1995 CHEVROLET CAPRICE CLASSIC OR IMPALA SS BASE
Used Car - 1995 Chevrolet Caprice Classic or Impala SS Base in Chicago, Il
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1995 Chevrolet Caprice Classic or Impala SS ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Heft and heritage abound in this all-American bruiser.
This car is obviously a survivor from another era, and there's something to be said for that.
Driving around in a Caprice Classic Wagon calls to mind the image of a homecoming bonfire, the pungent aroma of autumnal leaf-burning and a flock of teenagers crammed into the family wagon en route to a Friday night football game.
A simpler, more innocent America. A time when cars with lots of power and room were the standard, rather than the exception.
Of course, it helps if you're old enough to remember such a time. That's one of the reasons the market for these big General Motors wagons - the Caprice has a cousin at Buick, the Roadmaster Estate Wag-on - is composed primarily of older buyers. No, it's not leading edge, but contemporary technology helps keep this vehicle current.
This would have been considered a big wagon even in the '50s and '60s, and by today's standards it's simply huge - more than 2 ft. longer than a Ford Taurus Wagon. Which is precisely why it persists. For all the popularity of minivans and sport/utility vehicles, there are still folks who prefer the look, ride and power of a traditional full-size rear-drive wagon.
It's not an enormous market, but GM has it all to itself. Ford dropped the Country Squire from its Crown Victoria lineup a few years back, and there aren't any other players.
The Caprice wagon is available in two models: the well-equipped Classic and the even-better-equipped Classic LS, which we tested.
There were vast woodgrain trim panels on the sides of our test car, an element of the good old days that frankly we could do without. That goes for the optional wire wheel covers, too.
GM research indicates that most Chevrolet big-wagon buyers prefer the woodgrain trim, but you do have a choice here - it's a delete option.
There are no choices concerning the powertrain, but we think you'll like what's offered. Unlike the standard Caprice sedan, which is powered by a 200-hp 4.3-liter V8, the wagon comes with a Corvette engine (Chevy's LT1 V8) and a 4-speed automatic transmission.
We aren't suggesting this makes the Caprice some sort of sport wagon. But it does provide plenty of punch for passing and stoplight getaways.
Like all members of the Caprice lineup, the wagon includes 4-wheel anti-lock brakes as standard, as well as dual airbags.
An element of this car's safety appeal that's more difficult to quantify is its construction. The Caprice is a body-on-frame car - the body and frame are separate elements, unlike a unit-body car, which combines the chassis and body as one piece.
Unit-body construction reduces weight by a lot, which is why most of today's cars use this technique. But body-on-frame gets high marks for its ability to take punishment, and it puts a lot of mass between you and whatever you might run into.
The time warp gets even stronger when you climb inside. Although there's a 55/45 split between the front seats, they can easily accommodate three across, which was once the American standard.
The middle seat is a bench, again with room for three, and there's a smaller seat behind that, suitable for two - preferably two kids.
We found the seat padding to be a little on the soft side, one element of the nostalgia trip that probably wouldn't suffer from an update.
With all the rear seats folded, the Caprice Wagon has an impressive cargo bay. It's not as versatile as a minivan - the low ceiling does impose limits - but it will swallow a large quantity of ordinary family gear, or enough groceries to feed a platoon.
The double-hinged rear door makes it easier to exploit the cargo space. Pop up the rear window, then swing it down and it's a loading platform. Swing it out, like a door, and it's not as much of a stretch to reach deep inside.
Although a digital speedometer and dual airbags are hardly retro touches, the concept behind the Caprice instrument panel echoes the 1950s, when all you really needed to know was how fast you were going. There are also fuel and temperature gauges, but that's about it. Uncomplicated.
However, simple doesn't mean spartan. Not here, anyway. The basic Caprice Wag-on includes air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, power locks, a tilt wheel, tinted glass, map pockets in the door panels, intermittent wipers and a rear wiper/washer.
There are extras available, of course, such as leather upholstery and sound-system up-grades. An interesting addition to the audio inventory is a new GM radio that automatically adjusts the volume to the vehicle speed. Faster equals louder, and vice versa.
Our Caprice Wagon was quiet at all speeds, enhancing that nicely insulated feeling that's always been a hallmark of big American sedans and wagons.
Ride quality is also thoroughly traditional. The springs and shock absorbers seem to have been chosen with one objective: absolute comfort. Even though the rest of the auto industry heads steadily toward firmer suspension, the Caprice Wagon continues to cushion its occupants from the harsher realities of the road.
The price you pay for a cushy ride, as always, is mushy handling. It didn't take much cornering speed to get the tires howling, and our rapid maneuvers were accompanied by lots of body roll.
This kind of handling may be acceptable to some, but we think the steering wouldn't be acceptable to anyone. It's over-assisted at any speed, and utterly devoid of any road feel - no sense of where the front wheels are pointed until the car starts to head off in some new direction.
Things firm up somewhat with the B4U sport-suspension option that's designed primarily for trailer towing. The package includes a limited-slip rear axle (better traction), wider tires, more capacity in the cooling system and an engine oil cooler. We recommend this package whether you plan to do any towing or not.
If you do hook something on behind, you'll find the big V8 more than equal to the job - even if the job weighs up to 5000 lb.
Ah, that good old American V8 power. Though it's much more refined and efficient than the original Chevy V8 of 1955, the 5.7-liter V8 still provides that same primal thrust when-ever you nudge the accelerator. And the automatic transmission makes the application of power as smooth as liquid.
Although the Caprice Wagon scales in well north of two tons, this powertrain will propel it to 60 mph in less than 9 seconds. Pretty impressive.
It also does an adequate job with fuel economy, again considering all this mass. We logged almost 22 mpg in our test, which is better than most minivans and sport/utility vehicles.
The Caprice Classic Wagon isn't likely to appeal to younger buyers, partly because of their growing love affair with trucks and partly because it sends out the wrong personal image message.
And it's not exactly inexpensive, although you can spend more on some minivans and sport/utilities.
But if you're not worried about your personal trendiness index, and the power and style of a traditional American full-size wagon haven't lost their charm, your shopping will be simple. It'll require only two stops - one to look at the Caprice Classic Wagon, one to check out the Roadmaster.
These two are not only the best of their breed, they're the only ones left.
Although America still has a taste for big cars, its appetite for one particular kind has been somewhat curbed over the years.
The Chevrolet Caprice is the kind of car in which we once went to see the USA. The USA, though, has obviously changed. Big, heavy and thirsty, the traditional full-size sedans have largely given way to smaller, lighter front-drive cars. Nevertheless, they're still around, having managed to persist through two gas crises and tightening fuel-economy standards.
There are some very good reasons for this. Cars like the Caprice are spacious, comfortable and as smooth as a milkshake. The sheer mass lends a sense of security, and body-on-frame construction enhances the likelihood that you'll walk away from a crash unharmed.
The usual criticism of the big rear-drive survivors is that they're out of step with contemporary standards - pillowy ride quality, sluggish handling and vague steering. And to some extent, these criticisms are valid.
But they don't apply to the version of Caprice we tested: the Impala SS. Developed from the Caprice police-car package, the Impala SS is powerful and agile without sacrificing the smooth comfort that distinguishes this breed.
The current Caprice design goes back to 1991, when the car had its first major overhaul since 1976. Its new aero shape drew a fair amount of criticism at the time, particularly the bulbous rear-end with its half-skirted wheel wells. Chevy has since improved the look with various detail changes, including open wheel wells in the rear fenders. And the Impala SS represents the latest improvement, with its contemporary monochrome exterior that offers an alternative to the traditional Caprice Classic.
We have to say we prefer the looks of the Impala SS.
We also like what goes with it. The basic Caprice Classic is propelled by a 200-hp 4.3-liter V8, but the Impala SS has a version of the Corvette 5.7-liter V8, good for 260 hp and prodigious torque: 330 lb.-ft.
Like horsepower, torque ratings reflect an engine's ability to do work. Unlike horsepower, torque peaks in the lower rpm ranges, and it's what you want when you're moving away from a stop sign or pulling a heavy load.
With the standard 4.3-liter V8, the basic Caprice provides adequate acceleration. With its 5.7-liter V8, the Impala SS hauls.
The Caprice/Impala SS is one of the biggest passenger cars sold in America. And with body-on-frame construction - distinct from the more common one-piece unibody approach - it's also heavy.
However, the Impala's monochrome exterior disguises its dimensions, giving it a surprisingly lean and hungry look. The handsome 17-in. alloy wheels help in this regard, too, filling the wheel wells better than the standard 15-in. Caprice wheels.
The other hardware that makes the Impala SS so much fun to drive is all in the suspension: special high-performance shock absorbers, a rear anti-roll bar, a slightly quicker steering ratio, heavy-duty springs, huge anti-lock (ABS) disc brakes on all four wheels and a limited-slip rear axle for better traction.
Aside from standard leather upholstery, the interiors of the Impala SS and the base Caprice Classic are essentially the same. The Impala's front bucket seats are a little sportier than the Caprice's split bench, with modest thigh and torso bolsters, but it's hard to go along with Chevy's 'deeply countoured' description. The seats offer decent comfort, and there's a lot of room in which to move around. Roominess, of course, is one of the virtues of the Caprice Classic and Impala SS. There's ample space for five full-size adults to travel in comfort without territorial disputes. The standard Caprice provides the option of 3-across front seating, but the transmission tunnel intrudes on the center position.
The trunk is also big, but its space is compromised by the full-size spare, which protrudes from the middle of the floor.
The Caprice/Impala SS dashboard makes a clean sweep across the car. It doesn't quite have the one-piece look of a Honda Accord, but it's better than some. And, like most new automobiles, it has dual airbags.
Consistent with current Chevy design trends, the climate controls are wonderfully simple, with three well-marked rotary knobs mounted high in the center of the dash. Good marks, also, for the audio controls that feature oversize push buttons and a twist knob for volume control. Our only complaint here is that the increments on the volume control are tiny.
Instruments are grouped in a small cluster that appears to be pinched-in considering all the space the designers had to work with. There are a couple of gauges you don't ordinarily see in today's cars - oil pressure and a voltmeter - but there's no tachometer and the speedometer is digital.
This may be OK with standard-Caprice buyers, but it's out of step with the sporty character of the Impala SS. We think an analog display, including a tachometer, would be much more appropriate.
Safety features include standard ABS on all models - which can't be said for the Ford Crown Victoria - and side-impact protection that meets 1997 federal standards.
Going the extra $3000 or so for the Impala SS adds power mirrors, a premium AM/FM/ cassette sound system, reading lamps and a 6-way power adjustable driver's seat, as well as leather and the performance hardware.
Our test car also included a CD player and a preferred equipment package with goodies such as heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, rear-window defogger, and GM's Twilite Sentinel, which automatically illuminates the headlights at dusk.
For the money - less than $25,000 - you get a truly impressive collection of luxury features.
Beyond what they add to driving pleasure, responsive handling and good brakes are key elements of active safety. The Impala SS has both. We were thoroughly impressed with the way this big car could hunker down and track through twisty back roads, and we found its braking performance to be world class. We were even more impressed by the way the big V8 could muscle all this mass down the road. That's another safety plus - right-now power to cut down on two-lane passing time, or whisk you away from impending disaster.
We expected excess fuel thirst to accompany the performance, and here we were pleasantly surprised. In a week of travels with the Impala SS, we averaged more than 22 mpg.
With its stiffer suspension, the Impala SS's ride quality isn't as cushy as the standard Caprice. But it's far from harsh, and we think the Impala SS's handling is more desirable.
Although they're members of the same family, the Impala SS and Caprice Classic are like two different cars. With its soft suspension, the Caprice feels like a leftover from another era, while the Impala's behavior is as sophisticated as - yes - a BMW. The Caprice is a pleasant old-fashioned cruiser. The Impala SS is a modern sports sedan.
Sure, $24,540 is a pretty stiff price tag. However, it's competitive versus other big cars of comparable performance with comparable equipment - the supercharged Bonneville SSE, for example, or Buick Park Avenue Ultra.
And it's an out-and-out bargain versus competing big-ticket imports.
The Impala SS brings the American full-size sedan concept up to date. And if this concept continues to be viable, cars like this will be necessary to keep it alive.