The Queen is dead and police departments across the nation have spent the last year searching for a worthy replacement for the old girl. My department has been a Ford department for decades. So long, in fact, that the mechanics at the municipal garage have been trained and certified as Ford specialists. Despite concerns about the reliability of FWD when it comes to taking the abuse of patrol work, there was never any real question as to whether or not we would give the new Ford Police Interceptor Sedan a try and …
I’m sorry. I can’t finish the rest of this review using the phrase “Ford Police Interceptor Sedan.” I’ve never heard another cop call his car a “Police Interceptor.” The CVPI was always a “Crown Vic,” even after Ford dropped the homage to Her Majesty from the trunklid. The new car is a Taurus.
After a brief orientation, I was allowed to back a new Taurus out of the Technical Services garage for my road test. It was the equivalent of learning to swim by being tossed into the deep end of the pool. It forced me to immediately confront one of the car’s biggest shortcomings. The view out of the rear window is terrible, possibly the worst of any car I have ever driven.
Ford offers a rearview camera, which my department took at a fleet bid price of $240. It’s cheaper than the audible alert system at $295. Municipal bean counters are encouraged to pony up for one or the other. The extra cost will pay off in the avoidance of all of the minor fender benders that will undoubtedly occur if officers are left to fend for themselves.
My department also purchased the BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) which also helps compensate for the Taurus’s lack of visibility in return for $475 of the taxpayer’s dollars. BLIS should be helpful while making emergency runs, provided that officers don’t become too dependent on it.
I retrieved my gun-belt in order to better simulate the experience of uniformed officers. When I got back in I was faced with the Taurus’s second noticeable flaw as a police vehicle: It’s too small for a man of… comfortable proportions.
Actually, that’s not exactly right. First of all, I’m hefty but I’m nowhere near the biggest guy at my department. In most respects the Taurus has plenty of room. The seat adjusts six ways from Sunday. The steering wheel telescopes in addition to tilting, a huge improvement over the Crown Vic. The Taurus also includes adjustable pedals. Headroom was fine and I didn’t feel crowded to my left by the door.
The problem was to my right. I’m right handed, as is most of the population. My holster was pressed against the seat-belt latch, which was in turn pressed tight against the metal side of the aftermarket console that contains the police radios and switch gear for the lights and siren. The pressure forced the end of my holster, which is an unforgiving lump of high- impact plastic, to dig into my leg.
This situation exists because Ford won’t admit the obvious. Their brochures claim that the Taurus has the same amount of space between the seats (nine inches) as the outgoing Crown Vic. Potential buyers are told that old consoles and equipment will be a direct fit, enabling cash- strapped departments to save money by recycling equipment.
Unfortunately the Taurus really doesn’t have nine inches to spare. The internal width from door panel to door panel is four inches less than in the Crown Vic. You can’t lose that much overall lateral space and then waste nine inches in the center of the car. Something’s got to give and unfortunately what gives is my sciatic nerve.
The fix would be relatively easy. The aftermarket needs to develop a console package that is seven inches wide instead of nine. The extra inch gained on each side would make all the difference in the world. It could even remain nine inches wide in front of the seats to accommodate equipment so long as it tapered down before it reached the seat-belt latch. Whether the market will respond remains to be seen and for now the vendors are only building too- large consoles built to Ford’s specifications.
Other than the pain in my leg, the driving experience was fine. Handling and braking felt much better than in the Crown Vic. Ford pushes the AWD system as a standard option, although they will give customers a $650 credit if they choose to special order a FWD car instead. The use of an actual column mounted shifter is a nice touch, especially compared to the fake column shifter mounted on the dash in a police- package Dodge Charger.
The car I drove had the standard 3.5L V-6. It growled when prodded instead of delivering its power with the muted roar of the Crown Vic’s V-8. The base engine has more than enough grunt for a police car, with a top speed of 131 mph according to testing by the Michigan State Police as opposed to the 150 mph top speed of the Ecoboost turbo version.
Performance measures are interesting but real life isn’t television. Most beat cops spend less than fifteen minutes out of an average eight hour shift running with lights and sirens. The rest of the time a police car is just a car, driven at normal speeds to the next report call, rolled slowly through dark alleys, and left idling for hours at a time. Fuel economy is more important these days than power and the standard powertrain strikes a good balance between the two. A top end of 130 mph is more than sufficient. Anything more is just asking for trouble in these litigious times.
The stereo sounded fine for a base factory unit. SYNC is a $295 option, and one that my department didn’t spring for. I doubt that many municipalities will, but it’s the only way to get a 3.5 mm AUX jack. That’s a bit irritating. A patrol car is a cop’s home away from home for 40+ hours each week. An AUX jack is a quick and easy way to enjoy satellite radio or listen to an iPod. Yes, the total integration of these features through something like SYNC is desirable to Ford’s civilian customers, but simple solutions are best when dealing with fleet vehicles. A CD player is standard.
As I got out to take some pictures of the car, I noticed another problem: the front doors only open to a little over 45 degrees. A nylon retaining strap prevents them from opening any further. According to the brochure, this is to “help them swing out just right in the rush of a moment.” The restricted opening of the front doors wasn’t as much of a problem when entering the car as it was on exit. Unfortunately, fast exits are often required from a police vehicle and attempts to exit quickly through the tight opening while wearing my gunbelt resulted in me banging my various pieces of equipment on the door frame and edge of the door.
By contrast, the rear doors open to almost 90 degrees. That would be great for loading a prisoner in the back, except that the minimal amount of legroom left over after a barrier is installed would probably qualify as a cruel and unusual punishment. The aftermarket has responded with a sort of dogleg shaped barrier that is designed to be placed so that the driver’s seat can have full range of travel while bending in a manner that limits the front passenger seat’s travel, but allows more foot room in the rear passenger side for a prisoner’s legs. This solution will work if only one prisoner is transported at a time.
Perhaps a second prisoner can ride in the trunk. (I’m kidding.) A full- size spare hides under a flat panel, giving the Taurus a flat load floor that extends all the way to the rear seat. An optional sliding tray for mounting radio repeaters and other equipment keeps those vital and relatively fragile pieces tucked up under the rear decklid where they won’t be damaged by officers tossing heavier equipment on top of them.
I took a moment to sit behind the wheel of a marked Crown Vic after I returned to the garage. It felt enormous after the Taurus. I asked a technician how much of the equipment, besides peripherals like radios and flashlight chargers, could actually be switched between the old and new cars. He thought about it for minute.
“The lightbars are the same,” he replied. “But you have to get different brackets for the new cars.”
And the consoles? Nope. They’re too different. The Tauruses have to get brand new ones anyway.
So what’s my final verdict? I think that the engineers charged with turning the civilian Taurus into a police car did a good job, given the platform that they had to work with. Fleet pricing for the models purchased by my department comes to $26,659, which seems reasonable. (Additional equipment, such the new consoles that Ford claims we don’t have to buy, runs the tab up quite a bit higher.) Handling and fuel economy are far superior to the Vic. The power from the base V-6 is better than the old V-8. Departments above the Mason- Dixon line will definitely appreciate the AWD.
But problems and limitations abound. Some of them, such as the atrocious view out of the back window and the tight space for prisoners in the back, are inherent to the design of the car itself. They can be overcome with technology, but at a price. Some of them are simply inexplicable, like the narrow opening front doors. Law enforcement can’t possibly be losing that many driver’s side doors to oncoming traffic to justify limiting the door’s travel as much as the strap does.
But the most severe limitations come from Ford’s refusal to admit that the Taurus is what it is: a smaller car than the Crown Vic. You can insist that everyone call your Taurus a Ford Police Interceptor Sedan, but that doesn’t mean that the laws of physics will play along with the charade. There’s no excuse for Ford’s failure to admit that a nine inch console won’t fit into the Taurus without intruding into passenger space and working with the aftermarket to develop a narrower alternative that works.
The Crown Vic came to dominate the police market because its rivals forfeited the field. Both Dodge and Chevrolet are back in the game now and they should smell blood in the water. The Ford Police Interceptor Sedan has a lot of strengths, but Ford’s failure to admit its weaknesses and engineer better solutions to them will hurt its market position as the other cars are given chances by more agencies to prove their reliability.
David Hester is a detective with the Lexington, KY Police Department by day and night. He drove a Crown Vic for work, but “does not suffer from an overabundance of Panther love.”