In just about one month from now, I’ll be in Charlotte, North Carolina for a public safety vehicle “Roadeo” being held at the Michael Waltrip Race World USA facility as part of my participation at NAFA’s 2011 Institute & Expo. During the Roadeo — organized and presented by the Public Safety Group (PSG) at NAFA — fleet managers and public safety professionals will get behind the wheel and compete with each other in a series of timed events. Vehicles at the Roadeo will be provided by various manufacturers including Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, so as I began gearing up — pun very much intended — for that event a few weeks ago, I started researching the automotive companies which have introduced new vehicles for law enforcement.
Beginning with the newly-available Ford Police Interceptor sedan and SUV, I’ll be posting a series of articles — authored by yours truly as well as a handful of other PoliceOne Columnists led by my friend and colleague Travis Yates — over the next several months that look at all the new models available to law enforcers. A quick aside before I go any further: If you’ve done some test driving or have had other, up-close and personal experience with the newest police vehicles hitting the streets and want to contribute a guest column with your opinion, I’d welcome your email.
Okay, with that bit of housekeeping done, let’s talk about cars!
Power and Level-III Stopping Power
The new, Taurus-based Interceptor sports a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 that packs a nice, 365-horsepower, punch under the hood — the SUV has a 3.7L EcoBoost V6 — which compare favorably to the 250-horsepower 4.6L V8 offered in the now-retired Crown Vic. According to Ford, the new flex-fuel engine can run on E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline), gasoline, or any combination of the two. With gas prices jumping something like thirty-three cents a gallon in the past few weeks — what, with Libya slipping into the Mediterranean and all — having the ability to tap into a variety of fuel options is a really great touch that speaks to the concept of engineering for the future.
An excellent officer safety feature is Ford’s use of “smart” technologies to minimize driver distraction, particularly the hands-free programmable steering wheel-mounted controls. And another item that jumps off the spec sheet is the option to add ballistic door panels that meet NIJ Type III standards. With violent attacks against cops happening with sickeningly greater regularity, this too, was a very forward-thinking concept from the designers at Ford. If I had one comment of constructive criticism on this, though, it would be that those ballistic panels really ought to be standard equipment, not an option. But I digress...
Not long ago, the folks at Ford invited four police officers from around the U.S. and Canada to drive the new Interceptors — as well as vehicles from several competitors — in a variety of settings. During the intensive two-day session, they captured discussions and interviews with the officers and Ford engineers on video now being presented as a six-part series.
That series — which officially launched today on the Ford website — led me to the notion of connecting with those four cops with some questions I thought might help other officers and police fleet managers learn more about the new models from Ford. What follows is the first in a three-part series stemming from those conversations. Here we’ll cover these four officers’ first impressions upon seeing the new duo, as well as their initial evaluations on handling and performance. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be back with answers to questions about officer safety and comfort in the cockpit, and in part three we’ll address the prospect of outfitting an entire PD with the new Interceptor, as well as these guys’ closing remarks.
PoliceOne: What were your impressions of the new Ford Interceptor upon seeing it? What were your reactions after driving it?
Officer Terry Bykerk, Grand Rapids (Mich.) PD: Upon seeing the Ford Interceptor my impressions were that both the sedan and SUV are nice looking. I thought the SUV was smaller than other police package SUV’s with a lower to the ground platform and hoped the changes were going to be an improvement to the overall handling making it a better suited police pursuit SUV. After driving them, my reactions were that the Ford Interceptors offer huge improvements in almost all aspects of the vehicle over the Crown Victoria and all other available pursuit rated police vehicles on the market. I was truly impressed with the safety, handling, agility, acceleration, braking and interior upgrades. I believe that Ford has done their homework in creating a “true police vehicle” by addressing the complaints of police officers and producing a state of the art vehicle that increases the safety and comfort of all police officers.
Officer Don Spence, Dundee, (Mich.) PD: When I first saw the sedan from the outside I do have to admit that I thought that it looked a little small for what I was use to working with. When I saw the SUV I immediately thought that it looked very sharp and that it would be something I would be very interested in testing out.
After getting into the sedan I was honestly very surprised on how much room I had to operate and how the layout was so thought out. Ford really did go at these vehicles with the intent of a cop getting in them to do their job. The set up was deceiving from the outside, in a good way. After driving both the new sedan and SUV Interceptor I would have to say that I was instantly sold. I need these in my department!
Lieutenant John Leas, San Diego (Calif.) PD: I found it visually appealing. Both the sedan and utility Police Interceptors looked well-outfitted. I drove both and was extremely impressed with the engineering and design concepts that went into the various models. It was apparent to me that the Ford engineers had listened to input from officers who drive police vehicles on a daily basis.
Staff Sergeant Chris Whaley, Ontario (Canada) Provincial Police: I first saw the new vehicles during a Ford product tour. They were at the Oakville Ontario Assembly Plant which is where the Ford Crown Victoria PI was manufactured. I was impressed by their appearance — they are both good looking police vehicles. The cars were equipped with everything a modern police agency would install including two long gun mounts, mobile workstation, radar, in-car camera, centre console, etc. It illustrated what this car would look like on duty. Often police vehicles are marketed with none of the police equipment installed, and I think that can misrepresent how spacious the car actually is.
I've driven many different types of police vehicles and I must say that I was actually overwhelmed at how well these vehicles performed. These vehicles have been designed for policing. This is not a retail vehicle.
PoliceOne: What did you observe about these vehicles’ handling, agility, speed, acceleration, or other driving characteristics?
Officer Bykerk: I was amazed at the performance and handling aspects of the Interceptor sedan and SUV as I was skeptical with both having V6 engines. The V6 turbo is comparable to any available V8’s. In a city road course that consisted of short straight-aways and numerous turns I could not tell the difference between the 3 available Ford engine packages. The Interceptors V6 engines are more than capable of handling all aspects of police work whether in the city, county or highway.
Acceleration, braking, and handling were nearly identical between the sedan and the SUV. The Ford AWD traction control / stability system has minimal intrusiveness and allowed me to get more out of the car by using my driving abilities but when pushed over the threshold took over instantaneously. I have found that the other available police vehicles systems are more intrusive and take over for me making me adjust my driving in the turns before I feel the need.
I was concerned with the idea of an AWD vehicle for police work but Ford’s AWD performed flawlessly in all areas of performance and handling (not to mention simulated snow). The AWD does not “push” or “pull” like a front wheel drive but handles similar to a rear wheel drive. Additionally, I tested the Ford Interceptor SUV AWD without traction control against the pursuit-rated Chevrolet Tahoe SUV RWD without traction control that we currently use. My immediate response was “I can’t believe we allow anyone to run emergency in the Tahoe with or without training.” On the wet pad city course I worked my butt off to maintain control of the Tahoe but with the Ford I worked my butt off to lose control of it.
Officer Spence: The overall handling of these vehicles is spectacular. There really is nothing out there that I have been in that seems to react the way that I feel the Police Interceptors do. The agility was tight, the speed was impressive — especially for a six cylinder — and the acceleration was always there, into a turn or out of them. The way that the gearing is implemented into these vehicles is very evident and reactive. There were times that I felt so confident driving the Interceptors, that I was accelerating while going into a 180-degree turn; and that goes for both the sedan and the SUV. One of the things that you can not overlook either is the overall stability that they also provided while really pushing the envelope on the road with the all wheel drive. They were able to hold the line you wanted so easily that it made for an entirely incredible drive.
Lieutenant Leas: The Police Interceptors handled exceptionally well — even the SUV. They were very quick, agile in tight cornering, brakes were outstanding with no noticeable brake fade after several emergency stops and most importantly, no matter how hard you pushed them, they stayed on the road with no drift or stress.
Staff Sergeant Whaley: The handling is crisp, tight and responsive, the acceleration is outstanding and the braking ability exceeded my expectations. That's a description for both the sedan and SUV. They drive remarkably similar. I was amazed at the speed and power produced by the standard 3.5L engine in the sedan and 3.7 l in the SUV. There is no advantage to having a V8. The fact that a car does 154 mph or 140 mph in a straight line is irrelevant. I would never want our officers going that fast anyway — not for any reason. During our test drive, I was most impressed with the performance on two specific courses. First, the wet pad. This is 12 acres of water that we were doing a slalom course on at nearly 60 mph. The four of us (the officers) talked afterwards and we tried to get these vehicles to break loose on the track and they just would not. I was especially impressed by the SUV which had almost no top roll that you would expect from an SUV.
The other track where the vehicles were equally impressive was the dog bone. This is basically a giant bowl of marbles. This stuff was terrible to even walk in, let alone drive in it. Both of the Ford vehicles marched through this stuff like it was parked on bare asphalt. After driving the competition in the dog bone, it became shockingly obvious how well the Fords performed based on how poorly the competition performed.
PoliceOne: Well, that’s it for now. Check back in two weeks for part two in this series, and two weeks after that with part three. In the meantime, stay safe.