With the Ford Crown Victoria-based Police Interceptor officially history, police departments across the country are working to pick replacements. The California Highway Patrol, one of the biggest and most influential law-enforcement organizations in the country, has just picked out its next future car, which isn't a car at all but is rather an SUV -- the Explorer-based Ford Police Interceptor Utility.

The main reason why the CHP opted for the Utility over the Taurus-based Police Interceptor sedan or either of the rear-drive offerings from Chevrolet or Dodge is carrying capacity. Unlike the body-on-frame Crown Victoria, all of the new police car offerings use a unibody architecture and none of them meet the CHP's 1700-pound requirement, which is roughly equal to the weight of four officers and all of their equipment. The best any of the three can do is 1200 pounds for the Ford, leaving just the Interceptor Utility and Chevrolet's Tahoe PPV to choose from.

The Tahoe PPV and Interceptor Utility are two distinctly different approaches to the SUV. The Tahoe uses the body-on-frame arrangement with a longitudinal powertrain and V-8 engine while the Interceptor Utility rides on a unibody chassis with a transverse powertrain and front or all-wheel drive, powered by a V-6. Like the Blues Brothers' '74 Dodge Monaco, the PI Ute has a "cop motor" not available in the civilian Explorer -- the sole engine available is a naturally-aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 producing 304 hp and 279 lb-ft of torque, gains of 14 hp and 24 lb-ft of torque over the standard 3.5-liter V-6 in the Explorer. Should you find yourself having a case of police envy, don't worry, you'll soon be able to get an EcoBoost V-6-equipped Explorer Sport boasting 350+ hp and lb-ft of torque. There are currently no plans to offer the EcoBoost in the Interceptor Utility, although it is an option on the Interceptor sedan.

Though the Ford won largely because it was the lowest bid, it still has to make it past the CHP's rather brutal testing process.

First, the test vehicle is loaded with 400 pounds of ballast to simulate the equipment and gear the vehicles will typically carry. It must then be able to accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds and to 100 mph in less than 29 seconds. That doesn't sound too unreasonable, but that's just the beginning. Candidates must also accelerate from 50-100 in less than 22 seconds and be able to achieve a minimum top speed of 120 mph within two miles. The vehicle must also be able to maintain wide open throttle for at least 25 miles with no damage to the powertrain. Tests are performed in both directions and the results averaged.

If you thought the power and acceleration tests were demanding, the brake testing is even more grueling. Whereas the standard braking benchmark for civilian vehicles is 60-0 mph, the CHP test is 90-0 mph. The vehicles are subjected to four full-ABS stops from this speed at two-minute intervals. The vehicle gets a brief five-minute cool down period, and then repeats the test. The average stopping distance from all eight runs has to be 350 feet or less. Any excessive pulling to the right or left also disqualifies a vehicle.

Last but most certainly not least is the four-mile simulated pursuit test. It begins with a full-throttle sprint to 70 mph followed by a full ABS stop that is repeated three times. Immediately thereafter, the test vehicle goes onto a simulated street pursuit course where it will undergo 20 hard-braking stops. During the course, the vehicle is subjected to a full ABS stop during a left turn, and nine "slow and clear intersection" braking events, slowing to less than 10 mph. The vehicle then runs the same course in the opposite direction, with a full ABS stop making a right turn and 11 more "slow and clear intersection" braking events. Any discernible brake fade during this test will also result in disqualification.

If the vehicle falls short in testing, CHP gives manufacturers exactly two weeks (14 days) to correct the identified shortcoming(s) and re-submit the vehicle for testing or else it will move on to the next-lowest bid (in this case, the Tahoe).

Based on test results from the benchmark L.A. County Sheriff's Office and Michigan State Police tests, the Interceptor Utility is expected to easily meet the CHP's standards. If it passes the test with flying colors, the first units will be delivered to the agency in mid-late fall 2012, and could be on the road by January 2013. So don't get too complacent when you see what appears to be a new black Explorer with a grille guard and some extra lights. But the old faithful Crown Vic Interceptor will still be roaming the highway for a few more years, as the CHP ordered 329 of the last run off the line in Ontario, Canada.

Source: Motor Trend