Chevrolet PPV and the end of hot pursuit

“She’s the last of the V8s! She sucks nitro! Phase 4 heads, 600 horsepower through the wheels!” And so we are introduced to Max’s police interceptor in George Miller’s 1979 directorial debut, Mad Max.

Like that beast, the Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV) is very likely the last of its particular, peculiar line. Parent company General Motors has announced that Holden, the conglomerate’s Australian division that builds the PPV for the North American market, would cease production of all vehicles in Australia come 2018. As with the Holden-built Chevrolet SS rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, the PPV’s future is about as clear as a mud puddle.

Vital Stats

2014 Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle

  • Base price: $33,300, inclusive of $825 destination charge
  • As tested: $33,920
  • EPA fuel economy: 15mpg city, 24mpg highway
  • Powertrain: 355hp 6-litre V8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Standard equipment: steel mount for radios and computers, dual trunk release buttons, police-certified 160mph speedometer, remote start, Bluetooth
  • Major options: red cabin light for optimal night vision illumination, flashing red and blue emergency lights mounted inside trunk lid

With thoughts duly focused by the Caprice’s potential demise, it seemed prudent to take a good, hard look at a future Max’s ride, before the deranged police mechanics boost it with a Weiand supercharger and nitrous oxide.

The 355hp 6-litre V8 under the hood gives the Caprice freight-train acceleration, enabling 158mph in tests by the Michigan State Police. As for evading desert marauders in a dystopian future, the Caprice will be the car to have. New for 2014 is a thicker front anti-sway bar and revised MacPherson struts for improved handling. 

The US enforcement agency with the strongest pursuit heritage is arguably the Treasury department, whose revenue agents chased smuggling moonshiners in the 1930s through the hollows and hills of the Appalachian Mountains. Such pursuits led backwoods entrepreneurs to modify their cars for speed, a tradition that would later beget the Nascar racing series.

In police fleets throughout the US, the Caprice’s foil has been the Ford Crown Victoria – and, more recently, the Dodge Charger Pursuit – which ceased production in 2012. With that in mind, I recruited a Treasury agent to evaluate the Caprice vis-a-vis his experience with the Crown Vic. He gave the Chevrolet’s handling high marks, complimenting the directness and accuracy of its steering.  In comparison, the Crown Vic’s steering was vague and unresponsive.

Despite similar curb weight to the Crown Vic, this responsive character makes the Caprice feel livelier. “It feels four or five hundred pounds lighter,” said the agent, who declined to be identified for this story, citing departmental protocol.

Even more significantly, the Caprice is more stable under hard braking, stopping true and fast. “If you have any angle in the steering on a Crown Vic, the back end wants to come around on you,” the agent said.

With 3.4 inches less width, the Caprice is visibly narrower than the Ford, but given law enforcement agents tend not to pack up the whole family for the drive to Walt Disney World, this probably is not a handicap. (Should these cruisers spend their twilight years as taxis, however, sitting three-abreast in the back seat will be difficult, despite the abundant legroom.)

Throughout the PPV are clever features intended to facilitate police work. A passenger-side trunk release button gives the driver’s partner quick access to equipment in the trunk, for example.

Sliding behind the wheel, the column-mounted shifter immediately lends the Caprice a cop car vibe, while reserving space on the console for various radios, computers, gun mounts, anti-personnel mines and other tools of the trade. Well, it looks like a column shifter, but it really is dash-mounted, translating to a longer reach from the steering wheel, which could make it difficult to slap through the gears in a Blues Brothers-worthy, reverse J-turn manoeuver.

But that’s the sort of minor niggle drivers ought to get used to, whether they are revenuers chasing moonshiners or rogue Australian patrolmen meting out justice to post-apocalyptic bandits. The Caprice PPV is a fitting send-off if it proves to be the last of the Australian V8s.