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Chevrolet Caprice

Minivans had all but eliminated demand for traditional full-size station wagons, so it was rather surprising to see one among the redesigned Caprices of 1991. Even more surprising was the big rear-drive Chevy's new shape. Clean but blimpy, it reminded some of a Step-Down Hudson -- and that wasn't meant as a compliment.

There was no denying the new Caprices looked heavier. And they were, the sedan by 200 pounds, the wagon by about 150. Extra sheetmetal was partly to blame, as overall width bulged two inches and overall length added two-three inches. An unchanged wheelbase implied the vintage-'77 B-car chassis was still underneath. It was, but modernized a bit with revised suspension geometry and standard antilock control for the usual front-disc/rear-drum brakes.

Returning unchanged was a single powerteam comprising four-speed automatic transmission and a 170-bhp 305 V-8 with throttle-body injection. Inside was a new, if rather uninspired dash with standard driver's airbag, plus a bit more room for heads, legs, and elbows.

The '91 Caprice was an early starter, reaching showrooms in the spring of 1990. Sedans initially offered base and ritzier Classic trim, both six-seaters with a bench front and rear. The wagon was a plain Caprice, but included a roof rack, rear wiper, and a nifty two-way tailgate (swing-out or drop-down) with separate liftup window. An optional foldaway third seat gave eight-passenger capacity.

In all, these new Caprices were just old wine in more-contemporary bottles, but they offered a lot of metal for the money at $16,500-$18,000. Perhaps even to Chevy's surprise, model-year sales almost doubled to a over 200,000, though it obviously helped that the '91 run was much longer than usual.

Included in that tally were a relative handful of Classics with a sporty option package, another LTZ. A late addition to the roster at $825, it delivered wider wheels and tires, a firmer suspension than the famous F41 setup (still available), heavy-duty brakes and cooling system, and additional gauges including a digital speedometer to replace the normal strip-type analog device.

Most of these items were borrowed from the Caprice police package (law enforcement having become a major sales venue for these cars), but the result wasn't pleasing.

Handling was little better than stock, yet ride was stiff to the point of ­irritation. And there was no more power to pull the near two-ton curb weight, so 0-60 proved a leisurely 10.1-second affair in Consumer Guide® tests. Nevertheless, the Caprice LTZ was Motor Trend's 1991 "Car of the Year."

Caprice carried into '92 with minor changes: transmission safety interlock (you had to press the brake pedal to get out of Park, as on a growing number of cars), standard tilt steering wheel, and no-cost power rear vent windows for the wagon.

Also new for the wagon was an optional 350 V-8; it made only 10 more horses than the 305 but packed an extremely useful 45 extra pound-feet of torque -- 300 in all. The 350 became an LTZ standard for '93, when base models were retitled Classic and the Classic was tagged LS.

At the same time, Chevy answered styling critics by giving sedans a lighter look, achieved with fully radiused wheel openings, broader taillamps and a 1.6-inch wider rear track. Sales eased to just under 100,000.

Caprices picked up a new dual-airbag dash for '94 (as did the SS). They also got a new 200-bhp base V-8, a 350 cut down to original 1955 size (4.3 liters/265 cid). The '95s were unchanged except that sedans acquired the Impala's kicked-up rear side-window styling -- and looked miles better for it.

For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices

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