Change can be a scary thing. We’re creatures of habit. Once we get used to something, it can be hard for us to break free of established patterns because they’ve become comfortable.
Example: Ford’s Crown Victoria for police duty. The Crown Vic has pretty much defined the law enforcement vehicle marketplace since it was introduced in 1983, capturing more than 70% of the market. More remarkably, this has occurred despite the fact that the architecture behind the Crown Vic platform goes back more than three decades, and its performance capabilities have been slipping in the past few years as the Dodge Charger and the second-generation Chevy Impala and Tahoe PPV have cropped up on the scene.
What’s Ford to do? The company established a police advisory board of officers and fleet managers, went on ride-alongs with officers, learned what cops on the street liked and disliked about the Crown Vic and then incorporated those changes to create the all-new Interceptor. According to Scott Tobin, Ford’s vehicle line director, the top concerns were safety and durability. Ford looked at the types of collisions police vehicles were regularly involved in, as well as the areas of the vehicle that receive the most wear and tear. As the board compiled its data, it also searched the emerging vehicle line-up to see which platform would make the most sense for conversion to police duty.
As one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers, the company added police-specific features and then fine-tuned the entire package with countless laps on test tracks and on one of the toughest EVOC tracks in the country, operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in Pomona, Calif. “This vehicle is pursuit-ready,” says Carl Widmann, Ford’s vehicle engineering manager. “It’s no-nonsense through and through.”
With a flying entrance into a jam-packed pit garage at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Interceptor arrived in its best Sunday clothes, decked from head to toe in LED lighting, striking graphics and a here-to-play attitude.
The Interceptor is based on a civilian version of the all-new Taurus, which is a good thing. This means it benefits from millions of miles of testing and a lot of development dollars to deliver a platform with structural and drive-train hardware designed for durability and safety. It also means that the days of body-on-frame, live rear axles and rear-wheel drive are over.
The engine in the existing Crown Vic is a battle horse ready for pasture. Based on single-overhead cam technology and sporting eight thirsty cylinders, it churns out 250 hp and just below 300 foot-lbs. of torque, while gulping a gallon of fuel about every 12–14 miles.
With the Interceptor, Ford will offer two versions of its V-6 Eco-Boost engine package. The first is a normally aspirated 3.5-L V-6 that produces at least 263 hp and about 250 foot-lbs. of torque. Although the torque is a bit less, the promise of at least 25% better fuel economy coupled with more horsepower means that the V-6 can meet or exceed the overall performance of the present V-8.
If the power isn’t enough, the second choice is a twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-L V-6 that pumps out a healthy 365 hp and 350 foot-lbs. of torque. This places the Interceptor in the same category as the Hemi Charger (368 hp/395 foot-lbs.) and the upcoming Caprice (355 hp/384 foot-lbs.), while retaining a V-6 configuration for better efficiency.
Both engines have been recalibrated for police use. One of the concerns raised at the reveal by fleet managers and officers I talked with was the durability and complexity of a twin-turbocharged, direct-injection engine. Ford pointed out that the turbo engine has been tested past 1 million miles for parts durability, with the turbo assemblies tested past 1,700 degrees and more than 170,000 rpm. Furthermore, the radiator and other cooling systems for the transmission and oil have been upgraded. Heavy-duty engine mounts are used, and a 220-amp alternator has been added. The turbocharged engine is rated at 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway. ( Note: The twin-turbo setup is only available with the all-wheel drive (AWD) system.)
Re-engineered from Top to Bottom
The Interceptor is available in either a front-wheel drive (FWD) or AWD configuration with the base engine, and, in AWD, with the twin-turbo setup. The system is the same one found in the SHO Taurus model and uses torque sensing to meter out power to individual wheels for traction. It’s coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission that’s been recalibrated for law enforcement use. It’s the same with the included Gyroscopic Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control, which, according to Ford, has been detuned to allow more aggressive driving without interference. The system uses two gyroscopic sensors to detect pitch, roll and yaw, and correlates those readings with steering, braking and acceleration inputs to detect changing conditions.
Traction control and ABS are included, and the four-wheel disc brake system has been upgraded to larger 18" vented rotors, surrounded by steel wheels that are rated for impact speeds up to 40 mph. Springs and shocks are also upgraded. Although there were some durability concerns voiced, the advantages of the FWD and AWD systems from a safety standpoint are clear.
On the Inside
The Interceptor benefits from interior ergonomics that are vastly improved over the Crown Vic. The dashboard area is well-integrated, and there’s a small shelf above the front center console for mounting radar, camera gear or other equipment. The seat design has also been modified with lower bolster cutouts to allow for duty gear, and the space between the seats is at least 9 inches wide, which means consoles in present Crown Vics can be retrofitted into the Interceptor—a big plus. Both front seats also feature anti-stab plates, and the inside of the passenger seat folds outward to reveal a cool first-aid kit.
Other features include a column-mounted shifter that’s been rigorously tested, and the inclusion of Ford’s revolutionary SYNC hands-free information system that allows officers to “talk” to their equipment. The system allows officers to voice activate lights and sirens, cameras and other equipment. There are also programmable buttons on the steering wheel that offer one-touch activation of many of the same systems. Other features include red-and-white lighting options for interior illumination, pre-wiring for systems integration and power-adjustable pedals.
In the rear seat area, the door hinge assemblies have been modified to allow for a full 70 degrees of movement, aiding in the placing and retrieval of prisoners for transport. The rear seat has also been moved back 4 inches to allow for more leg room and maneuverability. Door panels have been modified for ingress and egress, and there are no rear headrests for increased visibility. Vinyl surfaces cover the seat for easier cleanup. Tests of the rear seat area determined that foot space was tighter than expected, but it may have had more to do with the mock “cage” Ford placed in the show car than what will actually be available.
Vehicle-related crashes are one of the top killers of LEOs, and safety is a top priority with the Interceptor. It passes 75-mph, rear-impact collisions, which makes Ford the only manufacturer to openly provide such data and performance parameters. The Interceptor is also five-star rated for safety by IIHS in all categories, and it benefits from the same safety technologies found in the civilian Taurus. This includes Ford’s exclusive Safety Canopy side-curtain airbag rollover protection system. The system uses a roll-fold, side-curtain airbag system (think of unrolling a sleeping bag) that covers the side window area from A to C pillar, which according to Ford, helps ensure the bag ends up between the side window and the occupant more reliably.
Side-impact and rollover protection is also enhanced with Boron steel B-pillars and reinforced beams that travel under the front seats laterally. Dual-front and side airbags are standard for the front seats, although the passenger side won’t activate unless there’s at least 60 lbs. on the right front seat. Another innovation is the addition of pressure-based airbag sensors in the doors, which use pressure pulses from a side impact to deploy 30% faster than a traditional air bag system that uses acceleration-based sensors. Ford did extensive testing to ensure that the sonic waves created by gunshots or rounds impacting the doors would not set off the airbags.
Ballistic panels are available for both front doors as an option. Several other options include a radar-based Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), and two technologies I think should be mandatory given the percentage of backing crashes: a rear-view camera system that uses part of the center rear-view mirror to show what’s directly behind the driver; and a reverse-sensing system, which alerts the driver with an audible tone when within 6 feet of an object behind them. Considering how many times cops hit things when backing up, these two options will more than pay for themselves.
On the Track
The Interceptor is considered a prototype at the moment, so no pricing or availability date—other than 2011—has been given. For this reason, my time in the new Interceptor was relegated to a single lap around the infield road course in the normally aspirated and turbocharged models, plus one in the current Crown Vic for a refresher.
Both Interceptors were AWD models and were still considered prototypes with exterior disguising and interior cover-ups. All three were piloted by Ford test engineers, so full driving impressions will have to wait until, well, I really drive one.
Still, some observations. The V-6 should be adequate for urban use. It’s not as “torquey” as the old V-8, but it pulls nicer through the power curve, and is much quieter and more composed. Where it really shines is in the cornering, as the AWD system and developed suspension allows for better composure through corners and benign chassis manners. Granted, the current Crown Vic is pretty goof-proof in the handling department, but it can’t touch the suspension articulation found in the new Interceptor, especially over rough surfaces. And if you’ve ever driven a Crown Vic in the snow like yours truly, the AWD system is a godsend.
By comparison, the EcoBoost twin-turbo setup is noticeably faster. Having had a Hemi Charger as a patrol vehicle for awhile and currently owning a Pontiac G8 GT—the platform that the 2011 Caprice is based on—I know firsthand that both vehicles offer stiffer suspensions and V-8 power/RWD that feel faster than the Interceptor. However, all hover in the five-second range from 0–60. Much of the difference in feel can be attributed to all four wheels doing the drive work in the Interceptor.
The twin-turbo setup certainly makes the Interceptor an invitee to the power party, although agencies will have to determine if their needs justify the added horsepower. Overall, the Interceptor feels like a stiffer version of its civilian cousins, and appeared to handle well on the track from the passenger seat.
The 800-lb. gorilla in the law enforcement vehicle market—Ford—has come up with a stylish, competent, powerful and well-thought-out replacement for a legend. As great and faithful as the Crown Victoria has been during its decades of service, it was time for a changing of the guard. The new Interceptor seems up to the task.
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