Test Drive: Ford Police Interceptor and Interceptor Utility

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Published March 22, 2012

| FoxNews.com

The Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor was apparently so good that Ford decided it needed two vehicles to replace it.

The automaker is currently wooing law enforcement departments across the United States and Canada with Police Interceptor versions of its Taurus sedan and Explorer SUV, in an effort to keep the 70 percent market share it has held in this important segment in recent years. Production of the long-serving Crown Victoria ended late last year.

The full-size Taurus was an obvious choice to base the new Interceptor on, although it is a dramatically different vehicle than the stout and cheap to repair body-on-frame Crown Vic.

Riding on a modern unibody chassis, the Interceptor is offered in front or all-wheel-drive and powered by a base 3.5-liter V6 with 288 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque, compared to the 250 hp/297 lb-ft V8 in the Crown Vic. The play here is a fuel economy improvement of more than 20 percent in two-wheel-drive models.

For law enforcement agencies looking for a little more firepower under the hood, the Interceptor is also available with one of Ford’s twin-turbocharged V6 motors, as seen in the high-performance Taurus SHO. Its 365 hp punch is the stuff of Crown Vics’ dreams and still delivers 23 mpg on the highway.

Both cars get heavy duty cooling systems, an upgraded suspension and bigger brakes than the retail cars, plus an underbody deflector shield to protect the oil pan and transmission in the event that the car goes airborne when jumping a curb or railroad crossing – that sort of thing doesn’t just happen in the movies. Neither do shootouts, so ballistic skins are an option for the front door panels.

Inside, a steel center console serves as a mounting plate for accessories and a place to route wires without having to tear up the interior, while a removable tray on the top of the dash serves the same purpose for radar guns and other equipment. The front seats are flat to accommodate bulky utility belts, and fitted with anti-stab shields in the backrest, just in case. Customer features are scarce for backseat passengers, as is headroom, but the vinyl upholstery and floor liner are easy to clean.

The Explorer-based Interceptor Utility comes with a 304 hp 3.7-liter V6 and is also available in front or all-wheel-drive. It’s targeted at rural police forces that used their Crown Vics as SUVs, or ones in need of extra cargo room or towing capability. Since it’s also based on the Taurus chassis, the Utility wears the same size heavy duty 18-inch wheel and tire combination as the sedan, cutting down on equipment costs for departments that opt for the pair.

Read: Dodge Durango reports for police duty

A long list of additional factory-installed features is on offer, and both vehicles are rated to withstand rear impacts at 75 mph, in the event that they are struck while parked on the side of the road.

Ford won’t talk specifics about pricing, because it varies greatly depending on the particular contract being bid on, but says both Interceptors will be competitive with the Crown Vic. It also highlights as a selling point that they are made in Chicago, in contrast to the Australian-built Chevrolet Caprice PPV and Dodge Charger Pursuit, which is manufactured in Canada.

See: The new police car posse

I got my hands on all of the AWD versions of the cars in the parking lot of the New York Mets' CitiField for a few runs through a set of handling courses against a squad of Crown Vics. Here’s how they fared from the front seat.

Police Interceptor AWD

On paper, this one is the closest in size and power to the Crown Vic, but has a completely different feel. The engine doesn’t have quite the kick off the line as the old V8, but makes up for it as you gather speed. The opposite of the tail-wagging rear-drive Crown Vic, its all-wheel-drive system is prone to push in the kind of slow corners it might encounter in an urban environment, requiring an adjustment to your driving style.

Police Interceptor Utility AWD

The biggest surprise of the bunch. Despite its height and weight, the Utility puts in acceleration and track times similar to the Crown Vic, and even manages to deliver a couple of extra MPG. Dishing through cones in the parking lot, it felt more willing to dig deep for quick bursts of go than the sedan, the extra horsepower and quicker to lockup torque converter making themselves very evident when the hammer is down. It still rolls plenty in the turns, but not much more than a well-used Crown Vic. (Note to Ford: the sedan wants this powertrain.)

Police Interceptor EcoBoost

If you were happy with the performance of the Crown Vic, this one is overkill. But Ford says that the one thing Police departments always asked for, and didn’t get, was a lot more power. If high-speed pursuits haven’t been banned in your jurisdiction, it is an effective weapon of mass acceleration. Tremendously quicker than its stablemates, it is easily on par with the cross-town V8-powered competition. As with the others, the AWD takes some getting used to, but the handling feels more responsive in this guise -- possibly because of the higher speeds you invariably find yourself traveling at -- and the tail a little more eager to wag. Nevertheless, you’ll surely appreciate the added traction on wet, icy or dusty roads.

Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

The most interesting take away from this little exercise is that the Crown Vic is a much better car for this sort of thing than it should be. After two decades on the force, the veteran has been dialed-in about as well as a truck disguised as a car can be. Predictable and a hoot to drive at the limit, on an open patch of asphalt it will make you smile more than it ever did in your rearview mirror. Unfortunately, many of them will be turned into taxis when they retire from the force in a few years. After so many years of service, they deserve a better fate than that.

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