We're all familiar with the standard police-cruiser package, but many departments have needs that go beyond what a patrol car can or should do. We wanted to give our readers insight into some of the latest non-patrol vehicle offerings from a police perspective, so columnist Craig Peterson took a look at seven vehicles and gives his opinion. ed.
After a long wait, Chevy delivered its redesigned full-size SUVs this year. Having driven several versions, I'd say they've gotten the details right. Most of the complaints I had about the previous platform have been addressed.
Start with the interior. The instrument panel is moved forward and down, and the windshield is enlarged and raked back at a 57-degree angle, significantly enhancing visibility and reducing aerodynamic drag. There's an enormous center console, an enlarged glove box and storage pockets everywhere. Front seats have longer travel and nearly flat lower cushions, allowing for easy entry. There's little lateral support, but the upper backs offer just enough to keep you from falling onto the floor during hard cornering. There's 60.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats, rising to a best-in-class 137.4 cubic feet with seats folded.
Overall length is up by three inches. Weight rises by over 500 lbs., something most vehicles can do without, this one included. On 1/2-ton two-wheel-drive (2WD) versions, towing capacity is 8,100 lbs.; four-wheel-drives (4WDs) can tug 8,000 lbs., down from last year by 300 lbs. and 100 lbs., respectively. Heavy-duty 3/4-ton models are rated to tow up to 9,700 lbs.
Gone is the monster 8.1-liter V-8, formerly available in the HD models. Replacing it is an all-iron version of the 6.0-liter powerplant rated at 350 horsepower (hp) and 360 lb.-ft. of torque.
For all other models, the base engine is the 5.3-liter V-8, upgraded to 320 hp and 340 lb.-ft. of torque. An E85 flex-fuel version is available. The top engine option is an all-aluminum, 6.0-liter V-8 rated at 355 hp and 365 foot-lbs. Both versions of the 6.0-liter engine have variable valve timing a first on a pushrod V-8 that helps flatten the torque curve. All of the V-8s have displacement-on-demand cylinder deactivation, switching so seamlessly between eight- and four-cylinder operation that few drivers will notice. The payoff: a 10 percent bump in fuel mileage.
The chassis receives hydroformed frame rails to increase torsional rigidity by a claimed 46 percent. Front track is widened 3.2 inches and the rear by 1 inch. Half-ton models get a new coil-over-shock front suspension, and finally, all models get rack-and-pinion steering. Now there's some on-center steering feel and no need for the constant steering corrections of yesteryear.
Standard is the StabiliTrak vehicle stability control system that also helps prevent rollovers. The Tahoe rides on a shorter-wheelbase version of this same new GMT 900 platform and also benefits from these improvements, making both models easily the best full-size Chevy SUVs yet.
After receiving freshened sheetmetal last year, the best-selling Chevrolet 1/2- and 3/4-ton pickups are particularly noteworthy for their variety of powertrains. Half-ton 2WD and 4WD models are available with the VortecMax Performance Pack, a high-output Vortec 6000 engine rated at 345 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque, plus a heavy-duty trailering package and a new 9.5" rear axle.
Silverado HD models with the 8.1-liter gas motor or Duramax 6600 turbo-diesel get an optional Allison six-speed automatic. Aside from a tow/haul mode, you can shift the Allison manually via a thumb-activated switch on the shift lever. An extra-long sixth gear lets the engine cruise at relaxed revs. I sampled a 2500 HD and a 3500 dually, both with the Duramax 6600, and saw 1940 rpm at an indicated 75 mph. It's a smart transmission: Electronic safeguards prevent over-revving, and with cruise control and tow/haul engaged, on downgrades the system downshifts automatically to help maintain the selected speed. On diesels, the Allison comes with traction control that chops engine power (a prodigious 360 hp and 650 lb.-ft.) when the driver has selected second gear and wheelspin is detected.
In addition to the new hybrid version, you can order the Silverado in several reduced-emissions or alternative-fuel variations. All Silverados with the Vortec 4300 4.3-liter V-6, and those sold in California with the Vortec 4800 4.8-liter or Vortec 5300 5.3-liter V-8, meet Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) standards. Light-duty Silverado models are offered with an E85 version of the Vortec 5300 5.3-liter V-8. Models equipped with the Vortec 6000 6.0-liter V-8 come with a dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) or bi-fuel system that can run on CNG or gasoline.
Fleet operators will be pleased to note the Silverado 1500 Hybrid promises up to 10 percent better fuel economy through its ability to automatically stop and restart the engine under different operating circumstances. Instead of a conventional starter motor and alternator, Hybrid pickups employ a compact 14-kW electric induction motor or starter generator sandwiched between engine and transmission. The starter generator allows for automatic engine stops/restarts at stoplights to conserve fuel. It also smoothes out any driveline surges, generates electrical current to charge the batteries and runs the four optional 120V, 20-amp auxiliary power outlets located under the rear seat of the cab and in the pickup bed.
GM Hummer H1
The wheezy old 6.5 turbo-diesel is now inflicted only on military customers; both ordinary citizens and law officers get the vastly superior Duramax 6.6-liter turbo-diesel with 300 hp, 520 lb.-ft. and a five-speed Allison automatic. It helps, but we're still talking 7,200 lbs. of mass here, and that's when it's empty.
Fuel capacity is up by 9.5 gallons to 51.5 total, which, at the rate I gulped it, will last just over 500 miles. Not that you'd want to drive an H1 more than a fraction of that distance at one sitting.
As a general people-mover, it's still the most wildly impractical vehicle I've ever driven. Larger brakes, a few interior upgrades, greater towing capacity and a few other tweaks help take the edge off the H1's long list of shortcomings as a transportation device. Impossible to see out of, too wide for most trails, next-day steering response and Freightliner levels of performance top the list.
On the other hand, I drove over a beach ball-sized hunk of granite hidden beneath a 23" layer of fresh Rocky Mountain powder and never put a scratch on the floor pan, or set even one of the waist-high tires to spinning. It'll also ford a 30"-deep stream without getting your Guccis wet. And if I'm taking automatic-weapon rounds from a barricaded suspect, I'd be mighty pleased to be inside an H1 and I promise not to whine about the lousy fuel mileage. Just make ours the Hess & Eisenhardt Level 4A armored version, please.
GM Hummer H3
At last, a Hummer with some manners. Smaller than the H1 (what isn't?), the H3 still is not what you'd call compact. Based on the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-sized pickups, the H3 shares their stout body-on-frame structure, double A-arm, torsion bar front suspension and leaf-sprung live rear axle. There's no skimping on off-road gear. An electronically-controlled dual-range transfer case and locking rear differential plus 31"-tall Goodyear rubber make it a legitimate off-roader. (For really serious trail work, the ZM6 Off-Road Adventure Package includes 33"-tall Bridgestone Dueler A/T off-road footwear.)
It's quite civilized as well, and more than a match in the rough stuff for many blue-blood 4x4s. Located in the foothills near Golden, Colo., the Lone Pine Police Department liked the unit enough they bought three for patrol duty, at $28,000 each. Central City, a former mining town west of Denver and now a gambling mecca, also bought a few. The citizens love them. And when driving conditions become truly awful, the cops appreciate their H3s even more.
This SUV's only shortcoming, particularly for high-altitude use, is the 220 hp, 3.5-liter DOHC inline five-cylinder, the only engine offered. It's a perfectly good powerplant, but asked to motivate two-plus tons it comes up a bit short on grunt. When used for patrol work, with its leisurely acceleration I'd recommend using the radio if a suspect vehicle fails to stop.
Dodge Stratus SXT
Dodge's mid-size sedan receives an updated interior, but otherwise soldiers on without major changes this model year. Standard: DOHC 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder rated at 150 hp, backed by a four-speed automatic transaxle. An E85-capable 2.7-liter, DOHC V-6 with 200 hp is optional.
Major standard features include air conditioning, tilt-steering column, power windows, power outside mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, speed control, 16" aluminum wheels and a 12V auxiliary power outlet.
Handling is competent if unremarkable, but that's not why fleet customers purchase these cars. They're more interested in the low price, good fuel mileage, 94 cubic feet of interior room and the 16-cubic-foot trunk.
Ford badly needed a Taurus replacement, and the Fusion is the designated hitter. Pleasantly, it's as much a standout as the Taurus was at its own debut more than two decades ago.
Built on the excellent CD3 platform, Ford's new midsized sedan offers superior ergonomics, good interior room and a spacious, flat trunk. Power comes via a 2.3-liter OHC four-cylinder or a 3.0-liter DOHC V-6 good for 160 hp and 221 hp, respectively. The four cylinder gets a five-speed manual or optional four-speed autobox; the V-6 is linked only to a new six-speed automatic. The latter is a paragon of smoothness, but high overall gearing and a penchant for using the top gears make it a prime candidate for manual shifting capability. In traffic it always seems to be in too high a gear, offering insufficient engine drag to avoid constant dabs at the brakes to maintain station.
The all-independent suspension is nicely sorted out with high roll stiffness and well-tuned damping that capably filters out impact harshness with no compromises in handling or comfort. Steering is progressively weighted and offers a decent level of feedback. Interior noise levels are quite low with only a trace of wind rushing past the mirrors and a hint of tire noise.
Seats front and rear are supportive and comfortable; rear legroom is excellent. The 60/40 rear seat can be folded flat, which, along with the low liftover height, lets it easily swallow enormous loads of cargo.
The car tracks well and easily shrugs off stiff crosswinds. Braking is powerful and fade-free with good pedal feel. Top speed is electronically governed to 112 mph, and the V-6 test car reached that velocity with little effort. I saw 24 mpg in hard driving; either engine can top 30 mpg with ease.
My take: The Fusion is a very refined, highly capable replacement for the Taurus.
You want major interior room? Try the Ford 500. Its Volvo-sourced platform also shared with the Ford Freestyle crossover and the Volvo XC90 SUV has interior dimensions more commonly found in a limo. The benefits from the crossover-SUV underpinnings are flat floors, stretch-out legroom front and rear plus a high seating position with commanding views of the countryside, not to mention superior sightlines for the driver. There's a big storage bin located atop the instrument panel, two more in the front console and folding rear armrest, and cubbyholes and storage nooks are everywhere. The trunk is 10 percent larger than the Crown Victoria's although the car is a foot shorter. I'd call that superior packaging.
The instruments and controls are logically placed, overall ergonomics are excellent and the flat, featureless front seats can accommodate anyone up to a size 52-long with ease.
Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel-drive (AWD) optional. There's only one engine choice: the 3.0-liter Duratec V-6, supplying 203 hp at a lofty 5,750 rpm and 207 ft.-lbs. at an equally high 4,500 rpm. Transmission choices are a six-speed automatic or a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). My AWD test car had the CVT. Floored from a standstill, the revs shot up toward the redline and then hung there as the car gathered momentum at a glacial pace. That's the drawback of a 3,825-lb. base curb weight, a legacy of the 500's SUV origins.
The verdict: Vice-free if not sensational handling, good level of standard equipment, acres of room, ho-hum styling and badly in need of more motor.
Craig Peterson has been road testing and reviewing police vehicles cars, SUVs, undercover units and others since 1990 and has constructed a number of widely publicized police concept vehicles seen at IACP and similar venues. He's an IPTM-certified police radar instructor and an ex-race car driver, and he has authored hundreds of stories on vehicles, driver training, mobile electronics and speed-measuring technology for U.S. and foreign law enforcement magazines since 1990.