First Ride: Shotgun in the 2012 Ford Police Interceptor
Less Jelly Donut and More Bran Muffin
They can't be called exotic, and they aren't that fast, but everybody loves flashing lights. In 2012, Ford will roll out two new Police Interceptors based on the Taurus/Explorer platform. A day riding shotgun in cop cars being thrown around a test track is just the thing to defibrillate your inner 7-year-old car-lover back to life.
The power-sliding, tire-smoking Ford Crown Victoria currently holds about 70 percent of the Interceptor business. Even with much newer offerings from Dodge and Chevrolet, departments all over the country still buy the tried-and-tested body-on-frame workhorse from Ford. Originally launched in 1992, the Crown Vic has been refreshed and updated a few times, but essentially Ford hit the nail on the head almost 20 years ago.
But times have changed, and so have cops. Ford Vehicle Engineering manager Carl Widmann explained that most of the current recruits grew up in front-wheel-drive four-cylinder cars, so they don't have the connection to V-8 power and rear-wheel drive like the veterans. These new Police Interceptors will be available with front-or all-wheel drive and use the Ti-VCT V6 FlexFuel, with the Twin-Turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 optional in the sedan. Yes, cop cars have option lists too.
Ford invited us to experience the new Police Interceptors and we couldn't resist. After a couple hours of lectures and marketing spin, the rubber met the road. An autocross that simulated real street conditions, minus the stacks of cardboard boxes and fruit stands, was the perfect test venue. It took mere seconds in the Crown Vic to actually feel my cop mustache growing in. Not hugely powerful by modern standards, the 250-horsepower Vic still leaps off the line with tire spin, V-8 growl and two decades of pursuit-frenzied "Punch it!" echoing inside the cabin. Even with the Police Issue Suspension the car squats down, and you sink into the wide, soft seats that wouldn't be tight even with the added width of a gun, pepper spray, and three donuts a day on the hips.
Approaching the first turn, the squat turns to dive in an over-the-top arcing motion that feels like riding a catapult without the exciting dismount. With speed scrubbed, turn-in is abrupt, with a big exhale and flashes of elbows and open hands. The front tires feel like skis struggling to cut into hardpack, while the back end reminds you just how far behind it was, and how anxious it is to catch up. I saw the 911 bumper sticker in my periphery and considered following its advice. Jump on the gas and the weight pitches backwards just in time for the torquey V-8 to bully the rear tires into letting go. A beautiful tail-out drift that would make Michael Bay cry finishes the first turn. The two-ring circus of car control and testosterone continued for what seemed to be the length of a decent half-hour cop show final chase scene, but I could have done it for at least a full cinematic Bruce Willis epic finale.
After a little breather and reset by the pyro crew, I got into the brand-new Taurus Interceptor test mule. The modern seats are much more supportive, yet still feel equally flat in the bolsters. (Apparently being able to fly out of the car after perps on foot is preferable to high-G cornering support.) Not expecting a footrace during the test, I would have preferred a nice race bucket. The dash is far higher in the new car, restricting some amount of forward vision, but both front-seat occupants also feel far less vulnerable. In the middle of my journalistic dash-stroking I get the "You ready?" from the Ford Engineer in the hot seat. With my own background in engineering, I don't think it's offensive to say I was confident that this ride wouldn't be as hairy as the last, partly because of the car but also in part to the high IQ behind the wheel. From my experience, most of us talented with the calculator aren't the hottest of shoes. Apparently Ford hated this trend and has made it a point to make sure their techno-nerds can hustle the cars as fast as the people who will use them.
Foot to the floor the new Interceptor still squats, but it no longer feels like the rear axle has become intimate with the groceries in the trunk. The acceleration is smooth and deceptive, and the harsh vibrations and body twist are gone. This might be great for actually catching bad guys, but a collective whimper just resonated through Hollywood stunt coordinators. The car is faster than the Crown Vic, reeling in the first turn before I can even formulate a metaphor. Jumping on the brakes feels more like driving into viscous fluid. There are no chattering tires, no darting. The car just slows down. How does a journalist make that exciting? The transition from squat to dive has a linear feel like you're riding deep in the car, not on top of it. Turn-in lacks the barnstorming flair. It feels more confident, with the meaty Goodyears giving a little slip at the front, but the steering wheel sawing is gone. Halfway through the turn it's surprising just how flat the car is while hovering over a ride height that would make some SUVs jealous. An abrupt lift on the gas swings the back end around and it continues rotating until counter steering or more throttle intervenes. The new car isn't nearly as exciting, but when lives are on the line, efficiency trumps action sequences.
Clearly the new Interceptors are superior in just about every way in the real world. My time in the Crown Vic is enough to make me start searching eBay and government auction sites to save one of these four-wheeled action heroes from a future of taxi duty. I doubt most police departments are going to share my view, however. Greater safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness win every time, even in a state governed by a guy who truly appreciates a little Hollywood flair.