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2016 Police Vehicle Report


December 7, 2015
By Dave Brown

There is a fight happening on the streets. Thankfully, it doesn’t involve weapons or drugs. This battle is over market share.

Ford, Dodge and General Motors are dropping their gloves and going head-to-head (to head) for the police car market in 2016. Gone are the years when one make and model – the Ford Crown Victoria – dominated, owning more than 70 per cent of North American police car sales. After a wave of nostalgia upon its disappearance and a few growing pains among its replacements, nearly everyone has completely forgotten the Crown Vic. Newer, faster and more capable police vehicles have taken over.

Ford replaced its aging gas-guzzler with two new vehicles, both based on the same Ford Taurus platform: the Police Interceptor Sedan, based on the Taurus, and the Police Interceptor Utility, based on the new Ford Explorer. In addition to the base front-wheel-drive sedan with normally aspirated 3.5-litre V6, both sedan and utility are offered in all-wheel-drive (AWD) with a choice of 3.7-litre V6 or 3.5-litre twin turbocharged Ecoboost V6.

With 97 per cent of all Ford Police Interceptors sold in North America being AWD, Chevrolet now marketing its four-wheel-drive Tahoe as a fully rated police pursuit vehicle and Dodge rolling out a powerful 370 HP 5.7-litre Hemi-engine Charger in an AWD version, one could say that 2016 will truly be the battle of the all-wheel-drives.

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Comprehensive performance, handling and braking tests conducted by both Michigan State Police and the LA County Sheriff show that AWD vehicles perform just as well as their rear-wheel-drive or front-wheel-drive counterparts in nearly every parameter of testing, even with their extra weight. Their handling advantages under any conditions will be immediately obvious to officers behind the wheel, and greater maintenance needs may be offset by a higher disposal value on the used market.

Dodge is not sitting still either. A complete redesign of the Dodge Charger in 2011 solved a lot of previous visibility concerns, and there is no question that the Charger still has an enormous presence on the highways, at least in looks if not actual numbers.

Early Chargers suffered from a few mechanical issues and premature brake problems which were solved early on. For 2016, Dodge has improved the braking even more, adding additional cooling vanes inside the disks for better cooling. This has resulted in the shortest stopping distances of any police car ever tested. Based on our own testing, we defy anyone to be able to find the limits of braking on the 2016 Charger on their first few tries.

Dodge made tentative forays into the AWD market with the forgettable Dodge Magnum many years ago. It has now come back with a vengeance for 2016 with a fast and aggressive-looking 5.7-litre, Hemi-engined all-wheel-drive Charger.

At 17 per cent of the market for 2015 (down from a high of 43 per cent in 2013), the Charger is still considered one of the roomiest to spend a shift in, second only to the big Chevrolet Tahoe.

Dodge Touch Screen.tif

For 2016, Dodge cleaned up the interior and added substantially more shoulder room by moving the optional laptop, its swivel mount and much of the console gear into the trunk. Instead of the laptop taking up valuable console space, creating a distraction and making it almost impossible for an officer to bail across the console area in an emergency, Dodge enlarged its in-dash Uconnect screen to 12.1 inches and fixed a keyboard to the center console.

The new screen controls everything an officer would use, including light bar, siren, camera, cell phone and anything else an agency chooses to program into the system. The center console area is now clean, flat and reinforced, ready for upfitters to install custom equipment and additional gear as required.

Chevrolet doesn’t seem intimidated by its competitors’ advances. It is still aggressively holding on to a 16 per cent market share with the very popular and roomy Tahoe Pursuit 9C1. In 2015, the four-wheel-drive version was first tested as a full Police Package vehicle and Chevrolet continues to offer the Tahoe in both a rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive (4WD) platform for 2016.

Unlike the Dodge or Ford AWD systems, the Chevrolet is true 4WD. One can drive in 2WD for good mileage and switch to Automatic 4WD (AUTO 4WD) in variable conditions. In this setting, similar to on-demand AWD systems, it can divert torque to the other axle when it detects slippage. Unlike the Dodge or Ford, in A4WD, the transfer case always keeps five per cent of the torque flowing to the front axle when engaged. This adds stability on slightly slippery or mixed surfaces. More torque can be automatically portioned to the front axle as additional slippage is detected.

The Tahoe’s Autotrac system can also be switched to a 4WD Hi setting that locks front and rear axles together for true four-wheel-drive, or 4WD Lo, which switches the transfer case to low range for descending slippery slopes or crawling over rocks. Unlike older systems, officers can switch back and forth between 2WD, AUTO 4WD and 4WD Hi at any speed.

The Chevrolet Impala will continue to be built, at least up to 2016. Fast, nimble and thrifty, it never really caught on and its lack of shoulder and elbow room up front have relegated it to report car, plainclothes unit or single officer duties in many agencies.

Chevrolet also markets a version of the Australian-built Caprice in the US as the last of the big V8 rear-wheel-drive sedans. When it first came out, we had enormous hope for this car. Oh, did we have hope! But suspiciously Chevrolet never let us drive the Caprice. Then they announced it would not be sold in Canada.

Now General Motors, Chevrolet’s parent company, has announced that GM Holden, the corporation’s Australian division that builds the Caprice PPV for the North American market, would cease production of all vehicles by 2018. With only 718 Caprices sold last year up to June 2015 and an overall market share of only two per cent, the Caprice will probably die a quiet death after 2017.

Quite frankly, we are not sorry to see it go. While initially disappointed that it wouldn’t be sold in Canada, its dated design just could not keep up with advances in the modern police car market.

These are just not my dad’s police car anymore. We won’t miss them either. The modern police car is faster, safer and can outhandle many cars once considered “supercars.” Chevrolet even builds a 4WD police vehicle that can carry four officers, all their gear and a Smart car in the back as a spare … and STILL beat most vehicles to 100 MPH.

Every year, Ford continues to surprise with innovation and steady improvement, much of it based on consultations with a rotating police advisory board. What we once thought were stopgap vehicles on an economy car chassis evolved into one of the most innovative police vehicles on the market.

Dodge continues to improve the Charger, making it one of the best places to spend an entire shift. Plus, while we at Blue Line think that the Ford sedan, especially with the front push bumper, is the nicest looking police car on the market, the Charger is still the most aggressive-looking police car on the planet.

With a new crop of police vehicles poised to hit the streets of Canada in 2016, we don’t think a single officer will fondly remember that old, slow and thirsty Crown Victoria.

Michigan State Police Yearly Vehicle Tests

Every fall the Michigan State Police, in conjunction with the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ), test the handling and performance of every new police vehicle on the market for the coming year in back-to-back acceleration, braking and lap time tests. These eagerly anticipated tests are seen as the most comprehensive analysis of police vehicles in North America.

We painstakingly compile our report on police vehicle tests every year from a variety of sources: LA County Sheriff test figures, manufacturers’ data and media releases, the Michigan State Police (MSP) preliminary results on their web site at www.michigan.gov/msp and our own experience behind the wheel. Final figures and a summary of all test results is usually published by the MSP in February.

Vehicles

The NIJ and MSP evaluate police vehicles in two categories: police-package vehicles (PPV) and special-service vehicles (SSV). Police-package vehicles are designed for the full spectrum of general police activities including high-speed pursuit. Special-service vehicles are designed only for specialized duties such as canine units or adverse weather conditions and are not intended or recommended for pursuits.

15 vehicles were submitted to the NIJ in the police-package category for 2016:

  • 2016 Chevrolet Caprice with the 3.6-litre V6
  • 2016 Chevrolet Caprice with the 6.0-litre V8
  • 2016 Chevrolet Impala 9C1 with the 3.6-litre V6
  • 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe PPV with the 5.3-litre V8
  • 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD PPV with the 5.3-litre V8
  • 2016 Dodge Charger with the 3.6-litre V6 and standard 2.62:1 axle ratio
  • 2016 Dodge Charger with the 3.6-litre V6 and optional 3.08:1 axle ratio
  • 2106 Dodge Charger with the 5.7-litre V8 and standard 2.62:1 axle ratio
  • 2016 Dodge Charger AWD with the 5.7-litre V8 and standard 3.08:1 axle ratio
  • 2016 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan FWD with the 2.0-litre turbocharged V6
  • 2016 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan FWD with the 3.5-litre V6
  • 2016 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan AWD with the 3.7-litre V6
  • 2016 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan AWD with the twin turbocharged 3.5-litre V6
  • 2016 Ford Police Interceptor Utility AWD with the 3.7-litre V6
  • 2016 Ford Police Interceptor Utility AWD with the twin turbocharged 3.5-litre V6

Here is the lineup of PPVs that will be available for sale in Canada for 2016 (with preliminary figures from the 2016 Michigan State Police vehicle tests, and additional comments and research from Blue Line Magazine.)

Chevrolet

Chevrolet offers two sedans and two versions of its full-size SUV as Police Package vehicles in the U.S., and one sedan (Chevrolet Impala) and two versions of the Tahoe SUV in Canada.

Chevrolet has always been wizards at handling and understands balance and suspension more than most. It was the first company to test a full-size SUV as a fully-rated police pursuit vehicle, and the first to do the same ten years later with a 4WD version of the same truck.

Even though made for extreme conditions, the full size Tahoe equals or betters the gas mileage of all the other all-wheel-drive police cars on the market, despite its size and the fact that its selectable 4WD system is more complex and much more versatile than the on-demand AWD systems in both the Dodge and Ford.

New for 2016 is a special mode in the stability control system that can recognize aggressive driving. When continuous high performance driving is required in either 2WD or AUTO 4WD, the stability control system automatically enters a “competition mode.” When engaged, a message appears in the driver information system and the traction control and Stabilitrak lights illuminate. Once the officer stops driving aggressively for two minutes or puts the vehicle in park, the competition mode automatically disengages.

Dodge

The biggest challenge for Dodge in 2016 was ditching the front seat laptop. The Los Angeles Police Department in particular was dealing with distraction problems and front seat room in its two-officer units, and went to Dodge looking for a solution.

The result is a completely new touchscreen in the Charger Pursuit that frees up critical space and includes an interface that allows officers to quickly toggle between vehicle controls without taking their eyes off the road. Auxiliary controls on the steering wheel can easily be remapped to aftermarket accessories.

The 2016 Charger Pursuit comes with either a 292-hp 3.6-liter V-6 or a 370-hp Hemi V-8 in rear-wheel-drive and a 5.7-litre Hemi in AWD. Rear wheel drive models are available in two axle ratios.

The suspension and braking systems have been further reinforced for 2016 and a new electric steering system adds more feel to the controls. With help from Fiat (who also owns Ferrari) a new front end styling includes a new grille, LED turn signals, projector beam headlights and LED daytime running lights.

Specially reinforced and sculpted seats and a shifter relocated to the steering column free up even more space on the inside, and a rear backup camera and parking proximity sensors enhance rearward visibility.

Ford

The Police Interceptor Utility starts off 2016 at the top of the sales heap for the third year in a row. In fact, based on 2015 sales to June, Ford sold more Utility SUVs than all police cars from Dodge and Chevrolet combined. It outsells the Ford Sedan by almost three-to-one.

Ford changed the look of the Utility for 2016 to give it a more truck-like look and added several features requested by the police advisory board, which is made up of police administrators, officers and fleet managers.

In addition to the new front and rear design, new headlights, new instrument panel and enhanced electrical system, Ford also added a rear liftgate release switch accessible from the front seats that allows the rear liftgate to unlock for 45 seconds. If not accessed within that time, it relocks automatically. To improve rearward visibility, Ford now includes a standard backup camera that can feed images to a screen in the center stack or optionally to the rear view mirror.

Officer safety features include Level-III ballistics shields in the front door, front doors tethered to prevent them opening more than 50 degrees even if kicked, and rear doors that open an inviting 90 degrees. A rear-mounted proximity sensor detects anyone sneaking up from the rear, warns the driver, raises the driver’s window and locks all doors.

Engine options for the Utility include a 3.7-liter V-6 producing 304 hp and 279 lb.-ft. of torque, and an optional 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost that produces 365 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. All-wheel-drive is standard on the Utility.

The 2016 Sedan shares many features of the Utility and Ford has even taken a version of the front-wheel-drive sedan with the 2.0-litre turbocharged V6 previously tested under the special service category, and upgraded it to full pursuit status for 2016. With the slowest acceleration and the lowest top end of any police vehicle in the past seven years, “pursuit” may be more of a dream than an expectation, but its 30 MPG highway numbers should appeal to the most penny-pinching of chiefs.

Even with the additional front-wheel-drive sedan rated as a full police package vehicle, 97 per cent of all Ford police sales are all-wheel-drive. All models are also paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that features a pursuit mode specially programmed for law enforcement use. It automatically switches from fuel-saving to pursuit mode when it detects aggressive driving based on brake pressure, longitudinal deceleration and lateral acceleration. It automatically changes shift patterns for firmer shifts, and rumours are that it is even programmed to allow reverse J-turns in pursuit mode. The enhanced stability control and traction control systems in most modern police cars prevent such maneuvers.

Police Vehicle Recall Campaigns

CHEVROLET – General Motors is recalling 38,000 2008-2012 Chevrolet Impala police cars in the U.S. and Canada because a part in the front suspension can crack. Chevrolet determined that the lower control arm in the suspension could fracture near a bushing sleeve, causing sudden changes in handling that could make the driver lose control. If a fracture occurs, a squeal or chirp is likely to come from the tire area at low speeds. GM dealers will inspect and replace parts as necessary.

General Motors is recalling 7,600 2011 to 2013 Chevrolet Caprice police vehicles to fix a seat belt issue. Flexible steel cables that connect seat belts to the vehicle at the outside of the driver seat may be bent from being sat upon while entering the vehicle. Over time, repeated bending may break the cable. GM dealers will replace the seat belt tensioner assembly, which includes the steel cable, to reposition the tensioner cable out of the path of entry into the vehicle.

General Motors is also recalling 7,600 2011 to 2013 Chevrolet Caprice police vehicles for a problem with the gear shifter that could allow the car to roll away while in park. Vehicles can be shifted out of park without a foot on the brake pedal. Drivers also may have difficulty shifting between gears, and may be able to move the shift lever between gears without pressing the shift lever lock button. The ignition key can be removed without the transmission being in park, potentially allowing it to roll away.

DODGE – Chrysler is recalling 10,000 2011-2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit police vehicles because an overheated lighting harness connector could cause the vehicle’s low beam headlights to fail. In addition, some Chargers may also suffer from an overheated power distribution center that could result in a loss of the vehicle’s anti-lock braking and stability control systems. Chrysler dealers will inspect and replace the affected parts as necessary.

FORD – Ford Motor Co. is recalling 213,000 2011-2013 Ford Explorer and Police Interceptor Utility vehicles in North America so dealers can address a potential interior door handle problem. If the spring that controls the interior door handles is unseated, the door may become unlatched in a side-impact crash, increasing the risk of injury. Ford noted, however, the company isn’t aware of any accidents or injuries related to this condition.

The Tests

Michigan State Police and the NIJ’s National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) test all the vehicles together over a three-day period at the Chrysler Proving Grounds and the Grattan Raceway. Each vehicle is tested without rooftop lights, spotlights, sirens or radio antennas in place. Tires are original equipment rubber provided by the manufacturer.

Acceleration, braking and top speed tests are performed at the Chrysler proving ground and vehicle dynamics tests are done using the two-mile road course at the Grattan Raceway. (All dimensions and measurements given are in US numbers.)

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The Results

Vehicle Dynamics Testing

The objective of the vehicle dynamics testing is to determine the high-speed pursuit handling characteristics. Except for the absence of traffic, the two-mile road course simulates actual pursuit conditions. It evaluates the blend of suspension components and acceleration and braking ability.

Four different drivers test each vehicle over an eight-lap road course, with the five fastest laps counting toward each driver’s average lap time. Final score is the combined average of all four drivers for each vehicle.

Lap Times

Acceleration and Top Speed

The objectives of the acceleration and top speed tests are to determine the ability of each vehicle to accelerate from a standing start to 60 mph, 80 mph and 100 mph, and to record the top speed achieved within a distance of 14 miles from a standing start.

Each vehicle is driven through four acceleration sequences, two in each direction to allow for wind. Acceleration score is the average of the four tests. Following the fourth acceleration sequence, each vehicle continues to accelerate to its highest attainable speed within 14 miles of the standing start point.

Braking

The objective of the braking test is to determine the deceleration rate attained by each vehicle on twelve 60-0 mph full stops to the point of impending skid and with ABS in operation. Each vehicle is scored on the average deceleration rate it attains.

Each test vehicle makes two heat-up decelerations at predetermined points on the test road from 90 to 0 mph at 22 ft/sec2 using a decelerometer to maintain rate. The vehicle then turns around and makes six measured 60-0 mph stops with threshold braking applied to the point of impending wheel lock, using ABS if so equipped. Following a four-minute heat-soak, the sequence is repeated. Initial velocity of each deceleration and the exact distance required is used to calculate the deceleration rate. The resulting score is the average of all 12 stops. Stopping distance from 60 mph is calculated by interpolation of results.

Ergonomics

The objectives of the ergonomics and communications test are to rate a vehicle’s ability to provide a suitable environment for patrol officers to perform their job, accommodate required communication and emergency warning equipment and to assess the relative difficulty in installing this equipment.

A minimum of four officers independently evaluate each vehicle on comfort and instrumentation. Michigan State Police Communications Division personnel then evaluate each vehicle on the ease of equipment installation. A total of 28 factors are evaluated on a scale of one to ten and averaged among all the testers. The final score is the total cumulative score from the average of each of the 28 factors, such as seat design, padding, ease of entry, head room, instrument placement, HVAC control placement, visibility, dashboard accessibility and trunk accessibility. (2015 figures.)

Fuel Economy

While not an indicator of actual mileage that may be experienced, the EPA mileage figures serve as a good comparison of mileage potential from vehicle to vehicle.

Vehicle figures are based on data published by the vehicle manufacturers and certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mileage figures are given in US miles per gallon.


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