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Click the Dodge Charger cop car for a high-res gallery

Every September since the 1950s, the Michigan State Police have conducted vehicle performance testing on the latest cop cars. Prior to the early 1970s when the first oil embargo occurred, they would go out for bids every year and then test just the low bid vehicle. In those days, testing was limited to acceleration, top speed and braking distance.

According to Lt. David Halliday of the Michigan State Police, as carmakers were struggling at that time and scrambling to sell their bigger vehicles, they all started submitting bids around the same price with only a $45 spread covering all the contenders one year. Around that time they decided to start testing all of the available vehicles and they also made their test results available to all interested police agencies. For the past three decades, a chunk of that annual testing has been conducted at the Chrysler Proving Ground in Chelsea, MI.

click on any image to enlarge

All of the manufacturers that officially offer what are termed as "special service" vehicles bring out their wares to be evaluated for this annual get together. Special service vehicles are what Jake and Elwood would have called cop cars with cop motors, cop suspensions, and cop brakes. These vehicles are made available for fleet sales for police and fire departments, taxis and other uses. They'll typically have heavy duty cooling systems, possibly transmission coolers, different brake linings for better heat resistance and stripped down interiors.

Since the 1970s, the testing regimen has certainly been expanded. In addition to the top speed, acceleration and braking tests that are run at Chelsea, they take the vehicles across the state to Grattan Raceway near Grand Rapids for a series of vehicle dynamics tests. Because many of the vehicles are equipped with flex-fuel engines, there are two examples of each of those vehicles tested, one with gas and the other with E85. After all of the testing is completed, the Michigan State Police publish their test results and make them available online for any police agency to access.

The most recent addition to the police car ranks are the Dodge Charger and Magnum. As the only rear wheel drive sedan alternative to the ancient Crown Victoria, these have proven quite popular with police forces since their introduction in 2006. According to a Chrysler representative, they have sold over 11,000. Various agencies also purchase other Chrysler vehicles like the Durango and assorted Jeeps, but these aren't officially offered so they weren't on test.

General Motors offers a wider variety of vehicles with special service packages including the Impala
sedan, the Express full-size van, and the Tahoe and Suburban SUVs. The Chevy vehicles are flex-fuel capable and currently the SUVs are the only ones equipped with rear-wheel drive.

Ford has the widest variety of vehicles available including the ancient Crown Victoria and the Econline van. They also offer the Escape, Explorer, Expedition and F-150 pickup with police packages. While the Crown Vic special service vehicle seems like it's been around since the time of Henry Ford, it still accounts for about 50,000 annual sales out a total of about 60 - 65,000 total.

Part of the reason the Vic still dominates in spite of the arrival of the Charger is legacy equipment. If you've ever looked inside a modern police car, you'll find the front is packed with equipment including radios, computers, gun racks and more. All of the mounting hardware for this equipment is specifically built to fit into a specific vehicle and when vehicles are replaced, much of this equipment is just moved from the old car to the new car. Switching cars means buying more auxiliary equipment, as well. There is also the issue of training service personnel and stocking new parts.

The Crown Vic also has an advantage in trunk space compared to the Charger. For State police and rural forces that may spend an entire shift patrolling a significant distance from their post, the ability to carry all of the necessary equipment, including emergency equipment, is critical. The Ford's 20.6 cu.ft. trunk trumps the Charger's 16.2 cu.ft.

The Crown Vic on the left, Charger on the right. The spare tire tray in the Vic slides out for easier access.

When asked about the future of the Crown Vic, a Ford representative said that there are no current plans to redesign the current car. The current model remains very popular among police forces and cab companies and maintains some advantages in size compared to the newcomers. They will be making incremental improvements to powertrains to improve performance and fuel efficiency. Diesels are out of the question, although some variation of the Twin-Force engine is a distinct possibility. Twin-Force is Ford's branding for smaller displacement engines with turbocharging and direct-injection that will debut next year in the Lincoln MKS. A rear-wheel drive variant of the twin-turbo GDI V-6 is expected in the next Mustang in 2010, and this engine could make its way to the police interceptor.

Performance wise, all of the four-wheeled vehicles were pretty even, with acceleration times of 0-60 mph from about 8.2 to 8.8 seconds. The one exception were the 5.7L Hemi-powered Dodges, which ran the same test in 6.35 seconds. Braking performance was also pretty similar in the range of 135 - 145 feet for the cars and 156 feet for the SUVs. Although pretty much all of the police forces are running their vehicles on gasoline today, they may eventually transition to ethanol as it becomes more available. Diesel is also a future option that some forces are looking at and Chrysler is willing to consider it if enough demand exists. For more on that check out the AutoblogGreen report on alternative fuels for cop cars.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think the Chevy Express vans are also RWD
      • 7 Years Ago
      ~90 percent of cop chargers have the V6, not the "HEMI".
      • 7 Years Ago
      One has to be really in love with 1980s to buy Crown Vics. Charger makes a better police car from every angle.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Most cops over here that tested the Dodge didn't like that you don't have as much space for equipments on the front console. The small computer that links to the station was cramped between the 2 seats without place to move it. The trunk space was also an issue since the full size spare takes up a lot of space. Rear doors angle was also problematic since it's easier to hit people's head when pushing them in the car. They all wanted to keep the HEMI though.. :)
        • 7 Years Ago
        WRONG. If you've ever pulled a shift in a Crown Vic, and then tried doing the same in a Charger, you'd know instantly why the Crown Vics are still around. There is absolutely NO ROOM in the Charger. Not only do you have to fit your radio equipment, radar equipment, GPS, laptop, emergency device controller, flashlight(s), note-board, spare batteries, and policy books up front, but you also have to fit a human being wearing a 15+ lb ballistic vest and even more equipment. Some officers cannot even comfortably fit in the Chargers. With the cage in place against the B-Pillar, there is not enough leg-room with the seat that forward. Don't even get me started on the trunk. Until an automaker specifically engineers a vehicle for police duty that is as robust and useful as the Crown Vic, departments will keep purchasing "1980s" vehicles.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I think the Charger looks too aggressive and angry for a force that is supposed to 'serve and protect'. For a bounty hunter, sure. But cops aren't bounty hunters.
          • 7 Years Ago
          Maybe not in your neck of the woods.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "Charger makes a better police car from every angle."

        Except for those angles looking out the back of the car (from the driver's seat). One of the initial criticisms of the Charger police vehicle was the reduced visibility out the rear window, and into blind spots. While I didn't read the full 2007 report, I doubt that those concerns have changed much (in addition to the other points made above).

        Looks aside, I've got to think that the overall driving dynamics between the Crown Vic and the Charger would be *very* different. The Vic is derived from a style of car designed to float above the road for a smooth ride, the Charger designed from a performance oriented standpoint.

        0-60 times and braking distances aren't going to tell you that sort of info, and ultimately it may come to department preference.

        Back to the looks thing - the Vic may be old, but I still don't like seeing them in my rearview mirror, and these days, they're easier to spot.
      • 7 Years Ago
      " In those days, testing was limited to acceleration, top speed and braking distance."

      handling? what the hell is that?
      • 7 Years Ago
      you all should go test drive a Charger or a 300C,

      you can't see a thing out of those cars

      the A pillars are so thick half your view is blind spot when turning, you can't see in that 20-60 degree angle you usuallly look at as you turn, you have to remeber what's there for like a second til you re-gain your view as you straighten out of the turn
      - that was the most annoying thing about the cars wen I drove them,

      the rear window is small, but I doubt officers use that to look for suspects, considering the wire mesh is is the way anyhow.

      Power is something that can be fixed in the Vic
      Wasin Sinchai
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      The charger may look better, but the Crown Vic has been PROVEN RELIABLE when it needs to be.

      Not something the charger can brag about, its too early to tell.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ouch, did they hit the ugly track?
      • 7 Years Ago
      if the car is tuned for E-85 there will be more power because it is 105 octane. that is why a lot of race car owners are looking at it to replace gasoline.
        • 7 Years Ago
        There isn't a power loss with ethanol fuels. The reduction of energy is offset by the change in air:fuel ratio (thankfully)

        Has anyone actually 'optimized' an engine to take advantage of the higher AKI of ethanol (besides turbocharged engines)?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Michigan State Police already have the Chargers, I live in Saginaw and see them all the time.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Couple of things:

      1. What's up with the MSP car design? I saw one at the race at Michigan International and it still had the rotating cherry dome light and some stupid placard on the hood. Looks like the placard stayed.

      2. As far as the Crown Vic goes, having spent shift time in one for 16+ hours at a time (god I hated doubles), they are an awesome car to sit in, and the cavernous interior takes well to all the shit our department piled in (Radio, Siren/Lightbox, Power Ports, Toughbook, PA System).

      The 07 model year has a newer engine that has a lot more getup and go than previous versions, and it handled better as well. It was always fought over at briefing.

      All that being said, I'd take a Tahoe over any of these other ones, for the simple fact that in Wisconsin snow, the last thing I want to drive is a 2WD sedan when I'm trying to respond to a call...
      • 7 Years Ago
      i checked out the motorcycle review done and BMW cleaned house with Harley Davidson in every category, basically. I wonder if any police departments will switch.
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