Three Good Cops
For 2007, American police agencies shopping for new sedans will be able to choose from a trio of vehicles whose personalities read like an action-movie cast: the grizzled but much-loved veteran, the rising young lieutenant bringing a fresh perspective to the job, and the brash rookie with big biceps but a few glaring flaws.
Playing Grizzled Veteran is Ford's Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, in service with mostly minor changes since 1998 and one of the most popular cop rides in North America (from 2000 through 2005, it accounted for roughly 80 percent of all police sedans sold). If you've spent much time at extra-legal highway speeds, chances are good you've seen one of these broad-shouldered four-doors up close. In 2007 guise, the Interceptor boasts Ford's SOHC 4.6-liter V-8 making 250 horsepower (compared with 239 horses for the dual-exhaust civilian model), a four-speed automatic, and optional front-door ballistic panels designed to stop most small-arms fire. The rear-drive Interceptor does things the traditional way-no multidisplacement engine systems, rugged body-on-frame construction-but that's why the cops love it. The old Vic is simple, proven, spacious-and boasts a trunk Tony Soprano could dance in.
Starring as Rising Young Lieutenant is Chevrolet's Impala Police Car, unveiled for the 2000 model year and redesigned (on GM's versatile W platform) for 2006. The Impala breaks with tradition via a front-drive layout whose added traction has won big fans with police departments in the winter-challenged Northeast (the Impala is the ride of choice of the NYPD). Also unusual is the Impala's lack of an available V-8. Under the hood lies a version of Chevy's 3.9-liter Vortec V-6, delivering 240 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque through a four-speed automatic. For 2007, the engine is upgraded with Active Fuel Management technology, which shuts off half the cylinders when they aren't needed, improving economy.
Stealing scenes wherever it appears is Dodge's new-for-2006 Charger Police Vehicle. Though a 250-horse, 3.5-liter V-6 is standard, the Charger that has cops pulling rank for wheel time is the available 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, making 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet. The rear-drive Dodge is easily the most advanced of the trio: multidisplacement engine technology, five-speed automatic, standard electronic stability control (not even offered by the other two), optional front and rear side-curtain airbags, and a body with some actual design flair. The Hemi also is available in station wagon form-dubbed, yes, the police Magnum.
Cop Versus Cop
As expected, the Hemi-powered Charger ran away from the Ford and the Chevy at the dragstrip, booming to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds. Yet the Impala packed more firepower than its V-6 would suggest, gunning to 60 in 7.5 seconds-versus 7.9 for the V-8-powered Ford (the beefy Crown Vic is saddled with a 600-pound weight disadvantage).
The front-drive Chevy also surprised around our figure-eight handling loop, displaying good grip and responsiveness and clocking a time just 0.8 second slower than the far more potent, fat-tired Charger (again the Ford brought up the rear). Braking performance was more, uh, uniform, but once more the finishing order was Dodge, Chevy, Ford.
As always, though, the numbers tell only part of the story. In addition to running our black and whites at our usual test track, we brought them to the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department's Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (sbccounty.gov/evoc), a purpose-built training facility about an hour east of Los Angeles that conducts high-performance driving classes for law-enforcement personnel, firefighters, paramedics, and private citizens (roughly 1500 students attend annually). And immediately we began to see our three cruisers differently. Through cop eyes.
"Nice power, and the steering is great," says Randy Keller, chief instructor at EVOC as he hurls the Charger around a tight course that simulates a grid of city streets. "We also welcome the electronic stability program, but there shouldn't be a button that allows the driver to turn it off. With ESP deactivated, this car could outdrive the average cop."