Review: On a mission from God! We test the 2008 Dodge Charger cop car

2008 Dodge Charger cop car – Click above for high-res image gallery

To paraphrase the words of the immortal Elwood Blues to his recently emancipated brother, Jake; "It's got a cop motor, cop tires, cop suspension, and cop shocks." There was a time when Dodge was a major player in the field of supplying vehicles to the police agencies of America. In the early '70s, the black and white Dodge Monaco as exemplified in the Blues Brothers film was a common sight patrolling the streets of this country. As the '80s faded into the '90s, Chrysler dropped out of the cop car market as its entire lineup went front-wheel drive.

Earlier this decade, rear-wheel-drive cars returned to the PentaStar range and the Ford Crown Victoria faced a new competitor in the form of the Dodge Magnum and Charger. When Autoblog asked Chrysler for a chance to spend some time behind the wheel of a Charger police special, the car-maker turned over a demo unit in black and white regalia complete with a full light kit and "Dodge City" police markings all over the sides. In spite of the prominent "Out of Service" markings across the windshield and trunk, the look proved to be a little too authentic for some. In true Autoblog fashion, however, we were "On a mission" of some kind and went the extra mile for you our loyal readers. Read all about our little adventure with the Charger cop car after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

When the Charger was dropped off in the driveway, it was immediately apparent what our first destination had to be. My son and I made a bee-line down the road to Tim Hortons to grab some donuts. It's a cliche, but like every legend, there lies a nugget of truth within. After hopping out just long enough to snap some pics, we did park this decidedly indiscrete car in a more discrete location.

Getting into the cop Charger, it was instantly apparent why Chrysler interiors are the way they are. The company has clearly been preparing to re-enter the police car market for some time and the Charger's materials reflect the durability needs of these special purpose vehicles. Unlike the normal retail versions of Chrysler's big sedans, the transmission selector has been moved from the console to the more traditional steering column location. There's actually a functional reason for this.

If you've ever peeked inside an on-duty patrol car in recent years, you'll see they are equipped with an array of high-tech gear ranging from laptop computers to radios and more. Police specials get equipped with a cover over the normal center console to which these various pieces of hardware can be mounted. The forward end of the test unit had a row of switches for operating the various modes of the fully functional light bar, including the alley lights that let an officer pull up to the end of an alley and light it up with bulbs on the ends of the bar. Other lighting differences include the obvious A-pillar spotlights and a super-duty dome light inside. The dome casts extra light for the officers to write their reports and citations and switchable between white and red light.

The front seats of the Charger were firm and relatively comfortable, which will surely be good news to officers spending long shifts behind the wheel. The lateral bolsters were kept to a minimum, presumably to allow easier entry and exit, but provide almost no support when cornering. Fortunately, the car Chrysler provided had the standard LX sedan back seat instead of the molded plastic setup patrol cars typically have. The Charger's long wheelbase provides ample leg room in the rear compartment, the only dimension where the Dodge has an advantage over the Crown Vic.

The car's sporty shape also puts the Charger at a disadvantage in trunk space (16.2 cu. ft), which is a problem for state police agencies. At the annual Michigan State Police vehicle evaluations last fall, officers explained that although the Charger has a distinct performance advantage, state troopers actually prefer the Crown Vic. Because the highway patrols typically spend their entire shift away from their post, they need to carry all of their emergency gear and other equipment and can't always rely on quick backup. The extra volume of the Ford is helpful here.

Chargers, however, are proving increasingly popular for local agencies perhaps in part because of the available 3.5L V6 that helps reduce fuel consumption. Even the 340-hp 5.7L HEMI V8 in our test unit beats the 4.6L V8 in the Ford Crown Vic on mileage thanks to its cylinder deactivating MDS system, which allows it to run on four cylinders under light loads. However, when you bury the right pedal, this thing moves. In the most recent MSP testing, the cop Charger got to 60 mph in 6.52 seconds, over 2 seconds faster than the Crown Vic at 8.63 seconds. Even the V6 Charger runs 0-60 in 8.9 seconds. You can read the full Michigan State Police test report with all the specs and test results right here.

The police Chryslers have a basically stock powertrain, but their suspensions have been retuned and the brake linings replaced with the more aggressive units used on the European spec version of the Chrysler 300 and the Caliber SRT4. The brake pedal feel of the police Charger is outstanding, and in testing the car beat the Crown Vic by more than 10 feet in braking tests from 60-0 mph.

So what's it like to drive around in a cop car with full markings for a week? At first it was empowering, which quickly turned to paranoia inducing. Driving down the highway at precisely the speed limit as indicated by the "certified" speedometer, it's amazing how reluctant most people are to pass a black and white sedan with a light bar on top.

One instance that sums up our time on the road driving a cop car occurred while heading to the GM Tech Center in Warren, MI one day. We were in the left lane passing someone at 70 mph with an SUV closing rapidly from behind. After pulling over to the center lane to let the SUV drive by, it suddenly slowed and paced the Charger cop car, clearly marked "Out of Service", for the next five miles. Similar cases of normally fast moving traffic lining up behind and beside us occurred on numerous occasions.

Our paranoia was the result of not having a desire to be thrown in jail for impersonating a real cop. Driving around in a car with "POLICE" so prominently emblazoned on the sides and working lights on the roof tends to attract the attention of actual law enforcement officers. Even though we were far more conscious of not exceeding posted speed limits than usual, it was obvious that people were watching. Within hours after the cop car was dropped off and sitting in the driveway, my wife got a call from a friend who saw it and wanted to make sure everything was all right. That wasn't the last call of its kind that we received during the next week.

The toughest situation we encountered happened once when stopped at a Dearborn gas station for some fuel. Just as I was about to start pumping, a real police officer pulled in front of the Charger cop car. I instantly reached for my Autoblog business card and approached the officer to start the long explanation that would be required to prevent a trip to the slammer. She asked to see if the lights worked, and unfortunately that demonstration only made her more concerned.

After being unable to contact anyone at Chrysler to verify my story, the officer called a supervisor who arrived a few minutes later. About 20 minutes later, they finally let me go, seemingly convinced that I was not attempting to impersonate a police officer, but also warning me that driving such a marked car may not be entirely legal in spite of the "Out of Service" markings.

Despite the mixed emotions driving such a car induced, the Charger proved to be a very capable ride although not perfect. While it is relatively roomy and has good visibility to the sides and rear, forward visibility was compromised by the low roof line. The chopped look of the greenhouse has a comparatively upright windshield and the roof extends forward quite a ways. That means it's a reach to adjust the mirror, and being first in line at a traffic light usually requires a lean forward to actually see when it turns green. The ride is firm, but doesn't beat you up, which should be good news to peace officers who call the Charger their office. Mileage in a mix of city and highway driving, however, came in at an unimpressive 16 mpg.

As is so often the case, the civilian Charger could be a world class competitor with better interior materials. For local applications, it's a very impressive police vehicle in many respects and an increasing number of them are appearing in municipalities around Michigan and other states. The soon-to-be-departed Magnum wagon may actually be the better option for most agencies due to its extra cargo space, but for some reason it hasn't been as popular as the sedan. Driving the cop Charger was fun while it lasted, but if GM or Ford calls up with examples of their own units to drive, we think it'd be best to ask for an unmarked version instead.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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