Thursday, October 08, 2009

Watch your mirrors: Chevy's new police car is coming.

If you get arrested and hauled off to jail in 2011 you'll be comfortable on the ride downtown—at least if the officer is driving one of the new Caprice PPV cruisers. Its rear legroom is positively limo-like, making it the most comfortable yet for those who've been "cuffed and stuffed". And the officers in front will have even more to like.

The Caprice PPV rides on the excellent unibody Zeta platform from the Australian Holden Commodore, used by the discontinued Pontiac G8 sedan (also by the Camaro). It's slightly longer than the G8 and has a considerably longer wheelbase. Although Chevrolet offered no specifications, from walking around the car, the wheelbase appears to be at least four inches longer than the G8's 114.8 inches. It retains the G8's front MacPherson strut suspension and multi-link independent rear and will debut with an L76 6.0-liter V-8 tentatively rated at 355 hp, backed by a 6L80 six-speed automatic. A V-6 option will follow. The eight-cylinder will feature Active Fuel Management, Chevy's term for cylinder deactivation technology, and will run on E85 fuel. (For reference, the G8's L76 regular-gas engine is rated at 361 hp @ 5300 rpm and 385 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm.)

Inside, the two front seats are separated by a wide center console topped with a shifter, clearly holdovers from the platform's Pontiac G8 origins. This will significantly complicate the task of installing the necessary bank of radios, siren- and light controllers along with other gear that traditionally occupies this real estate. A large binnacle over the speedo and gauges does offer some space to accommodate radar gear and similar electronics, however.

The added wheelbase allows more legroom than in the Crown Victoria and vastly more than on Chevrolet's Impala, a smaller, FWD and V-6-powered sedan. Front seat tracks have an unusually long travel and even equipped with a cage—cop-speak for a protective partition—they can be substantially reclined, an impossible feat among other police sedans.

In back, the high center tunnel also creates two-plus-two rear seating, meaning that adding a third prisoner may border on cruel and unusual punishment on longer trips. But back-seat prisoners similarly benefit from the stretched wheelbase. The only sedan ever used for prisoner transport with this much rear-seat legroom was the Monroe County (Florida) Sheriff's Checker Marathon I photographed in Key West nearly 20 years ago.

The XXL-size trunk has a flat load floor and accommodates twin batteries—one dedicated to powering auxiliary equipment—as well as the full-size spare tire so prized by fleet managers. Provisions have been made to relocate the stock radio back there, allowing its dash space to be used instead for mounting a compact touch-screen computer.

Chevy reps hovering over the car hastened to call it a concept vehicle and warned that production isn't slated to begin until early 2011. But reliable sources inside Chevrolet assured me that the show car will see production largely unchanged. It will receive bigger, 18-inch wheels shod with Z-rated tires and housing larger brakes, probably the Pontiac G8 GXP's 14.0-inch fronts and 12.76 rears with four-piston calipers. Otherwise the production car will be very faithful to the concept.

It's tough to get too worked up over police vehicles, not unless one is filling your mirrors, anyway. But that tiny market segment came alive when Chevrolet pulled the wraps off the Caprice PPV Monday at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Denver. The acronym stands for Police Patrol Vehicle and it will be the first V-8-powered rear-wheel-drive police sedan from Chevy since production of the original Caprice 9C1 ended in 1996.

That Caprice was the best traditional police sedan ever, an opinion widely shared among law enforcement. It was rugged, fast and had a huge interior and trunk. With bulletproof brakes and cooling system plus anvil-like reliability, the vehicle was so revered by lawmen that many departments paid exorbitant sums to refurbish theirs rather than purchase the slower, less robust 4.6-liter Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor alternative.

Judging from past hands-on experience with police Holden Commodores and based upon projected power, weight and aerodynamic drag, I'd expect to see a quarter-mile time around 14.4 seconds at 100 mph. (A senior Chevrolet exec told me that test mules have already proven capable of 0-60 in the six-second bracket, slightly ahead of the Hemi-powered Charger.)

Top speed, sans light bar, could easily top 155 mph. (In 2001 I saw 255 kph (150 mph) in a light bar-equipped Holden Commodore powered by a 300 hp LS1 engine; with an extra 55 hp and less drag the Caprice 9C1 should be noticeably faster.) But don't be surprised if Chevrolet governs top speed to something more sedate, mindful that few officers are qualified to handle that speed.

One discouraging note for civilians: there is no plan for a retail version of the Caprice PPV. If you want one, it'll have to be a miled-out unit sent to auction.