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Ford Utility Police Interceptor ... From Retail to Police

With so many new police vehicles under development, frequently asked questions are: Just what makes a police car? How ARE police cars different from retail cars? Is a police car just a retail car with rubber floor mats and steel wheels? Is it just a retail car with a black grille and deleted chrome?

A lot of misinformation ha­s been spread over the past few years about “purpose-built” police cars. The fact is, all police cars come from the ranks of retail cars, period. Some are modified a lot; some not so much.

So, how are retail vehicles designed and developed for police use? To answer these questions, Police Fleet Manager is following the development of the Ford Utility Police Interceptor from the Explorer America concept to the full production, 2012 police package vehicle.

The police package version of the Explorer-based Utility Police Interceptor is still very much under development. It will be produced in late 2011 for delivery in early 2012. The Utility PI, the second of Ford’s two new Police Interceptors, is an excellent answer to the question, “What if we need more officer room, or need to carry more gear in our police vehicles than some of the new police sedans will hold?” As such, the Utility Police Interceptor is very much in the hunt for the Ford CVPI market share when the big sedan goes away after August 2011.

The Police Package

How does Ford decide what parts need to be upgraded from the retail car for police use? First, Ford knows police cars. It introduced the formal police package improvement to the retail car in 1950—more than 60 years ago. Ford literally invented police cars. It currently commands 80 percent of the police market and has had that market share for 15 years.

With all this experience, Ford Fleet already knows hundreds of things to do to upgrade a retail car to a police car. That starts a seemingly endless cycle of engineering and testing parts in literally all of the systems of the vehicle, all of which is in addition to the development of its retail cars.

At the same time, Ford earnestly asks for input from its Police Advisory Board. Ford and its PAB members held specific discussions on the NextGen police vehicles in early 2008, which was four years before the planned launch of the police package version. Back then, the Taurus was the re-nameplated Ford Five Hundred, and all anyone knew about the new Explorer was the Explorer America concept revealed at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show.

The Ford PAB was actually involved with the future police-spec Utility PI before the formal decision was made at Ford to develop a police package for the NextGen Explorer. The PAB members added to the long list of police-spec upgrades that Ford Fleet was already planning to make.

Different Parts & Processes

The retail Explorer and the Utility Police Interceptor obviously have much in common, including the basic chassis, some of the powertrain, the drivetrain and basic interior layout, and all exterior sheet metal. In spite of these clear similarities, the Utility Police Interceptor has literally hundreds of parts and processes different from the retail version of the same basic vehicle.

The early development to upgrade the retail Taurus into the Sedan Police Interceptor applies directly to the development of the Utility Police Interceptor. For example, a great deal of time and effort went into making police-specific seats, which are different from the retail Taurus seats. All this design and development of the seats carried straight over to the Utility PI. The Utility PI has police-spec, gunbelt-tolerant, comfortable but supportive seats designed for police use—just one of many changes to the retail Explorer.

The same goes for the police-unique Instrument Panel (IP), which includes a column-mounted gear shifter. This, of course, required numerous changes to the center console and the space between the seats. Everything the retail center console houses, every function the center console serves, had to be relocated for the police package vehicles.

Even at the earliest concept stage, the Sedan Police Interceptor had more than 200 unique parts and processes different from the retail Taurus. These carry over to the Utility PI. Then, listening to its Police Advisory Board, Ford made at least 100 more changes before the early “reveal” of the Utility PI to make it even more police-specific. At least 100 more changes have been made, or are in the works, as the development of the Utility PI continues. This includes a huge decision yet to be made on the engine size, or options to improve vehicle performance.


Importantly, the powertrain for the Utility PI is still under development. The Utility PI at the “reveal” in September and the mid- September Michigan State Police tests used a 280 hp, 3.5L Ti-VCT V6—the standard engine on the retail Explorer.

This 3.5L V6 is the new generation Twin Independent Variable Cam Timing (Ti-VCT) upgrade to the existing 265 hp Intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT) engine. The Ti-VCT engines produce about 15 hp more and 15 lb-ft more torque with the same horsepower and torque curve profiles. That means the Ti-VCT engines are more powerful than the iVCT engines of the same displacement all across the rpm band.

However, the Utility PI at the mid-November Los Angeles County Sheriff tests used the 305 hp, 3.7L Ti-VCT V6. This is the standard engine for the new 2011 Mustang. In the mid-1980s, Ford used the Mustang’s High Output engines in its midsized police sedans.

Is It Fast Enough?

The performance baseline for the new 280 hp, 3.5L V6 Utility PI must be the old 210 hp, 4.0L V6 Explorer SSV, for which the Utility PI is an obvious, but not the only, replacement. The zero to 60 mph time is 10.0 seconds for the old SUV versus 8.7 seconds for the new crossover. The Explorer SSV took a leisurely 32.0 seconds to reach 100 mph. The prototype Utility PI did it in 23.8 seconds.

The Utility PI with the 3.5L V6 reached its electronic speed limit of 120 mph. The real top speed is still under development. Of course, the old Explorer SSV was speed limited to 106 mph.

However, the Ford goal is to equal the Ford CVPI’s performance because Ford wants fleets currently running the Ford CVPI to transition to the Utility PI, if not the Sedan Police Interceptor. The Utility PI, when powered by the 280 hp, 3.5L V6, is also faster than the 250 hp, 4.6L V8 Ford CVPI, which takes 9.0 seconds to reach 60 mph and 24.4 seconds to hit 100 mph. Importantly, all this was as-tested by the MSP.

Remember, too, that Ford tested the more powerful 305 hp, 3.7L V6 during the LASD-LAPD evaluations. It can be a bit confusing to compare the 280 hp, 3.5L V6 results from MSP to the 305 hp, 3.7L V6 results from the LASD. The 3.7L Utility PI was about as fast to 60 mph as the 3.5L Utility PI, and about 1/2 second quicker to 100 mph. What most people don’t know is that the MSP tests are run empty (no cargo), while the crossovers and SUVs tested by the LASD have 400 pounds of ballast (cargo) in the back! The sedans run without cargo.

No decision has been made yet by Ford, but with the 3.7L V6, the Utility PI with 400 pounds of cargo is as fast as the empty 3.5L V6 Utility PI tested earlier by the PAB—and that was perfectly acceptable for the majority of PAB test drivers. (Yes, a few PAB members still hold out a glimmer of hope for the 350 hp, twin turbo version on the 3.5L V6, the EcoBoost engine used in the Taurus SHO.)

So far in the development (and the process is still continuing), the Utility PI accelerates much, much faster than the old Explorer SSV, and it accelerates faster than the current Ford CVPI. With the 3.5L V6, the Utility PI (empty) is quicker around a road course than the Ford CVPI (empty). With the 3.7L V6, the fully loaded Utility PI is as quick around a road course as the empty Ford CVPI.


The Utility PI will come standard as an All-Wheel Drive—a must-have for most police use involving a crossover. Front Wheel Drive will be available as a for-credit option to lower the base cost. According to Ford Fleet, the Utility PI with AWD has “moderate off-road capability.”

The Utility PI will use the same AWD system as the retail Flex, retail Taurus and NextGen Ford (Sedan) Police Interceptor. This AWD system is completely automatic and requires no input from the driver. Torque automatically shifts to whichever of the four wheels have traction.

During normal driving, the new retail Explorer AWD defaults to Front Wheel Drive operation. As the system detects slip, some or all of the power is transferred to the rear wheels. For better durability, the AWD transfer case is water-cooled, and the unit uses synthetic oil.

The new Utility PI will have a sand/snow lower radiator shield and an engine-transaxle skid plate either standard or optional. For better high-speed handling, the ride height of the police Utility PI is expected to be slightly lower than the new retail Explorer. This is only due to the lower profile tires on the police version.

Exactly How Tough Is It?

The old Explorer SSV used a truck-like SUV chassis, while the new retail Explorer and police Utility PI have a car-like crossover chassis. Specifically, the new Explorer is built on the D4 car platform, the same platform as the Ford Flex. Internal platform codes aside, the new Explorer moves from a Rear Wheel Drive, body-on-frame truck chassis to a FWD-AWD, unibody car chassis.

Any change from a truck platform to a car platform raises the question, “Will the new Utility PI be durable enough—tough enough—for police work like the old Explorer SSV?” The old Explorer was a Special Service Vehicle (SSV), meaning it did not have a police package. The outgoing vehicle was basically a de-contented retail vehicle, and it successfully completed durability testing for retail vehicles.

Like all automakers, Ford has many different tests for durability. For its police vehicles, Ford runs the standard battery of durability and reliability tests—the tests run on all retail vehicles. The police vehicle must first pass all the tests for a retail vehicle. The best kept secret in the automotive circles is that Ford’s initial quality and customer satisfaction equals that of Toyota and beats Honda, making Ford tied for the best in the retail world.

On police package vehicles, after passing all retail durability tests, Ford then repeats these same tests. Run the Boston marathon, get a drink of water, and immediately run the Boston marathon again. This second durability test has no effect on the vast majority of parts, but some parts are definitely identified as needing to be upgraded. Expect the new, police-spec Utility PI to be as tough as, and perhaps tougher than in some areas, the old, retail-spec Explorer.

The whole time, Ford’s test drivers are tweaking the suspension (springs, shocks and valving, anti-sway bars, bushing durometer) for police use. Likewise, the police-specific electronic stability control settings are developed—less restrictive than retail, but still maintaining control of the vehicle in panic situations.

The Utility PI will be pursuit-rated, making it the only pursuit-capable, All Wheel Drive or 4x4 crossover-SUV available. At Ford, the terms “police package” or “pursuit rated” mean the vehicle has been tested in high energy rear crashes and designed to prevent fuel leaks in the event of such crashes.

Earliest Driving Impressions

At different stages of new police vehicle development, Ford allows certain groups of people to test drive the work-in-progress vehicle on Ford’s proving grounds or similar locations: the PAB members and EVOC drivers from the MSP and LASD-LAPD. This serves as a gut-check from people outside Ford, but trusted by Ford.

The earliest experience the PAB had was in an internally shrouded and externally photo-camouflaged FWD Explorer powered by the 265 hp, 3.5L iVCT V6. This old-generation engine would never be a production engine in the Utility PI. Ford Fleet made that crystal clear. The 280 hp, 3.5L Ti-VCT V6 was always planned for the Explorer. The old engine was just used to allow early driving impressions.

Even at this very early stage, and even in a FWD vehicle, the prototype had excellent handling—minimum body roll, minimum understeer—because it was no longer a high roll center SUV! It felt quite balanced for a FWD vehicle. In fact, even when pushed a bit, it did not “feel” like a FWD vehicle. Early on, the Utility PI handled as well and felt as stable as the Ford CVPI.

However, the PAB members were concerned about the engine performance, even though this assessment was specifically not supposed to be part of the “driving impressions.” But the topic was nonetheless raised. The PAB members were united on the point that the Utility PI had to be a lot faster than what the 265 hp, 3.5L engine could deliver. And the answer was already in the works: the Ti-VCT version of the 3.5L V6 with more horsepower and torque over the entire rpm band.

Take Two

Hundreds of design and development changes later, the Ford PAB members had a no-holds-barred chance to drive a pre-production Utility PI at Grattan. The powertrain-drivetrain part of the vehicle, including the correct 280 hp, 3.5L Ti-VCT V6, was about 95 percent production-ready. The police suspension part—the brakes, springs/shocks and wheels/tires—was about 85 percent complete.

To answer the Ford Fleet question, “So, how are we doing?” the AWD Utility PI was thrashed to the limit by members of the PAB, MSP and LASD on the wide open race track. To keep things in perspective, other police package sedans and SUVs from Ford and competitors were driven at the same time.

Even though the Utility PI was not fully developed, the consensus was the handling and brakes were fully up to the police duty. The brakes were never in question. The AWD drivetrain was, however, in question as it was new to pursuit-level driving. And it proved to make a huge improvement during hard driving. The AWD Utility PI actually feels better than any RWD sedan. The front wheels pull the crossover through the turns, and the rear wheels push it.

This superior handling is, of course, in addition to the traction advantages under poor road conditions—rain, snow, slush, sand, grass, gravel. The AWD allowed the Utility PI to be driven deeply into turns. Instead of the miserable understeer so typical of a FWD vehicle, the AWD simply pulled the Utility PI out of the corner.

The AWD version of the Utility PI had excellent handling. Actually, all things considered, the handling was better than excellent. The superior handling of the car/crossover platform over the SUV/truck platform was immediately obvious. During aggressive, emergency driving (pushing the vehicle as hard as possible, like a qualifying run for a race), it felt like you were driving a police sedan, not a high-roll-center SUV.

On the Racetrack

At the end of the main straight at Grattan, the 3.5L V6 Utility PI reached just over 105 mph. The transition from this Wide Open Throttle to near-ABS braking for the hard right-hand turn was well-mannered with minimal nose dive and no throttle-off oversteer. The initial turn-in was precise and predictable.

Minimal body roll. Much less jounce and squirm. Much less wallow and wiggle. The Utility PI was easy to drive hard. No oversteer. No understeer. Just a confidence-inspiring, neutral balance. On the rough and rolling parts of the track, the Utility PI was very controlled. No drama.

The electric power assisted steering (EPAS) on the AWD Utility PI gave excellent steering response. The EPAS had a great on-center feel and a more precise response in the S-curve transition (left-right-left-right) than the other police-oriented SUVs. The Utility PI did well in both accident avoidance drills (sudden lane change) and in highway speed evasive maneuvers (sudden lane change, then change back).

Enough Power Now?

How about the power from the stronger 280 hp, 3.5L Ti-VCT engine? The consensus was that the performance was actually “okay” in an empty crossover. However, a question mark still existed for patrol use when fully loaded. The overall acceleration/braking/cornering performance from an empty vehicle is totally different from the same vehicle loaded to its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).

Ford’s goal has always been to have the Utility Police Interceptor, when fully upfitted and realistically loaded, to match or exceed the performance of a similarly loaded Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. It is not good enough for the new Utility PI to be faster than the last generation Explorer SSV. The goal of the Utility PI is not to replace the Explorer SSV. The goal is to take some of the Ford CVPI market share.

Excellent Handling Confirmed

The adequate power and incredible handling of the Utility PI was first confirmed at the MSP tests and again later at the LASD-LAPD tests. Around the Grattan road course in Michigan, the 280 hp V6 prototype Utility PI had much quicker lap times than the 320 hp Tahoe PPV. In fact, the 2-second difference on a 2.0-mile road course works out to a 10-car-length advantage over the Tahoe. At Grattan, the Ford Utility PI was exactly as fast around the circuit as the Ford CVPI.

Between the MSP tests and the LASD tests, Ford dropped the larger 3.7L V6 from the new Mustang into the Utility PI. Around the Fontana road course in California, the 305 hp V6 prototype again had quicker lap times than the Tahoe. The 2.8-second advantage on a 1.5-mile course is a 12-car-length lead.

The overall assessment of the Utility PI, as we last left it with the 3.5L V6? It will match the acceleration to 100 mph of the Ford CVPI. It handles better than the Ford CVPI, really. The Utility PI has fantastic brakes—plenty of braking power for numerous hard laps around a difficult road racing course.

2011 Retail is Not 2012 Police

One huge caveat: You cannot drive a retail 2011 Explorer, which is in production now, and get an accurate assessment of the 2012 Utility Police Interceptor. The retail Explorer has a center console and floor-shifter, while the Utility PI will have a column-mounted shift lever. The Utility PI will accelerate faster—or a lot faster—and have a much higher top speed.

The Utility PI will have pursuit-oriented brake pads. It will also handle much better, because it will be slightly lowered and have police-spec tires, brakes and suspension and police-tuned stability control.

The Utility Police Interceptor has police sedan acceleration, braking and cornering; SUV-like cargo capacity; and V6 fuel economy. Ford is developing the Utility PI to do everything the Ford CVPI can do, only better, and things the Ford CVPI could never do (think AWD). At this stage in its development, the Utility PI is almost there.

The transition from retail to police has taken two major steps (with countless smaller steps along the way): first, all the changes that Ford would make to any police package vehicle based on its 60-year experience, and second, vehicle-specific changes based on opinions by some of the nation’s fleet managers and EVOC instructors. All that brings us to the 305 hp, 3.7L Ti-VCT engine dropped in the Utility PI for the LASD-LAPD tests. Stay tuned…the development of the Utility Police Interceptor continues!

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jan/Feb 2011

Rating : 9.0

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explorer that doesn't explore

Posted on : Jun 17 at 12:44 PM By trials driver

I had the opportunity to be a trial driver for the new ford explorer all wheel drive (non turbo) pursuit rated suv. The explorer instantly sank into the sand and would not break free. our expedition (tried and true) had to winch the explorer out of the sand over and over. The explorers small 305 hp engine would not even turn the tires. the computer continuously shut the transmission down.

Driving the Tahoe was amazing compared to the explorer.....BUT the Tahoe still did not compare to special utility vehicle such as the expedition which seems to not be able to get stuck.


Posted on : Apr 16 at 2:28 PM By S. Spangler

No offense, Mr. Chinn, but if you purchased a 2011 retail Explorer to use as a police car, your agency needs to farm out its fleet responsibiilities. The Ford sedan and utility vehicles are 2012 models. Of course no one is going to have anything available for them yet because THEYRE NOT AVAILABLE YET!

2011 Retail is not Police

Posted on : Mar 21 at 1:30 PM By Charles Chinn

We were so impressed with the 2006 Ford Explorer that we purchased a 2011 Ford Explorer. Big MISTAKE! No one makes any equipment to fit the 2011 Explorer. No consoles, partitions, lights or anything else. We now have a brand new 2011 Ford Explorer to park in the garage and look at.

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