By Mark Kleis
Monday, Mar 7th, 2011 @ 8:07 am
 
Ford has already stopped production of the Mercury Grand Marquis, the long-time platform mate to the Crown Victoria which forms the basis for the current Police Interceptor. But the Crown Victoria-based Police Interceptor - commonly referred to as the P71 from its unique VIN code - is set to follow in the foot steps of its Panther platform siblings, leaving Ford with the challenge of selling law enforcement agencies nationwide on its latest take on the Police Interceptor.

These latest police package cars are a total about face from what Ford has offered up to its most demanding buyers in the past: A version of the civilian Taurus and, following in the footsteps of General Motors, a utility vehicle based on the Explorer.

The decision to go with these two vehicles to replace the Crown Victoria-based PI has been met with considerable doubt as Ford has abandoned the body-on-frame design and the rear-wheel drive layout in exchange for front or all-wheel-drive unibody cop cars.

Initial thoughts
After the demise of the Chevrolet Caprice more than a decade ago, the P71 dominated the law enforcement market (roughly 70 percent market share) for a few key reasons: Durability and associated costs to operate, body-on-frame design and associated lower repair costs after collisions and a stout rear-wheel drive V8 powertrain.

Yet Ford isn't even playing catch-up with its prime rivals, the Dodge Charger and the new Chevrolet Caprice (think extended wheelbase Pontiac G8 GT). Those sedans might have abandoned simple steel frames for light weight unibodies, but they still send power to the rear wheels and they still offer the option of V8 power. No, Ford will offer only V6s and power sent to the "wrong" wheels, a combination it says will nonetheless resonate with police departments looking for flexible, more efficient vehicles.

To find out if Ford was offering rhetoric or capability, we donned our imaginary police badges and took a few aggressive laps around a specially prepared track offered up by Ford's police upfitting division.

Ford pleads its case
The key message from Ford is that the Police Interceptor Sedan and Utility vehicles were both designed for special heavy-duty law enforcement use nearly from the ground up, despite appearing outwardly to share just about everything with the civilian sedan. For example, Ford has changed the interior door skins in many ways, both to stop unintended airbag deployments from incoming gunfire and also to better suit a rough environment with more durable and simplistic designs. The rear doors had the hinges totally replaced to allow a wider, 71 degree opening angle to make loading unruly passengers less dangerous for both officers and passengers.

In total, Ford says 90 percent of the PI vehicles' interiors are unique to the law enforcement model, with details such as removing the pockets in the rear doors as both law enforcement and its later taxi use tends to find transportation of overly intoxicated passengers more frequent than most - earning them the nickname of "puke pockets."

Obviously, safety is always an important factor for new vehicles, but when it comes to law enforcement use, the Dearborn-based automaker says it went above and beyond to create a safer vehicle for officers. For starters, both the sedan and utility PIs will retain the 75 mph rear-crash test ability - a rating that only the P71 Police Interceptor holds.

Beyond that, Ford will offer available ballistic door panels that can reject up to class-three ammo (many high-powered rifles) for the front doors.

Most of those features aren't exclusive to Ford's police cars; instead, they are items long requested - and sometimes required - by the country's varied police departments. Where Ford thinks it will really stand out is with its powertrains, which offer the choice of naturally-aspirated or twin-turbocharged V6 power.

Performance matters
We were able to sample the Police Interceptor sedan variant only, in addition to the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor it will replace. To do this, Ford provided us with professional drivers and two different tests. The first was held between an EcoBoost-equipped next-generation Police Interceptor and a P71 Police Interceptor involving a side-by-side drag race to see who could reach 60 mph first, followed immediately by a braking test to see who who stop in the shortest distance.

Without surprise, the next-gen PI handily beat the P71 in both acceleration and stopping, although the P71 did put on a decent fight out of the blocks.

Next up was a very narrow cone course in which we were first given an incredibly aggressive ride in a P71 that involved plenty of back-end breaking loose action and no hesitation by the professional driver.

After a run in the P71, Ford let us sample the same course in the new Police Interceptor equipped with all-wheel drive to demonstrate the difference in handling capability. Needless to say, the Taurus-based car is far more precise and predictable than the old P71.

Ford wasn't so keen on letting us act out our favorite police chase scenes in either car, so we can't say much for durability.

After experiencing both the outgoing and upcoming Police Interceptor sedans and hearing Ford explain the finer details of what makes the new Police Interceptor and Police Interceptor Utility more than just slightly a slightly modified Taurus and Explorer, we left thinking that Ford might not be so crazy after all. The attention to detail, particularly cost and safety, seem to make Ford's newest offerings more viable than what is considered at first glance.

Video evidence
Following up on wheel time, Ford released a set of videos illustrating its new lineup. Ford gathered four members of various law enforcement agencies from the U.S. and Canada, took them to Ford's Proving Grounds in Arizona to sample some the competition alongside Ford's two new Police Interceptors. Notably absent from the competition is the upcoming offering from Chevrolet, the Caprice PPV, but Ford did sample the Tahoe PPV (4WD is not PPV rated) and Dodge Charger PPV with the HEMI engine.

As one of the videos points out, Ford made sure to make the center console area in its two newest models identical in size to that of the P71, meaning departments will continue to be able to retain their equipment moving forward - something no other PPV can offer. Furthermore, Ford's P71 is the only police vehicle ever certified to survive the 75 mile per hour rear crash test, and it expects that to hold true for its latest two models as well - giving the Blue Oval a huge advantage compared to the competition in a very crucial area.

Did Ford make the right call?
Only time will tell if Ford's arguably risky move away from body-on-frame, RWD and V8 power showed foresight or shortsight, but until then, at least enjoy the videos above and be sure to keep checking back with Leftlane for the latest news on the development of America's race to find a new cop car.


Intro video


Wet pad testing


Dog bone, a.k.a "Arizona snow"


City Pursuit simulation


Officer Protection


Purpose Built