What’s black and white and induces four-letter expletives when viewed through a rear-view mirror? A Crown Victoria police car.
For more than three decades, many law enforcement agencies have placed their trust in Ford’s full-size, rear-wheel-drive cruiser, creating an automotive icon synonymous with police presence and authority.
But Ford’s near-monopoly on law enforcement vehicles may soon come to an end as the Crown Victoria stops production and a new era of police vehicles vie to become the replacement of choice.
Many police officers spend more time sitting in their work vehicle than sitting on the couch at home, so the emergence of next-generation automobiles will have a significant impact on the comfort, livelihood and safety of patrolling officers.
Each of the Big Three automakers has developed a new sedan aimed at law enforcement. Ford is transitioning from rear-wheel drive with its new Police Interceptor, a modified version of the Taurus that comes with a 3.5L V6 or 3.5L twin-turbo charged EcoBoost V6; Chevrolet retooled a line of vehicles from its Australian subsidiary, Holden, to create the 6.0L V8 Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV); and Dodge offers the Charger Pursuit, available with a 3.6L Pentastar V6 or 5.7L HEMI V8. Meanwhile, newcomer Carbon Motors aims to redefine the industry with the world’s first purpose-built police vehicle, code-named “E7,” slated for release in early 2014.
Carbon Motors’ concept is good, said Colorado State Patrol Fleet Manager Kyle Shelton. “But without actually touching, getting in, driving ... it’s hard to say.”
Shelton manages about 700 law enforcement vehicles for 23 troop offices, and said a purpose-built vehicle is ideal, but he has reservations about some of Carbon Motors’ choices like the use of diesel fuel, which isn’t as prevalent as unleaded.
Shelton said he has driven the V8 Charger Pursuit and Caprice PPV and was impressed by both. He hasn’t yet driven the new Ford, but said that with proper training, he believes all-wheel drive is always a better option. “It’s good to see American competition,” he said. “They are comparably equipped vehicles.”
With old Crown Victorias being swapped out every four years, Shelton is considering which replacement vehicle to suggest to his superiors, although he hasn’t settled on one yet.
As existing police vehicles reach the end of the road, law enforcement leaders around the country will be deciding which next-gen option is right for their department. Here’s a brand-by-brand breakdown:
Photo: Ford's all-wheel-drive Police Interceptor squeezes more than 350 hp from its twin-turbo V6.
In developing their new law enforcement vehicles, each manufacturer followed a similar recipe: They asked law enforcement agencies what they wanted and tried to give it to them. But Ford’s decision to abandon real-wheel drive, a de facto law enforcement standard, is a bold move given that police request rear-wheel-drive vehicles and are typically trained for pursuit driving in them.
Lisa Teed, the marketing manager for Ford’s new Police Interceptor, said that while rear-wheel drive is a standard that Ford has long supported, she believes officers will come to appreciate the handling characteristics of the new front-wheel and all-wheel-drive vehicles. Officers switching to Ford’s new vehicles won’t need extensive training behind the wheel, she added.
“Change is never easy for anyone,” Teed said. “But emergency vehicle drivers have personally told me these vehicles require less effort to drive.”
Drivetrain preference aside, few would dispute that Ford’s offering is a step forward technologically. There are so many new features that it’s hard to find a part of the vehicle that hasn’t been upgraded. Side-curtain airbags, wide-opening rear door hinges, a redesigned interior, reinforced subframe and powertrain mounts, a 220-amp alternator, bigger brakes, upgraded suspension, a voice-activated communications system, a color rear-view camera system, radar-powered cross-traffic sensors and a blind spot alert system are all found in the new sedan.
Photo: The Dodge Charger Pursuit, equipped with a HEMI V8, delivers more horsepower and torque than its competitors.
Likewise, Dodge’s Charger Pursuit was designed to be a large step forward from the old platform, Charger Chief Engineer Breanna Kaufman said. “We worked to integrate as much of the police-specialized equipment in the design of the car as possible,” she said. The Charger’s center console and front seat interior were given great attention. “With the budget cuts, a lot of these officers don’t even have offices anymore,” Kaufman said. “The car is their office.” With this in mind, docking hookups for police equipment come standard.
The interior may be nice, but with the option of a 5.7 HEMI V8, the Charger Pursuit offers more torque and horsepower than any other police sedan, the automaker said. The Charger is also heavy on safety options: driver’s knee airbags, multistage front air bags, side-curtain airbags, front-seat side thorax airbags, hill start assist, rain brakes, traction control, stability control and brake assist. It’s no wonder the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2011 Charger one of this year’s top safety picks.
The Caprice PPV is the most capacious contender with 112 cubic feet of interior space — more than 7 cubic feet larger than the competition, according to Chevrolet. Even with the prisoner partition, the front seat can recline and the steering wheel telescopes forward. The extra space is appreciated by the many officers taller than six feet who spend long hours in the driver’s seat.
The Caprice is a big car, but its large interior didn’t slow it down at the 2011 Michigan State Police performance test, where the PPV earned best-in-class marks in several categories against Ford’s Crown Victoria and both Dodge Chargers, including 0-60 mph acceleration, 0-100 mph acceleration, 60-0 mph braking and top speed, clocking in at 148 mph.
Dana Hammer, General Motors’ manager of law enforcement vehicles, said that like its competitors, Chevrolet worked closely with its law enforcement product council to make the Caprice PPV what police want and need: a large, no-nonsense, rear-wheel-drive sedan in a V8 or V6. The 2011 Caprice has a 6.0L V8, and Chevrolet will release a 3.6L V6 Caprice PPV next year with additional safety features, such as knee-airbags and rollover detection for improved timing of airbag deployment.
To supplement the Caprice, Chevrolet also offers the 3.9L V6 2011 Impala. The 2012 Impala will receive a makeover as it switches to the same 3.6L V6 engine found in the Caprice for a more streamlined fleet. In addition to the new powertrain, the 2012 Impala will be upgraded with bigger brakes, a six-speed automatic transmission, sports mode, StabiliTrack and a 50-50 weight distribution.
The Big Three go out of their way to point out that their police cars aren’t consumer vehicles — they’re specially designed for police work. And that’s seen in the significant changes made to transform the consumer vehicles. Be that as it may, one company is taking customization a step further.
Photo: Chevrolet says its new Caprice PPV is just what police departments want: a big, no-nonsense, real-wheel drive sedan.
Photo: The Carbon Motors E7 is a purpose-built police car with a long list of special features.
Stacy Dean Stephens, a former police officer, founded Carbon Motors in 2003 with William Santana Li, a former Ford executive. Teamed up with Lotus Engineering, Inteva Products and Bosch Engineering, Stephens and Li are on a mission to build the ultimate police vehicle from the ground up.
It’s borderline insulting, Stephens said, that police aren’t equipped with specialized vehicles designed exclusively for police work. After all, firefighters, soldiers and even mail carriers drive purpose-built vehicles. “You would not put a soldier in a station wagon and send him into battle,” he said.
Because Carbon Motors is developing its vehicle from scratch, the company can design the car exactly to its wishes, which means the specs can be entirely different. One of the biggest differences is the engine, which is a “forced induction” diesel. That engine was chosen, Stephens said, because it’s ideal for the job. “It fits police usage patterns — long idle periods followed by rapid acceleration,” he said. The result is an engine with increased performance and 40 percent greater fuel efficiency than the law enforcement vehicle average, according to Stephens.
The E7’s rear doors are coach doors, meaning they open backward, creating a larger opening and allowing for easier access. The rear seats are made of a durable plastic for easy cleanup and are fitted with special seat belts so officers don’t need to lean over detainees to buckle them in. There are also video cameras in the rear compartment for monitoring and recording backseat activity. The front compartment also shows attention to detail — everything from the air vents in the headrests to the custom computer interface to the temperature-controlled cup holders.
On the exterior, the E7’s light bar is flush-mounted into the body and wraps completely around the top of the car. The body panels are made from thermoformed plastic, which don’t require paint because the color is inside the panels. The front doors and dash are fitted with ballistic panels, and the frame is made from hydroformed aluminum, a technology typically reserved for high-end sports cars.
The E7 has dozens of extras and options, including infrared cameras, a license plate recognition system that automatically scans adjacent cars and searches for warrants, a low-frequency siren that people can feel and hear, weapons of mass destruction sensors, and night vision-compliant interior lighting that won’t paint the officer inside as a target or steal his night vision.
“What we’re offering is not a vehicle, but a homeland security platform upon which law enforcement can build a vehicle to their specifications,” Stephens said. “We’re giving all these new technologies a breath of fresh air.”
The E7 isn’t available for test drives yet, but for the past few years, Carbon Motors has been taking its prototype on tour — and when people see the vehicle, they react very emotionally, Stephens said.
“The first thing out of their mouth is, ‘It’s about time,’” he said. “The next thing they say is, ‘You’ve really done your homework.’ And the third thing they say is, ‘When do I get to drive it?’”
More than 16,000 reservations for the E7 have been made, Stephens said, which includes agencies in all 50 states.
|Engine||3.5L Ti-VCT V6 FFV||3.5L EcoBoost V6||6.0L V8||3.6L VVT Pentastar V6||5.7L VVT HEMI V8||Forced Induction Diesel|
|Fuel Type||E85 Compatible||E85 Compatible||E85 Compatible||E85 Compatible||Unleaded||Ultra-low sulfur diesel|
|Torque (ft. lb.)||250||350||384||260||395||400|
|Transmission||6 Sp. Auto||6 Sp. Auto||6 Sp. Auto||6 Sp. Auto||6 Sp. Auto||6 Sp. Auto|
|Passenger Volume (cu. ft.)||104.2||104.2||112||104.7||104.7||Classified|
|Curb Weight (lbs.)||Classified||Classified||4,259||3,961||