1991 Chevrolet Caprice
Chrysler nearly killed the full-size station wagon with the introduction of the minivan in 1985. General Motors is determined to bring it back. This year the world's largest automaker brought out three full-size wagons that rival any of the classic wagons of the '50s or '60s in size. Even though the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, the Buick Roadmaster and the Chevrolet Caprice are built off the same platform, each one is different in trim, sheet metal and interior. This week's test car, the Caprice, was a pleasant surprise. For a car with such a large girth, the Caprice is easy to maneuver, has plenty of power, delivers reasonable fuel economy and comes loaded with a long list of thoughtful features that underscores the car's primary mission - to provide comfortable, reliable, family transportation. If you don't like minivans, a full-size wagon is, perhaps, the next best family vehicle. ENGINE, PERFORMANCE GM's 170-horsepower, 5.0-liter, fuel-injected V-8and a four-speed overdrive transmission, the same engine and transmission found in the Caprice sedan, are used in the wagon. The wagon version of the Caprice weighs in at better than 2 tons, 4,354 pounds to be exact, and that is 447 pounds more than the sedan. However, the drivetrain has no problem with the added weight. Chevy says the wagon will go from 0 to 60 mph in 12.6 seconds. For a car more than 18 feet long and more than 7 feet wide, this is decent performance. Shifts are smooth and positive. The transmission slides effortlessly into lower gear when called upon for passing. Chevrolet says the wagon is EPA rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. I could not get and accurate reading on the actual mileage because of a badly calibrated fuel gauge. In my experience, today's cars usually get slightly better than the EPA estimates. HANDLING, BRAKING Because of the car's size, it looks unwieldy. Itis not. Though the Caprice wagon is no race car, it can hold its own in most situations. The steering is one area that could stand a little fine tuning. It was too light and the wheel was far too easy to turn. After a tight turn the front wheels do not automatically straighten out when the driver takes his hands off the wheel. The Caprice wagon's suspension system is very soft. The ride is comfortable. Speed bumps are barely detectable. But over rough terrain like dirt roads, the suspension seems taxed. On a bumpy dirt road in Oviedo, it felt as though the car was going to bottom out. The power disc/drum brakes are powerful. All Caprices are built with anti-lock brakes as standard equipment. I can't think of a better application of this safety feature than on a full-size family station wagon. The brakes are well up to the job of stopping such a heavy vehicle. Repeated applications - bordering on abuse - failed to produce brake fade, which diminishes the car's sto pping power when the brake components get hot. There's another safety feature also standard on the Caprice: a driver's side air bag. FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS The build quality on the Caprice is excellent. You can't help but notice the uniform gaps between the body and the fenders, doors, hood and tailgate. The most impressive thing about the Caprice wagon is the attention to detail Chevy engineers have displayed in the car's interior design. A small light shines on the door-mounted window and lock switches, making them easier to see at night. The tailgate either can swing open to one side or open down. There's a switch on the dash that opens the tailgate and rear window. Standard equipment includes a rear window wiper/ washer and roof-mounted luggage rack. Such niceties cost extra on other cars. There are numerous storage compartments and cup holders throughout the interior. Passengers - regardless of where they are seated - are likely o remain comfortable on long trips. The Caprice wagon seats up to eight people, or it c an be configured to carry 92.7 cubic feet of cargo. The Caprice is a nice-looking, modern well-equipped wagon for a great price. Chevrolet has a winner here.
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