GM Holden is chasing traffic with the Caprice PPV, writes Paul Gover in the US
SERGEANT Steve Lentz is dressed for action. The Arizona policeman is in full battle gear, right down to a bulletproof kevlar vest that includes spare magazines for his pistol and extra ammunition for a police-issue assault rifle.
He is on a mission and taking things deadly seriously.
Lentz has come to Firebird Raceway, on the outskirts of Phoenix, to assess the latest suspect in the search for a newage American cop car.
The three contenders are the Ford Taurus, the Dodge Charger and the Chevrolet Caprice, with all three brands pushing hard to take the place of the classic Ford Crown Victoria that’s been the front-line battlewagon — and starred in countless television shows — for more than 15 years.
Lentz is one of more than 40 police people who are running through an intensive one-day program with Chevrolet that includes a 90-minute briefing and two driving sessions intended to show what the Caprice can do.
‘‘ I’m ready. This is serious. I’ve even got the vest on so I can see what it will really be like to drive this car on patrol,’’ Lentz tells Carsguide.
We are here because the Caprice is not just another American car with bright lights on the roof and a fittings for a police computer and shotgun.
The Caprice PPV — Police Patrol Vehicle — is Australia’s newest pitch for export business with the homegrown Holden Commodore.
A big deal could mean more than 10,000 sales a year.
GM Holden did well in the US with a Commodore that was tweaked into the hot Pontiac G8 but, when General Motors closed the brand as part of its bankruptcy proceedings, the deal died too.
Sadly, the G8 was only just starting to fire when it was killed.
Now Holden has the massive police car business in the US in its sights and believes it has the right package in a tweaked Caprice that should tick all the boxes for patrol car work across America.
‘‘I like that car. We like our big cars here,’’ says the bus driver who drops us at Firebird.
It’s a similar story among the police teams — front-line officers, driver trainers, purchasing staff and workshop crews — who assemble for the Caprice PPV program.
Lentz is typical as he prepares for action. ‘‘I have high hopes but low expectations,’’ he says.
It takes less than half a day to run through the program, which is winding down through a 20-city roadshow over the past three months.
Host Michael Lord talks hard and fast about the Caprice and program manager Dana Hammer is ready to answer any questions.
The biggest concern for most of the police is how their computers will transfer into a car with a tee-bar shifter in the centre of the car.
They seem impressed by the design, the space and claims of class leading performance from the 6.0-litre V8 engine.
‘‘I will make the case for the vehicle today. But at the end you’re the judge, you’re the jury, you will make the verdict,’’ Lord says.
The officers listen intently but the smiles come as they head to the track to drive.
It takes less than a minute for the sound of tortured rubber and hard working V8s to echo around Firebird.
Many have already driven the rival cars and are not impressed by the cabin of the Charger or the front-wheel drive in the Taurus.
They see the real rival to the Caprice as the Chevrolet Tahoe, a mid-sized SUV, though it is also more costly.
At the end of the program, the Caprice PPV has won fans but it’s time to crunch the numbers.
The car is not cheap — definitely not the cheapest — and the next step for many police forces will be to take one or two cars for an on-the-job evaluation to check the running costs and the in-service abilities of the Caprice.
But the Aussie contender has made an impression and it’s mostly positive.
‘‘I like the car. As a car and as a police tool,’’ Sergeant Johnny John says.
‘‘It’s gonna keep you alive.’’
High hopes: Sergeant Steve Lentz is searching for America’s new cop car.