Road Tested

The recent introduction of new or significantly revised vehicles from The Big Three is a boon to law enforcement agencies seeking newer, faster and better vehicles for their officers. When considering what to purchase, agencies must consider many factors—cost per unit, available budget, departmental or chief preferences, anticipated duty cycle use, size and upgradability and the ease of transferring existing equipment into the new platform. Officers, on the other hand, have one ultimate question: “How does it perform?”

Then there are the manufacturers themselves. They take tremendous pride in their work. Although performance numbers may translate directly to order sheets, all of these vehicles are good—really good. But only one can reign supreme in any one category, and manufacturers will tout their wins. For all these reasons, there’s a lot riding on the outcome of objective comparisons between emerging model lineups, so it’s imperative they be evaluated in a neutral environment by a group of dedicated driving experts, who also know law enforcement.

When looking for this information, the “Grand Daddy” of police vehicle testing is the Michigan State Police Vehicle Evaluation. Held for more than 30 years, MSP testing has become the standard by which patrol vehicles are tested for performance, ergonomics and fuel economy capabilities. Passenger vehicles and motorcycles are included, and all models are tested with tires featured on the production model. Sedans and SUVs are tested without light bars or spotlights to eliminate variances due to various designs. The categories are limited to acceleration, braking, top speed, high-speed handling, handling dynamics, fuel economy, ergonomics and communications. Dynamic categories get weighted scores. Finally, the test is open to those vehicles available for purchase and delivery in the upcoming year—in this case, 2011.

A Wrench in the Testing Works

So, here’s where it gets a little complicated. The great news in all this is that, for the first time in many years, there were a slew of models from The Big Three to test. In all, there were 10 vehicles (plus four motorcycles) officially tested, including gasoline and E85 PPV versions of the Impala, Caprice and Tahoe, two versions of the Crown Vic with different axle ratios, plus the V-6 and Hemi V-8 versions of the newly redesigned Charger.

I say official because, although the Crown Vic was there to deliver its swan song dance, Ford also placed in the hands of the MSP drivers the new Interceptor and Interceptor SUV in various forms. The results were good for Ford, with the 3.5 liter, AWD Ecoboost Interceptor Sedan unofficially capturing the fastest lap time around the road course. I say unofficial because the Interceptor is considered a 2012 model, so it couldn’t be included in the final results. Regardless, Ford put GM and Dodge on notice with its new, sophisticated Interceptor. All of this makes for good news for officers. Cruisers are improving.

The official MSP report won’t be ready until the end of the year, and it will number nearly 100 pages in length, so the following is a summary of the dynamic results of the ten 2011 vehicles tested, as well as a brief overview of the evaluation protocols in each category. It’s also important to note that these results represent the absolute maximum capabilities of each vehicle in a controlled environment by expert EVOC drivers, so your results may vary and officers should remember that driving at 70% and getting there is always better than 100% and not. Any of these new cars have plenty of performance to get you there efficiently, while still allowing you to keep a large safety margin.

The Go Test

Conducted on the high-speed oval at Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Mich., the acceleration and top-speed tests determine the top-dog in the go category. According to the MSP, standing start to 60 mph, 80 mph and 100 mph are recorded, as well as the distance to reach 110 mph and 120 mph. Each vehicle is driven through four acceleration sequences, two northbound and two southbound, to allow for wind direction. The four resulting times for each target speed are averaged and the average times used to derive scores on the competitive test for acceleration are tabulated. Temperature and time of day are also recorded.

Of the 10 models tested this year, the Caprice E85 kicked and snorted its way to the top in 0–60 acceleration at 6.15 seconds vs. 6.24 for the Hemi Charger. This performance allows officers to catch up to a violator quickly, thereby shortening the overall apprehension event, which means less of a time window for something bad to happen.

The 0–100 category was owned by the Caprice, as well as top speed at a heady 148 mph. As can be expected, the Crown Vic and Impala got smoked in this category. Even the E85 Tahoe was faster than the Impala or Crown Vic. In talking with Lt. Keith Wilson, who heads the MSP Precision Driving Unit, the octane advantage of E85 fuel, which is 85% corn ethanol and 15% gasoline, typically leads to better acceleration. On the flip side, the energy density of ethanol is less than gasoline, so fuel efficiency is comparably less. So, acceleration-wise, the Caprice brings the beans with putting down all of its available 355 hp and 385 foot-lbs. to good use.

The Whoa Test

Braking capabilities are also crucial to vehicle performance, especially in enforcement situations in which rapid acceleration and deceleration can occur repeatedly during a code-3 response. According to MSP, the deceleration rate is measured by each test vehicle on twelve 60–0 mph impending skid (threshold) stops, with ABS in operation if the vehicle is so equipped. Each vehicle is scored on the average deceleration rate it attains. Each vehicle makes two decelerations from 90–0 mph at a precise deceleration rate to develop heat in the braking system. Once completed, the vehicle makes six measured 60–0 mph impending skid (threshold) stops with ABS in operation, if so equipped, at specific predetermined points.

Following a 4-minute heat soak, the entire sequence is repeated. The exact initial velocity at the beginning of each of the 60–0 mph decelerations, and the exact distance required to make each stop is recorded. The data from the 12 total stops is used to calculate the average deceleration rate, which is the vehicle’s score for this test.

In this test, the Caprice PPV generated the highest deceleration rate by a good margin by being the only vehicle to break the 30 feet-per-second (squared) mark, resulting in a projected 60–0 stopping distance of 128.3 feet. The next closest was the Charger at a projected 133.9 feet, which is about a half a car length longer. As expected, the Tahoe and CV were considerably farther back, while the Impala, despite being smaller and lighter, couldn’t do much better than the bigger SUV and the aging matron, the Crown Vic. Just as it did with acceleration, the Caprice won a second category over the Charger in the braking department. Note: These tests are conducted at a threshold braking level, which is well beyond the braking you should be doing on a regular basis on the street.

In the Twisties

The dynamic capabilities of a vehicle directly translate driver inputs into the safe execution of demanding reactions to adverse conditions through application of acceleration, braking and steering inputs. All of the new models emerging for 2011 have some form of stability and traction control systems, plus significantly improved suspension designs with sizeable wheel and tire packages.

The results of these efforts are tested on the tight and twisty corners of Grattan Raceway—a 2-mile, 10-turn track that possesses just about every type of challenging corner that officers might face in the real world. For this test, each vehicle is driven over the course a total of 32 timed laps, using four separate drivers, each driving an eight-lap series. The final score for the vehicle is the combined average (from the four drivers) of the five fastest laps for each driver during the eight-lap series.

This year, the E85 Caprice PPV owned this test by posting an average lap time that was more than 1.4 seconds faster than the next-best Charger. This might matter at the track, but on the street—where you should be driving with a safety buffer, especially during code runs—your driving probably absorbs such advantages. Really surprising is that the V-6 version of the Charger averaged a scant 2/100ths of a second behind its bigger brother, which suggests the Charger is chassis-limited due to design , size and weight, preventing the extra power of the Hemi to be used on the tight course. As expected, the Impala and Crown Vic were well behind with the super-sized Tahoe trailing the pack.

And the Winner Is?

The E85 Caprice PPV won in all three categories, which bodes well for the bow-tie folks. The combination of a big, torquey engine, combined with braking and chassis dynamics culled from the solid credentials of the Holden Commodore, translated into victory in the three main categories at this year’s test. Nipping at the Caprice’s heels on the acceleration test was the newly redesigned Charger, but the Caprice was the clear winner in the braking and handling portions. Add in a large trunk, big interior and rear wheel drive, and the Caprice makes a great case to be your next patrol vehicle.

What about that Interceptor sedan and SUV? Well, they unofficially performed very well, but the real proof will be in the pudding next fall. In the meantime, the 2011 Caprice PPV takes the crown for patrol vehicle supremacy in the coming year.

You can check out all the test results, including the four motorcycles tested, in the final report due out in mid-December 2010 by visiting,1607,7-123–16274–,00.html.


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