In September, the Ford Crown Victoria -- a lineal descendent of the Model T -- will finally cease production. With it goes the Police Interceptor, the only cop car many Americans have ever known.
It has barely changed in appearance since 1998, and it hasn't changed in engineering substance since 1992. Roughly 70 percent of all patrol vehicles sold are Crown Vics, chosen by departments that like its low purchase price, legendary toughness (retired cop cars often begin new lives as taxicabs) and easy parts-swapping ability.
That familiarity has been an advantage for car-insurance-challenged speeders, who intimately know the Crown Vic's elongated profile on an overpass and the chilling pattern of its headlights in the rearview mirror.
Don't you slow down, just in case, even when you see a civilian version?
It won't be that easy anymore.
The Crown Vic is dead; long live the …
The Crown Vic will not be replaced by one car, but by a variety of machines specially modified for police duty. These new prowlers will come from Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford and maybe even a company you've never heard of.
Of course, the best way to ensure that your insurance rates never go up is to not speed in the first place. Good luck with that. Otherwise, it's probably a good idea to keep a lookout for these new enforcers coming soon to a rearview mirror near you.
For context, keep in mind as you read further that in tests performed by the Michigan State Police, the best performing 2011 Ford Police Interceptor, with its 250-horsepower, 4.6-liter V8, took 9.6 seconds to run from a dead stop to 60 mph and attained a top speed of 129 mph.
You can't buy one: Chevrolet Caprice 9C1
The biggest sedan in Chevrolet's domestic arsenal is its front-drive, V6-powered rental-fleet favorite, the Impala. But while the Impala is fine for inner-city errands, highway-prowling state agencies prefer a V8 and rear-wheel drive. So Chevy turned to GM Australia's Holden division and now imports the rear-drive Caprice 9C1 for that sort of duty.
The question now is whether GM can ship them halfway around the world cheaply enough to attract fleet buyers.
Mechanically related to the Pontiac G8 that was discontinued when Pontiac was axed from GM's lineup during 2009, the Caprice 9C1 may well be the quickest, fastest and best-handling patrol vehicle ever offered in fleet batches to law enforcement. Its 6.0-liter V8 is rated at 355 horsepower and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The all-independent suspension is almost a clone of a BMW 5-Series.
According to Michigan State Police tests, the Caprice slammed to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds and ripped to a top speed of 148 mph. That is as fast as any four-door cop car they've ever tested.
Alas, there is no civilian version of the Caprice planned for sale.
This thing has a Hemi: Dodge Charger Pursuit
Beside its ruggedness and size, the big advantage the Crown Vic has enjoyed in the police market has been the fact that Ford sells them cheap to government fleets -- sometimes for less than $20,000 a unit. The Dodge Charger Pursuit is now likely to have that advantage going forward. And it's a much quicker and faster car than the Crown Vic.
Dodge has been peddling the Charger Pursuit since 2006, and it has been getting some traction in the market. Since the Charger is a mass-produced rear-drive sedan, Dodge can discount sales to law enforcement agencies just to keep the assembly plant producing at peak efficiency.
The Charger can be had with a V6, but the big dog is the Charger Pursuit powered by the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 rated at a massive 370 horsepower. That's 120 more than the Crown Vic. It's a highway patrolman's dream.
In Michigan State Police tests, the 2011 Charger Pursuit with the pokey V6 waltzed to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds and hit a top speed of 130 mph. The Hemi V8 Charger accelerated to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds and maxed out at an intimidating 146 mph.
Not your father's Crown Vic: Ford (Taurus) Police Interceptor Sedan
The direct replacement for the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is this new Police Interceptor Sedan based on Ford's Taurus four-door. There may not be a single part that carries over between the two.
The Taurus Police Interceptor, like the regular Taurus, uses V6 engines to drive either the front wheels or all four. The Police Interceptor version, scheduled to debut as the Crown Vic leaves production, will be powered by either a normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 with 280 horsepower or a turbocharged "EcoBoost" version of that engine rated at 365 horsepower. That's a lot of technology for a cop car. And cop cars have usually been built as simply as possible.
The Michigan tests didn't include the Taurus Police Interceptor, but those performed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department showed it to be even faster than Chevy's V8 Caprice. Even so, the big challenge for Ford will be delivering so much technology affordably, and convincing police departments that all of it will perform reliably.
Is it Avis or the cops? Chevrolet Impala 9C1
Chevrolet has offered the front-drive, V6-powered Impala 9C1 as an alternative for urban patrolling in areas where winter weather gets nasty. But with only 233 horsepower on tap from its 3.9-liter V6, it rarely shows up as a state police highway patroller. "Rarely," however, isn't the same as "never."
The Michigan State Police measured the Impala 9C1 trawling to 60 mph in 8.8-seconds and topping out at 138 mph. That's still quicker and faster than the Crown Vic, and it's likely Chevy can sell these cheap. After all, civilian Impalas are all over the place, pulling duty everywhere from Avis to the water department.
A new engine for 2012, a 303-horsepower V6, ought to make the chase more respectable.
Komfort for K-9s: Chevrolet Tahoe PPV
Chevrolet has offered the full-size Tahoe SUV as a police vehicle for more than a decade now. But the high initial price for this truck has kept it from being generally adopted by most departments. Instead it's usually bought in small numbers for specialized duties.
That noted, the Tahoe is and will be out there in both two-wheel and four-wheel drive configurations. With its 5.3-liter V8 rated at 320 horsepower, the big, boxy two-wheel-drive Tahoe railroaded its way to 60 mph in 10 seconds and hit a 139 mph terminal velocity.
Considering the huge number of civilian Tahoes out there, the few cop versions can blend in like a cup of espresso poured into a sea of Maxwell House.
For soccer moms with a badge: Ford (Explorer) Police Interceptor Utility
The new-for-2011 version of the Explorer SUV shares much of its basic engineering with the Taurus sedan, so maybe it's not a surprise to see the Explorer modified for police work.
Offered only with a 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6, the Police Interceptor Utility will be offered with either front- or all-wheel drive. Ford says there's plenty of room in the Police Interceptor Utility for "cargo, canines and carbines," and that ought to make it perfect for at least some departments.
The Police Interceptor Utility has yet to be performance tested by the Michigan State Police, but the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department found it neck-and-neck with the Tahoe. But will it be cheap enough for a stretched municipal budget?
It should become available this fall.
Still undercover: Carbon Motors E7
Up until now, police vehicles have always been based on regular production vehicles. Carbon Motors in Connersville, Ind., is developing the "E7" as a purpose-built cop car.
The E7 prototype does showcase some interesting technologies, including built-in emergency lighting (no more tell-tale light bar), a 300-horsepower turbodiesel engine and a structure the company promises is so robust that it will endure 250,000 miles of cop abuse.
Carbon Motors' website is full of big plans and intriguing possibilities, but it's short on time line and specifics. It's tough to develop an all-new vehicle for an established manufacturer. It's much tougher if the company is a start-up.
Don't expect the E7 to show up behind you soon. But it may eventually.