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  • Police Car Comparison: 2007 Dodge Charger vs 2007 Chevrolet Impala vs 2007 Ford Crown Victoria

Police Car Comparison: 2007 Dodge Charger vs 2007 Chevrolet Impala vs 2007 Ford Crown Victoria

Do you feel lucky, punk? - Only a fool would try to outrun a police car. But, hey, that's what your friends at Motor Trend are for.

Arthur St. Antoine
Mar 28, 2008
Photographers: Evan Klein
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Uh oh. Those red-and-blue strobes. Lighting up your rearview mirror like the finale in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." They're for you. Time for your best Ned Flanders impersonation. Pull over, hands in plain sight on the wheel, pathetic smile. "What's the trouble, Mr. Officer, sir? Did I leave my checkbook back at the orphanage?" Only a fool would do anything else.
Ah, but this is Motor Trend. Your vehicular Fantasyland. The place where four-wheeled dreams-permissible and illicit-come true. Thanks to countless action movies and TV police dramas, the question has become a staple of bar-stool debates: What if, in the presence of those flashing red-and-blue disco balls, you...made a run for it? Quick downshift, stand on the gas, a nip and tuck through traffic, and...Would you leave the police cruiser in the dust? Would the cops hang right on your tail-the way they always seem to do on the silver screen? How well does modern cop iron stack up, anyway?
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Only one way to find out. We rounded up today's three most popular police pursuit sedans-one each from the Big Three-and hit the test track with takedown lights ablaze. To make things really interesting, we also brought along three increasingly formidable "perpetrator" cars-a Mazda MX-5 Miata, a Mitsubishi Evo MR, and a Porsche 911 Carrera 4-and turned them loose on the same course. Did the cops run them down? Did the perps get away? Is it fun to drive a car with a siren? Read on as we reveal all.
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The truth in black and white
In 2005, the most recent year for which the stats are available, there were 7934 police chases-in California alone. That's roughly 22 "COPS" episodes statewide every day. "The majority of pursuits end in under one minute," says Tom Marshall, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. "Of course, in Los Angeles all the television stations have helicopters with cameras, so any time there's a long pursuit it gets a lot of attention. That's what everybody thinks we do all day."
Not surprisingly, given the seemingly unlimited supply of reprobates attempting to get on "World's Wildest Police Chases," the cops take their vehicles seriously. Every 12 months, two agencies-the Michigan State Police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department-conduct grueling tests on all factory police vehicles for the new model year; the published results are used as buying guides by agencies across North America (and as far away as Australia, Guam, and Malaysia). "We test acceleration, top speed, braking, vehicle dynamics, ergonomics, and fuel economy," says Lieutenant David "Doc" Halliday, commander of the Michigan State Police's Precision Driving Team. "We don't pick favorites [if a vehicle fails a test it can be rejected, however], but we do lay out all the data so agencies can choose the right vehicle to meet specific missions. We also work with the manufacturers to develop their police packages, though ultimately it's up to them to determine what they want to offer."
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Despite what Hollywood may lead you to believe, the key ingredients for a good police car aren't "Mad Max" superchargers and "Starsky & Hutch" meatball tires. "The most important thing for law enforcement," says Halliday, "is you gotta build 'em tough. I can't tell you how many times we get a 'tough' new piece of equipment, and in 10 minutes the officer is back, saying, 'Uh, I broke it.' You want heavy-duty cooling, brakes, electrical. Also important is good room and comfort. In the 1970s, a typical police car had a siren-control head, a radio microphone, and a dome-light switch. Today, you have computers, printers, dual-antenna radars, video cameras, six-cup coffee maker, the whole nine yards. And when an officer is spending an eight-hour shift behind the wheel, repeatedly getting in and out of the vehicle, well, if he isn't comfortable it's going to have a pretty dramatic effect on morale."
No wonder Dirty Harry drove a roomy, four-door 1968 Ford Galaxie.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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."
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Keller is having fun tossing the Hemi around, but he's not convinced it makes the ultimate cop machine. "Power isn't usually super important. It can even be a liability. In the early 1980s, we had small Chevy Novas with 350 V-8s in 'em, and with that high power-to-weight ratio guys were crashing 'em right and left." Keller is also less than pleased with the Charger's visibility. "That big C-pillar really blocks your view to the rear quarter. Also, the trunk is relatively small. Our guys regularly carry 300 to 400 pounds of equipment."
Keller gives a thumbs-up to the Impala's V-6, which delivers group-leading fuel economy-"An increasingly important consideration for police departments on a budget," he says. He's thumbs-down on the front-drive layout, though. "I do not like front-wheel drive," he says like a true Southern Californian.
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Keller is clearly predisposed to the car currently used by his department, the Crown Vic. "Strong, stiff suspension for good control, but not so stiff it beats you up over an eight-hour shift. Excellent visibility all around. Huge trunk. Reliable. And loads of room up front, so you can have siren controls, MDTs [laptop-like mobile data terminals], radios, and still have plenty of room for the officer."
Bad boys, bad boys
So what would happen if, say, a nimble little sports car with a skilled driver at the helm took on these big four-door brutes through a maze of urban streets? To find out, we cut loose our long-term Mazda MX-5 Miata around a simulated city grid at EVOC and...
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It was no contest. In just a few turns, even with only 170 horsepower on tap, the tossable, bantamweight Miata had the 340-horse Charger flashing its strobes at thin air. At the end of the lap, the Charger was more than six seconds adrift, the Impala was trailing by about seven seconds, and the Crown Vic was nearly 10 seconds back in the dust. Against our long-term Mitsubishi Evo MR-brandishing 286 turbocharged horsepower and four-wheel drive-the gap was more than two seconds greater still. To try to even the score, we also ran some laps in BMW's new R 1200 RT-P police motorcycle (see sidebar), but while it proved quicker than the sedans, even it couldn't catch the Miata. At the end of the day, the performance gap was already so lopsided we didn't have the heart to run the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 on the course. But now you know: Any movie that shows a cop sedan hanging on the tail of a sports car through downtown L.A. (or a tight mountain road) is strictly science fiction.
Ah, but in the real world, the story is more complex. Out on the open highway, that asphalt Serengeti Plain where cops hunt speeders like lions stalking gnus, the balance shifts. There, where horsepower closes the gap, a Hemi Charger (with a top speed electronically limited to 145 mph) could easily rein in a screaming Miata.
What's more, even if you're driving a Ferrari Enzo, the cops have countermeasures. As in, spike strips, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, night-vision equipment-and other cop cars. As the old police saying goes, "There isn't a car in the world that can outrun a Motorola."
So there you have it: The Dodge Charger is mas macho, the Chevy Impala is lean and surprisingly mean, and the Ford Crown Victoria is as honest and dependable as Andy Sipowicz. Not that any of that really matters in a police chase. Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? You're gonna get caught, boy.
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  2007 Chevrolet Impala Police Car 2007 Dodge Charger Police Vehicle 2007 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front engine, FWD Front engine, RWD Front engine, RWD
ENGINE TYPE 60 V-6, iron block/alum heads 90 V-8, iron block/alum heads 90 V-8, iron block/alum heads
VALVETRAIN OHV, 2 valves/cyl OHV, 2 valves/cyl SOHC, 2 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT 236.7 cu in/3880 cc 345.1 cu in/5654 cc 280.4 cu in/4606 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.8:1 9.6:1 9.4:1
POWER (SAE NET) 240 hp @ 5800 rpm 340 hp @ 5000 rpm 250 hp @ 5000 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET) 245 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm 390 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm 297 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
REDLINE 6400 rpm 5800 rpm 5700 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER 15.6 lb/hp 12.5 lb/hp 17.5 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION 4-speed automatic 5-speed automatic 4-speed automatic
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIOS 3.29:1/2.34:1 2.82:1/2.34:1 3.55:1/2.49:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, self-leveling shocks, anti-roll bar Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO 13.3:1 16.1:1 16.4:1
TURNS LCOK-TO-LOCK 2.5 2.8 2.9
BRAKES, F;R 11.9-in vented disc; 10.9-in disc, ABS 13.6-in vented disc; 12.6-in vented disc, ABS 12.0-in vented disc; 11.5-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELS 16 x 6.5 in, steel 18 x 7.5 in, steel 17 x 7.5, steel
TIRES 225/60R16 97Y M+S Pirelli P6 225/60R18 99V M+S Continental ContiProContact 235/55R17 98W M+S, Goodyear Eagle RS
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE 110.5 in 120.0 in 114.6 in
TRACK, F/R 62.4/61.5 in 63.0/63.1 in 62.8/65.6 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 200.4 x 72.9 x 58.7 in 200.1 x 74.5 x 58.8 in 212.0 x 78.3 x 58.3 in
TURNING CIRCLE 38.0 ft 38.9 ft 40.3 ft
CURB WEIGHT 3740 lb 4248 lb 4385 lb
WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION, F/R 62/38% 54/46% 53/47%
SEATING CAPACITY 5 5 5
HEADROOM, F/R 39.4/37.8 in 38.7/36.2 in 39.5 in/37.8 in
LEGROOM, F/R 42.3/37.6 in 41.8/40.2 in 41.6/38.0 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 58.7/58.6 in 59.3/57.6 in 60.6/60.0 in
CARGO VOLUME 18.6 cu ft 16.2 cu ft 20.6 cu ft
TEST DATA
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-30 2.6 sec 2.1 sec 2.6 sec
0-40 3.8 3 3.9
0-50 5.4 4.2 5.7
0-60 7.5 5.6 7.8
0-70 9.8 7.2 10.2
0-80 12.3 9.4 12.9
0-90 15.5 11.8 16.7
0-100 NA 14.3 NA
PASSING 45-65 MPH 4.2 sec 2.9 sec 4.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.6 sec @ 91.2 mph 14.2 sec @ 99.4 mph 15.9 sec @ 88.1 mph
BRAKING 60-0 MPH 132 ft 127 ft 135 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.84 g 0.83 g 0.80 g
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.9 sec @ 0.60 g avg 27.1 sec @ 0.64 g avg 28.6 sec @ 0.58 g avg
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1900 rpm 1750 rpm 1700 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
BASE PRICE $24,355 $23,475 $26,535
PRICE AS TESTED $25,315 $30,480 $35,445
STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROL No/no Yes/yes No/no
AIRBAGS Dual front Dual front Dual front, front side
BASIC WARRANTY 3 yrs/36,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 5 yrs/100,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE Delivered with flashing lights Has never looked so good Care to ride in back?
FUEL CAPACITY 17.5 gal 18.5 gal 19.0 gal
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/29 mpg 17/25 mpg 17/25 mpg
RECOMMEND FUEL Unleaded regular Unleaded midgrade Unleaded regular
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Anatomy of a cop car
1. Contrary to popular opinion, engine and transmission are usually stock.
2. High-output alternator for strobe lights, siren, computers, radios, etc. (Ford leads with 200 amps max).
3. Severe-duty cooling system.
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4. External engine-oil cooler.
5. Steel wheels (sometimes dressed up with plastic wheel covers). Dodge has alloy wheels for show only.
6. All-season tires.
7. Heavy-duty brake pads. Michigan State Police brake tests include two hard stops from 90 mph, followed by six threshold stops from 60 mph, followed by a four-minute heat soak. Then the entire sequence is repeated.
8. Heavy-duty suspension for added control and durability (only Charger offers electronic stability program).
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9. Column shifter allows between-seat mounting of radios, computers, siren-control head.
10. Kevlar-lined ballistic front door panels, available on Ford, designed to stop most small-arms fire.
11. "Trunk Packs"-strong, integrated boxes for safety gear, firearms, evidence containers, etc.-are a popular option.
12. Rear seat back and seat cushions in Ford Police Interceptor are built as a single piece, with no gap in which a perp could hide a weapon.
13. "Easy-clean" vinyl flooring usually standard (especially in back, where intoxicated perps often literally spill their guts). Some police agencies order carpeting in the interest of higher resale value.
14. Back-seat window switches, door locks, and inside door handles inoperative.
15. Though vehicles are often prewired for popular accessories, light bars, radios, etc. are supplied and installed by aftermarket vendors.
16. Total cop-car market in U.S. approximately 70,000 vehicles annually.
17. Sticker prices often bear little resemblance to actual vehicle cost; most police vehicles sold at substantial fleet discounts.

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Hip CHiP
7 Mary 4 in pursuit
Forget about the Ponch and Jon edition Kawasaki KZ1000P. Don't waste your time with the porky Harley Road King. The new king of the police fleet is BMW's sleek R 1200 RT-P. Packing 1170cc worth of fuel-injected horizontally opposed twin cylinders that produce 110 horsepower, the R 1200 RT-P scorches the quarter mile in 12.3 seconds at 109.6 mph (on the exact same bike we bested the L.A. Sheriff's best quarter-mile acceleration validation test by 0.9 second). Grab a fistful of brakes, and the BMW's I-ABS (yes, ABS on a bike!) halts the R 1200 RT-P's 842 pounds of weight (bike curb weight-without rider-is 682 pounds) in just 126 feet. Mixed city/highway cruising delivers over 40 mpg, and the BMW is the first cruiser to offer a catalytic-converter system for ultra-low emissions. On EVOC's tight city street "pursuit" course, the R 1200 RT-P proved formidable with a 98.8-second run, beating its fellow four-wheeled cop-car brethren by 3.6 seconds. (Kent Kunitsugu, editor-in-chief of Sport Rider magazine, did the riding.) However, excessive gravel in corners and copious potholes limited the bike's true handling prowess to "don't wreck the BMW press bike" speeds. Trick gadgets include heated grips and seat, adjustable-height front windscreen, adjustable ride-height suspension, run-flat tires, and the first-ever use of LED pursuit lights. Maybe if CHiPs producers had ditched the pack-mule KZ1000P's in favor of BMWs, Jon (aka 7 Mary 3) wouldn't have left in season six. - John Kiewicz

To protect and to unnerve
One look at these menacing cop rides, and you'll plead guilty before the chase even starts
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1. When cruising Italy's Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway, watch for this 500-hp Gallardo. It's even equipped with a heart defibrillator-which you'll need when you see the polizia closing at 190 mph.

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2. This wicked 911 Carrera S Police Car concept by German Porsche-tweaker TechArt features a lightbar, 20-inch wheels, a customized suspension, and a 15-horse increase in output.

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3. Think you could outrun a twin-turbo, 6.3-liter V-12 making 730 horsepower? Then you'd better be able to top 227 mph. Punk. German tuner Brabus built this custom CLS cop car.

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4. Chevrolet's Camaro Z28 B4C police vehicle stopped production in 2002, but is still on the prowl. Boasting a 310-horse LS1 V-8, the 2002 model clocked a top speed of 162 mph.

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5. This 1968 Galaxie is Inspector Callahan's patrol vehicle in 1971's "Dirty Harry." Today, Callahan would be flaunting a Dodge Magnum ("I know what you're thinking: Does he have eight cylinders or only six...").

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