Here's the background to this story: Dodge unveiled its redesigned 2015 Charger Pursuit police cruiser, and kindly allowed Autoblog to test it. That meant fellow senior editor Seyth Miersma and I would spend a week with the cop car, and the goal here was to see just how different the behind-the-wheel experience is, from a civilian's point of view. After all, it's not technically a police car – it isn't affiliated with any city, it doesn't say "police" anywhere on it, and it's been fitted with buzzkill-worthy "NOT IN SERVICE" magnets (easily removed for photos, of course).
But that meant nothing. As Seyth and I found out after our week of testing, most people can't tell the difference, and the Charger Pursuit commands all the same reactions as any normal cop car would on the road. Here are a few things we noticed during our time as wannabe cops.
1. You Drive In A Bubble On The Highway
Forget for a moment that our cruiser was liveried with Dodge markings instead of those of the highway patrol. Ignore the large "NOT IN SERVICE" signs adhered around the car. Something in the lizard brain of just about every licensed driver tells them to hold back when they see any hint of a cop car, or just the silhouette of a light bar on a marked sedan.
Hence, when driving on the highway, and especially when one already has some distance from cars forward and aft, a sort of bubble of fear starts to open up around you. Cars just ahead seem very reluctant to pass one another or change lanes much, while those behind wait to move up on you until there's a full herd movement to do so.
The effect isn't perfect – which is probably ascribable to the aforementioned giveaways that I'm not really a cop – but it did occur on several occasions during commutes from the office.
2. You Drive In A Pack In The City
My commute home from the Autoblog office normally takes anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes, and it's a straight shot down Woodward Avenue from Detroit's north suburbs into the city, where I live. Traffic usually moves at a steady pace, the Michigan-spec "five-over" speed. But in the Charger, everyone around me stuck to the exact speed limit – in fact, most drivers opted to cruise about five miles per hour under the limit – and nobody moved from their position, sort of like what Seyth experienced on the freeway.
This means you end up in a slow-moving, tight formation on city streets, and it's hard to break free from that grouping until you finally turn left or right onto another road. It happens in rush hour traffic, or even when there are just a few cars on the road.
3. Parking Outside Is Trying
There's a good reason that cruisers generally have a nice, warm motorpool to live in when they're in active service, especially in colder climates.
Without a garage at my house, I was forced to park the Dodge in my driveway during a few days of moderate snowfall and ice formation. The most obvious drawback to that situation is getting the thing cleaned off enough to actually go drive it again. The Charger is a big sedan as it is, so there's lots of real estate to scrape/brush to begin with. Add to that the delicate scraping of an expensive looking light bar, and the uncovering of all of the various and important signage on the hood, trunk and sides, and you've got a snow removal project that's bigger than average.
There is also the small matter of the neighbors; mine seemed quite concerned that the police were at my house for hours, seemingly randomly, one evening. Try it yourself and you could get the gossiping tongues wagging.
4. Civilians Hate It
Speaking of neighbors: I the need to use this space to apologize to my neighbor, Sam, because I kind of freaked him out for a moment over the weekend. I was rounding the corner from the back parking lot of our loft building, and I rolled down the window and yelled, "HEY!" when I saw Sam getting into his car. I stunned him, briefly, but then we had a good laugh about it and spent a few minutes checking out the sweet Charger. But sorry, Sam, if I almost made you pee your pants for a second there.
That kind of thing happened all the time during my time with the Charger Pursuit. People would see the car, become overwhelmed with a moment of panic or dread (come on, you know that feeling), and then once they realized it's not a real cruiser, usually got pretty mad. Just ask the lady in the Honda Civic who came to a complete stop in the middle of an intersection because I was waiting to make a turn, even though she had the blinking yellow light, and mine was blinking red. I waved her on, and when she finally realized what was happening, she frowned and offered an obscene gesture as she sped off through the intersection. How rude.
5. Cops Love It
To see how actual police officers felt about the car, I took it to a local precinct office and had a pair of boys in blue come check out the Charger. They kind of went ga-ga over the thing, and thought it was super cool that I was allowed to drive one around. One of the cops said they probably wouldn't think twice if I had just driven by, but upon closer inspection of the Dodge livery and the manufacturer plate, "definitely would have wondered what was up." Another thing to remember: the 2015 Charger is just now hitting dealerships, so they aren't a common sight on the road. As far as I know, this test car might be one of maybe a tiny handful of Pursuit-spec Chargers even out on the road, so it's super rare, even for the fuzz.
Until now, cops didn't really prefer the Dodge cop car setup, I was told. The offers I spoke to said that Dodge hadn't upgraded the brakes or suspension geometry of the standard Charger before outfitting it for cop duty, and the interior wasn't large enough to comfortably accommodate an officer and his utility belt. Thankfully, Dodge listened to its users in designing the new car, and have made plenty of modifications to the suspension (on rear-wheel-drive cars), upgraded the brakes, and tweaked the interior layout with better functionality for police. Of course, we'll wait to see exactly what officers think of the new Charger until it completes the Michigan State Police test.
6. The Urge To Push All The Buttons Is Overwhelming
Every time I sat inside the Charger, I felt like I was having a " don't push the red button" Ren & Stimpy moment. To my right, no less than 15 buttons and a lever controlling the light bar called to me constantly, and pushing any one of them would result in not just a slap on the wrist, but a big, fat felony with jail time. Yep.
But there are so many times when you want to abuse the new found power of driving a cop car. Waiting forever at a traffic light? Flip the lights on and roll through. Caught in a slow-moving traffic pattern? Bwoop the siren and pass everyone. Oh, and that two-way radio mouthpiece to the right of the center console? That'll send your voice booming out a loudspeaker. A freaking loudspeaker. The temptation was indeed real.
In an effort to get one quick fix – and with the approval of editor-in-chief Sharon Carty, riding shotgun – I flicked the lights on and ran the siren for a quick moment in the covered, private parking lot of Autoblog HQ. But even that super short moment of relief was enough to totally freak out a lady working in a neighboring office (sorry, ma'am). Needless to say, the rest of my time in the car was spent with a strict "look, but don't touch" demeanor.
7. I Drive Like A Grandma In It
Just like my colleague, I had an almost irresistible desire to push all of the buttons, run all of the lights and flog the siren when I drove anywhere. Who wouldn't?
In fact, such was my need to light 'em up that I texted my police officer-brother to ask him what the likely response would be. I'd probably be able to joke away any tickets with an explanation about research and a friendly word to the officer that caught me, right?
To sober me up, my (Seyth's) brother Aaron laid out what he saw as a likely sequence of events, should I make a lights-blazing run down the highway.
- You'll see more reds and blues in your rearview mirror
- You'll be drawn out of your car at gun point, there'll be lots of yelling
- Jail cell next to a murderer
Point taken. Thusly sobered, I spent the next 48 hours driving as close to the speed limit as I have since I got my license.
8. It's Pretty Good To Drive
Truth be told, I also drove super cautiously in the Charger Pursuit. But the couple of times I did hammer the thing, it responded brilliantly. The stock Charger offers a pretty good setup from the get-go, and the police-spec vehicle can be optioned with either six- or eight-cylinder power, as well as rear- or all-wheel drive. The car seen here is an AWD model with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, packing 370 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. This cruiser is quick, with plenty of off-the-line power, as well as enough grunt for passing and quick acceleration (you know, for hooking a J-turn and chasing down bad guys). You know the line: "It's got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks."
I love the antics of a fullsize, V8-powered sedan in general, and the updates for the 2015 Charger in terms of driver refinement have indeed made their way through to the police-spec car. It's a bit harsher than normal Chargers on the freeway, and it's noisier, too – that light bar up top and spotlights on the A-pillars do horrible things for aerodynamics, and the engine isn't covered, meaning there's more audible underhood noise. But during commuting, the Pursuit was still the same spacious, comfortable, well-equipped Charger it's always been, though I imagine that changes a whole lot when you've got a full utility belt strapped to your waist, not to mention a ton of equipment clogging up the cabin.
Really, there's nothing quite like spending a week with a cop car. Everyone on the road immediately respects you (or kind of hates you), and you notice the actions of other drivers – alone, or in traffic – more than you would in everyday driving. Plus, the Charger cop car arguably oozes more badass factor than any of the other Interceptors on the road, and it certainly grabs the attention of both cops and pedestrians alike. All of the folks I didn't scare were absolutely geeked to see me driving the Charger. Everyone wanted a ride, everyone wanted their picture taken, and everyone was eager to do what it took to see this thing in action (thanks to my buddy Andy, by the way, for letting me take pictures in his warehouse and do donuts on his property).
It's scary to those who don't know, and awesome to those who do. Illegal as it may be to impersonate those who serve and protect, it's incredibly fun to hop in a cop car for a few days and pretend.