger-side spotlamp or spotlamp provisions.


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JP MolnarJP Molnar, Law Officer's Cruiser Corner columnist, is a former state trooper and has been teaching EVOC since 1991 for numerous agencies.

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