The date, September 14th, 2011 was a milestone day for your author. While nothing particularly interesting may have happened in the mainstream media, I was invited to the GM Milord Proving Grounds facility to test drive Chevrolet’s entire fleet of 2012 police vehicles. This included the Tahoe, the 302hp V6 Impala, and last but not least; the Chevy Caprice Police Pursuit Vehicle (PPV) -both the 9C1 (Police) and 9C3 (Detective) versions and in both V6 and V8 spec. It was a dream come true just to be there.
After checking in and signing a few papers promising that I wasn’t going to break or steal anything, I was shuttled in by a bus into the heavily-guarded, secret test facility of The General.
Behind The Curtain
While in the process of reaching my final destination, me and a few other automotive journalists on the bus caught brief glimpses of CTS-bodied ATS’s, heavily disguised prototype vehicles, and cars I didn’t expect to see, like an Alfa Romeo Mito and the Opel Ampera, which is Europe’s version of the Chevy Volt. We saw about a million Volts too.
Once we arrived at “Building 106” we were greeted with a row of all of the vehicles we would be testing. But first, there was a product overview with a few of the key engineers of the vehicles that went over the changes to the already-existing Impala and Tahoe lines, and a special segment just for the Caprice. Once the “hi-how-are-yous” were over with, it was time to bea –er, test some cars!
I was literally the first one out of the building, as everyone else slowly followed behind. My first choice was the obvious one- the 9C1 Caprice in all of its 355hp, PPV glory. But before I could set off on my learn-as-I-go testing of the new Chevy, an unexpected demonstration of a police chase broke out on the grounds.
A blue, 2011 Mustang coupe comes screaming out onto the track, where a fully suited up, black and white Caprice PPV cruiser pursues him for one lap of the track, until ultimately, coming out ahead of the “villain.” Both cars were driven by Caprice development engineers. It was pretty cool to see, indeed.
Here Comes The Heat
After the entertaining spectacle had ended, I hopped into the Caprice I first had my eyes on for a lap around the track. With a 6-liter V8 under the hood, the car leapt off the mark without any drama. No wheel spin or wheel hop -hardly even a tire chirp. Just excellent traction followed by firm acceleration. In fact, I felt that car’s horsepower rating was a bit on the conservative side. For a car that weighs over 4100lbs, it didn’t disappoint at all, and Chevrolet claims a top speed of 148mph.
The engineers clearly spent their time reconfiguring the stretched Holden Commodore/Statesman/Caprice Zeta chassis for police duty, as evidence of how well the car handled. Handling was crisp and responsive, and the steering was tight as a drum. The story was the same in the 301hp V6 model as well, but I still preferred the added oomph and soundtrack of the 6-liter. The V6 in question is none other than the 3.6L DOHC LFX unit that’s finding its way in more and more GM vehicles, and has made its presence known in cars like the standard Camaro and CTS models.
Personally, I preferred the 9C3 Detective model over the 9C1 PPV, as the interior was more welcoming and civilian-like. Like all cars of today, there is an electronically-controlled traction assist feature, but switch that little button off, and let the fun ensue. While I didn’t get to drift around any cones, I was able to test the car’s burnout ability. It measured up without any wheel hop at all, and it’s nice to see that GM is finally getting the IRS setup where they want it.
At first glance, it looks like nothing has changed, but sharp eyes will notice the new front brake cooling ducts incorporated into the lower corners of the bumper. The LFX DOHC 3.6L V6 as found in the Impala. 302hp and 262ft. lbs. are realized with this ‘plant. Order the entry-level Caprice, and you’ll be rewarded with 301hp and 265 ft lbs. of twist.
After stepping out of the Caprice, I decided to switch to the lone front driver of the test drive, the mechanically updated ’12 Impala PPV. Like the Caprice, there are both 9C1 and 9C3 versions available of the Impala, but there was only one there for us to test on this outing, a 9C1 model.
It comes standard with the same Direct Injected, DOHC 3.6L V6 that’s available in the Caprice, backed by a new, column-shifted, 6-speed automatic gearbox. The horsepower and torque ratings are a little different from the Caprice’s however, with 302hp and 262 ft. lbs. of twist for the FWD Impala, and 301hp and 265 ft. lbs. for the RWD Caprice. We figure this has to do with intake and exhaust differences between the two cars.
While it looks identical to the previous six model years, the changes are mostly made under the skin, with the exception of 17-inch wheels, standard Goodyear V-rated tires, and a slightly revised front bumper cover to make way for the new brake cooling ducts.
The suspension and brakes have been completely reworked thanks to the boost in horsepower. For those of us who were expecting the rumored rear design changes will be disappointed –there aren’t any. Apart from a now mandatory dual exhaust system as a result of the new engine and a bumper cover accommodating the twin pipes, it was business as usual.
However, lack of cosmetic updates notwithstanding, the ’12 Impala PPV drove quite well, and much like the Caprice cop cars, the handling was firm, agile, and the brakes were superb, especially for a car of this type. Torque steer was very minimal in my opinion, although I did overhear one other journalist complain about it.
From my past experiences of driving the old LS4-powered SS models, it was next to non-existent by comparison. But keep in mind that although the new DI V6 is only short by 1hp from the LS4, it lacks a total of 61 ft. lbs. of torque of the retired 5.3L, and I think that’s the kicker.
Roominess, comfort, and cargo area are carryover from the previous year, and offer occupants plenty of space in all of these categories. Chevrolet markets this car as a sort of budget offering for smaller cities who want a cost effective, but effective vehicle without breaking the bank. We couldn’t get any official top speed numbers for the Impala, but with a 2.44 axle ratio combined with over 300hp, and I would have to guess the top speed is between 140-150mph.
Pulling Out The Big Guns
After I had fun with both of the sedans, it was time for me to slide behind the wheel of the Tahoe PPV. You may have already seen them around in your area, as I have been noticing them around in my home state of Ohio for quite some time. But don’t be fooled- these aren’t the same Tahoes that you see park rangers and soccer moms driving, these are purpose-built from the ground up to run you down in your new Camaro! Imagine a Tahoe that can hit a top speed of 138mph and can out handle just about any classic musclecar, and you’ll get the picture.
Actually, the handling was much better than that, as the 17-inch wheels wrapped in grippy, V-rated Goodyear rubber do more than an admirable job keeping the 5342lb. SUV planted to the ground. Whipping the Tahoe around the slalom was a blast, if not second nature for the massive Chevy, although its size, weight, and height kept it from being in the same league as the other two cars, obviously.
Despite this, it was an excellent handling machine, and this comes as a direct result of a specially tuned chassis, heavy-duty suspension components, 4-wheel disc brakes, and the aforementioned 17×7.5-inch wheel and tire combination. Like the other two, the brakes were excellent and the acceleration was brisk thanks in large part to the 320hp, 335 ft. lbs. of torque that’s being pumped out of its 5.3L V8. Backing the 325cui motor is a 6-speed automatic that spins a 3.08 rear gear set, which contributes to the high top speed and excellent fuel economy for a massive SUV (15 MPG city, 21 MPG highway).
There’s a Special Service Vehicle (SSV) version of the Tahoe as well, but it’s basically a standard issue, 4WD model similar to that of what a civilian can buy from a dealer, apart from the police style interior and equipment. It even has the same chassis and suspension as a standard model, and is essentially issued for park rangers and rural police departments where high-speed pursuits are not likely. None were available for us to test on this outing, however.
After having my fun with the vehicles for a couple of hours, it was time to pack up and head home, but not before I asked a few questions. When I inquired about a possible new Camaro PPV ever becoming available, I got the usual “we can’t say” and when I asked if and when a civilian version of the Caprice was coming to market, I was told that no plans were in the works. With an updated Caprice rumored to be in the pipeline for the 2015 model year, I wouldn’t expect one until then, and for those of you who recently read our story about the dealer selling PPV Caprices to the public, well, let’s just say GM pulled the plug on that deal real quick.
The Caprice, Impala, and Tahoe each offer police officials the performance, safety, and durability they require in a vehicle, while providing the utmost in today’s requirements of reliability and fuel economy. Each vehicle comes in at least two flavors to fit the needs of emergency and law enforcement personal and all come equipped with Stabilitrak and other safety equipment to ensure that their occupants (even members of the criminal classes) are fully protected as much as possible from harm.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for these vehicles on the highways and byways in your area, and if you get caught speeding, do the smart thing and just pull over. The days of easily evading the underpowered Crown Vic are on their way out.