A mere glimpse of Ford’s Crown Victoria Police Interceptor in the rearview mirror is enough to trigger instant road anxiety in many U.S. motorists. The classic Crown Vic has handled police work for Ford's customers since the early 1990s, garnering 70% of the market in recent years. Its traditional Panther platform's rear-wheel-drive with V8 power and body-on-frame construction combined to provide law-enforcement forces with reliable heavy-duty operations and cheaper repairs than for front-wheel-drive vehicles. Ford stopped accepting orders for the aging police sedan last year.
In its place the car maker is offering two police Interceptor vehicles—significantly modified versions of the Taurus sedan and the Explorer SUV—to present customers with a comprehensive choice of job capabilities. The development team, said Carl Widmann, Vehicle Engineering Manager for the Ford Police Interceptor, hopes that modern construction and electronic systems, fuel-thrifty V6 engines, and standard all-wheel-drive will prove advantageous for today’s police work.
Although each vehicle is clad in standard sheet metal, both models were substantially modified for police work with the help of expert feedback, Widmann said. “We chose a different approach to the development process by operating in cooperation with our Police Advisory Board of expert law-enforcement practitioners, driving evaluators, fleet administrators, accident investigators, and Emergency Vehicle Operation Course (EVOC) trainers.”
During a sometimes intense 28 months of prototype evaluation and feedback, the advisory board became a kind of combined coaching/customer group representing a demanding industry, he noted. “It’s unusual for consumers to have access to prototypes. This meant that we could consider their comments and input before the design was fixed. This is the first time we negotiated with customers who had gotten a chance to drive the prototypes.”
Part of that feedback led Ford to focus on ensuring simple driver operation. Said Widmann: “A high-power rear-drive vehicle like the Crown Vic takes a bit of work and effort to drive fast safely. But driving to the incident/accident shouldn’t be difficult or something that the officer should have to think about.”
AWD, not RWD
The choice of AWD was a key decision, he said. It allowed the development team to optimize traction in all conditions. This system helps maintain the intended path by measuring yaw according to the vehicle’s speed, throttle position, and steering wheel angle. When wheel slip is sensed, AdvanceTrac applies selected brakes and reduces or reallocates engine torque. The stability-control system can send 100% of the available torque to the front or rear wheels if needed.
“We used electronics to remove the need for tremendous driving expertise,” he said. The ability to “put it into drive and run at the track” enabled the engineers to optimally set the suspension, power-steering calibration, engine and transmission calibrations, as well as the traction, stability, and braking controls.
In annual tests last fall at the Los Angeles County Sheriff track facilities, Ford claims its vehicles beat out the General Motors and Chrysler competition in acceleration, braking, high-speed pursuit, and city pursuit performance. The tests, designed to match real-world patrol conditions to evaluate brake and tire durability, powertrain robustness, and driveability at high vehicle temperatures, were conducted in high-speed, hard-braking pursuit laps.
Airborne testing
The Explorer-based Police Interceptor (PI) utility delivers a surprisingly nimble high-speed performance with greater interior space than the sedan and 800-lb (363-kg) load capacity. It underwent a similar expert feedback-driven optimization process often in the rough washes of Borrego Springs desert area near San Diego whereby the structure was strengthened. The same advanced control and system algorithms used in the sedan tuned to different settings because the SUV’s wheel-lift and engines are different and it has a higher center of gravity, he said.
“Both vehicles will go airborne at some point,” Widmann pointed out, “so we had to modify the underbodies and add shielding.” On the utility they had to move the front cooling package upward so that the structure hits first, he said. They designed the sedan’s forward underbody to take a glancing blow off the road with an added “deflector plate to push stuff out of the way.”
Around the orange cones
The New York auto press recently got a chance to put Ford’s first new PI beasts in 15 years through their paces in autocross, slalom, and braking runs in the vast parking lots surrounding the New York Mets’ Citi Field in Queens. Matched up against Crown Vic black and whites, the new duo proved that modern technology means superior performance, but that vintage rear-drive V8 vehicles are still probably more fun to drive fast.
Ford’s V6 engine lineup balances high power and fuel economy. The PI sedan features a 3.5-L unit with variable valve timing that produces 288 hp (215 kW) and 254 lb·ft (344 N·m), EPA ratings of 18/26 city/highway mpg, and an EcoBoost engine that generates 365 hp (272 kW) and 350 lb·ft (475 N·m), with EPA ratings of 16/23 mpg. The PI utility’s 3.7-L V6 makes 304 hp (227 kW) and 279 lb·ft (378 N·m) and 16/22 mpg. The powerplants require one-third less fuel burn at idle than does the Crown Victoria.
Everything else is beefed-up, Widmann said. The sedan’s larger wheel hubs and bearings are flanked by vented front and rear disc brakes that have 63% more swept (contact) area and maximized thermal management. “We spent two years track and endurance testing the brakes to ensure we can keep heat out of brake fluid and avoid soft brakes.”
Other enhancements include auxiliary oil coolers and a double-size radiator compared to the consumer models’ as well as special heavy-duty shocks, springs, and 18-in Goodyear Eagle RS tires.
Upfit-ready interior
The interior is strictly industrial strength in design and materials and intended to be "upfit-ready" with configurable steering wheel switches and easy-to-link wire/cable sets to assist installation of aftermarket gear. The universal mounting tray on the dashboard and an old-school column shifter for the six-speed automatic make room for a large center console space.
The tapered fabric front seats, which leave space for bulky utility belts, come with "anti-stab" back plates to deflect blade attacks from behind. The doors open a full 71 degrees. Ballistic door panels that can stop projectiles (NIJ protection level 3+) are optional. The rear seat area is lined with easy-to-clean vinyl everything. Ford engineers also insured that common maintenance parts—tires, filters, and so forth—can be shared between the PI sedan and the utility, providing a logistical savings for fleets.
On top of it all, “we had to satisfy our own internal specs, which we developed over 15 years of working with the Crown Vic,” Widmann said. “The vehicles, for example, had to survive 75-mph rear-end collisions offset to the fuel filler side with no fuel leakage.”
Something new to look for in the rearview mirror.