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2011 Michigan State Police Tests: The Battle of the NextGen Vehicles

Written by Law and Order Staff

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” The new 2011 Caprice PPV picked up right where the old 1996 Caprice LT1 left off by sweeping the annual Michigan State Police (MSP) patrol vehicle evaluations. Of the released- for-production vehicles, the Caprice had the fastest acceleration, highest top speed, shortest stopping distances and quickest road racing lap times. “Communication– ergonomics” ratings and fuel economy estimates are pending.

Each year since the 1978 models, the Michigan State Police has tested a variety of police package (pursuit capable) patrol vehicles. These annual tests include acceleration to 100 mph, absolute top speed, braking from 60 mph after brake warm-up, road racing course lap times, an ergonomic and communications installation review, and EPA fuel economy ratings.

The acceleration, top speed and braking phases are conducted at Chrysler’s Proving Grounds near Chelsea, Mich. The vehicle dynamics testing is performed on the 2-mile road course at Grattan Raceway near Grand Rapids, Mich.

This year, the battle of the NextGen vehicles, the MSP tested 11 police package sedans and three police package SUVs/crossovers. The MSP did not test any special service package (not intended for pursuit) vehicles like the 4x4 Tahoe, Expedition or Suburban, and it did not test any special service package pickups. This remains an emphasis that the special service package vehicles are not designed for, nor intended for, emergency or pursuit driving. Only the emergency-driving, pursuit-capable vehicles, identified as such by the respective carmakers, undergo MSP testing.

2011 Police Vehicles

The police package sedans included the 4.6L V8 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI) with the 3.27 axle ratio and the same car with a 3.55 axle ratio. This was the farewell run of the Ford CVPI. Production of the Ford CVPI will stop after August 2011.

The restyled-for-2011 Dodge Charger Pursuits were powered by the 5.7L HEMI V8 and the new Pentastar 3.6L V6. The Chevy Impala 9C1 with the 3.9L V6, the Chevy Tahoe PPV (2WD) with the 5.3L V8, and the new-for-2011 Chevy Caprice PPV with the 6.0L V8 were all run in both E85 and gasoline versions.

Ford ran four different prototype (not released for production) NextGen vehicles. It is common for a manufacturer to have the MSP formally test upcoming police vehicles right along with all of the other test cars. This gives the carmaker apples-to-apples test results under the same track and weather conditions and with the same drivers for direct comparison purposes.

The four Ford test vehicles were the Sedan Police Interceptor based on the Taurus platform in 3.5L V6 FWD, 3.5L V6 AWD and 3.5L turbocharged (EcoBoost) V6 AWD, and the Utility Police Interceptor based on the Explorer platform in 3.5L V6 AWD.

The test results of these 2012 model year prototypes officially do not exist. While the acceleration, top speed, braking and lap times are clear for all to see during the testing, so is the caveat that these are prototypes. The performance of the prototype 2012 vehicles is only an indication of the performance of the production 2012 vehicles, and nothing more. Expect the great performance to stay about the same; expect not-so-great performance to improve.

Detailed coverage of the new Chevy Caprice PPV, Ford Utility Police Interceptor and Dodge Charger Pursuit is available in the September-October 2010 issue of Police Fleet Manager and the October 2010 issue of LAW and ORDER. Click on Resources and then Article Archives at www.hendonpub.com.

Acceleration

The acceleration is recorded in 10 mph increments from 20 mph to 100 mph. The score for the event, however, is based on the zero-to-100-mph times. The tests are conducted slicktop, with no spotlights and with two troopers on board.

Of all the 2011 models, the fastest accelerating sedan was the Chevy Caprice 6.0L V8 with E85 and with gasoline. The Caprice reached 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and 100 mph in 14.6 seconds. The 5.7L HEMI V8 Dodge Charger was close behind the Caprice with a 6.2-second time for the 60 mph and a 15.0-second time for the 100 mph times.

Of the rest of the V6 and V8 sedans, the Impala 3.9L and the Charger 3.6L were door handle to door handle, with the slightest advantage to the Impala. Both of these V6 sedans were faster than the V8 Ford CVPI in either rear axle ratio. The 2WD Tahoe, the only current pursuit-rated SUV or crossover, got to 60 mph and 100 mph clearly faster than the V6 sedans and the Ford CVPI. From the Chrysler camp—expect the Charger V6 to accelerate faster by the time the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department tests the car.

What might the future hold from Ford? Expect the twin turbo Sedan Police Interceptor to run right with the Caprice 6.0L and the Charger 5.7L. Just an unofficial 1/2-second to 100 mph separated these three new sedans. Expect the Sedan Police Interceptor in both FWD and AWD to clearly lead the pack of other V6 sedans. From the Ford camp—expect the Utility Police Interceptor to accelerate like the Tahoe, well ahead of the Ford CVPI.

Top Speed

The second MSP test is top speed. At the end of the last acceleration run, the MSP troopers continued to accelerate the car around the 4.7-mile oval until they hit the electronic top speed limiter or the vehicle obviously stopped accelerating. All police and special service vehicles are electronically speed limited for reasons that include tire speed ratings, but not all vehicles actually reach that preset, limited speed.

The Chevy Caprice 6.0L V8 (both fuel versions) turned in the highest top speed at 148 mph. The Charger 5.7L reached 146 mph. An option on the HEMI Charger electronically limits the top speed to 132 mph.

The 3.9L Impala reached 139 mph, while the Charger 3.6L was limited to 130 mph. (Expect the Charger’s top speed limiter to be raised to 140 mph by the time the Charger is produced in January 2011.) The 3.27-geared CVPI ran 129 mph, while the 3.55-geared Ford CVPI is limited to 119 mph for reasons of driveshaft harmonics.

The shocker of the top speed tests was the 2WD Tahoe PPV. Chevy chose the MSP tests to reveal that it has bumped the top speed of the Tahoe to 139 mph! You say that you want a V8, body-on-frame, RWD vehicle that holds more than the Ford CVPI and goes a lot faster?

Among the unofficial results, all three versions of the Ford Sedan Police Interceptor hit their 131 mph speed limiter, and the Utility Police Interceptor hit its 119 mph speed limiter. Ford is clearly not showing all its cards! Gee, how fast will a Taurus SHO go?

A side note on these top speed tests: The police department may not see the same top speeds from the in-service car as these cars achieve during testing. The fully upfitted patrol car weighs much more than these cars as tested. The addition of spotlights and lightbars adds aerodynamic drag, and so does the addition of a front push bumper.

In some cases, depending on the extra weight and aerodynamic load, the car may or may not shift into the gear producing the most top speed, or it may select a certain gear, hit the engine rpm limiter, and shut off without upshifting. If your department has a specific top speed the vehicle must reach, put it in the bid spec.

Braking

The MSP braking protocol involves two 90-mph, full-pedal stops to warm the brakes, followed by six 60-mph, full-pedal stops for score. After a heat soak period, these two 90-mph and six 60-mph stops are repeated. The best 10 out of 12 stops from 60 mph are averaged for the final deceleration rate. This braking rate is converted to a projected stopping distance from 60 mph.

The best braking performance came from the new Chevy Caprice PPV. At just 128.3 feet, the big Caprice stopped 5 feet shorter than the Charger V6, 6 feet shorter than the Charger V8, more than 11 feet shorter than the Impala and 13 feet shorter than the Ford CVPI. The heavy Tahoe equaled the CVPI’s stopping distance.

And the upcoming crop of Ford Police Interceptors? They clearly appear to be solid, first-in-class brake contenders among both sedans and crossover SUVs. Under this protocol, stopping distances longer than 135 feet just won’t cut it.

Heads-up: For the 2012 model year, the MSP is changing its brake test protocol. It will now be a 10-stop series of ABS braking from 60 mph starting with cold brakes. This will be repeated twice. This kind of testing more closely mirrors actual pursuit conditions where the police vehicle involved in the pursuit starts off with patrol temperature (cool) brakes. The testing will show braking performance as heat is steadily added to the braking system.

Road Course

The Grattan Raceway is a 2-mile, 13-turn road-racing course with a 3,200-foot front straightaway. By the end of the straight, for example, the Ford CVPI 4.6L reached 110 mph and the Charger 5.7L reached 120 mph. The course also has a number of twists and off-camber turns. On some parts of the track, the cars get nearly airborne while on other sections of track the suspension almost completely bottoms out. Each car is driven eight laps by four different MSP troopers from the Precision Driving Unit. The fastest five laps are averaged for the final score.

The road course times are the best overall assessment of the police vehicle. The road course incorporates acceleration, braking and cornering all into one number. A shortcoming in any one area will show up in the lap times. The separate tests for acceleration and braking simply identify the lacking area that the road course times tell us exists somewhere.

On the road course, the fastest police package vehicle was the Chevy Caprice PPV 6.0L V8. As big as a Ford CVPI, as fast as a Camaro. Enough said.

Here is the head-scratcher: The fast accelerating HEMI Charger and the slow accelerating Charger V6 were tied for second on the road course. That’s right. The Charger 5.7L and the Charger 3.6L had identical lap times. Both were about six car-lengths behind the Caprice. In spite of the Charger V6 having only modest acceleration, it had excellent brakes and outstanding handling. It was one of only two sedans about which the MSP test drivers openly remarked, “Amazing vehicle.”

According to Chrysler Fleet, the Charger 5.7L was later discovered to have a wiring harness problem that retarded the ignition under certain conditions. This was masked during the pure acceleration run but was evident on the road course with the frequent upshifts and downshifts. On the other hand, they also know there are no do-overs. What would Richard Petty do? Again, wait until the LASD tests.

About eight car-lengths after the two Chargers came the Ford CVPI (3.55) and CVPI (3.27). Another nine car-lengths back were the Impala and Tahoe. (The Tahoe nearly equaled the Impala in road course times.)

And what might we see from the stillunder- development 2012 vehicles from Ford? The twin turbo Sedan Police Interceptor could very well outrun even the Caprice. Yeah, this EcoBoost sedan was the other “amazing vehicle.” The naturally aspirated Sedan Police Interceptor 3.5L V6 in AWD may be on par with the Charger 3.6L V6, and the FWD Sedan Police Interceptor may be more than a match for the Impala.

As for the 2012 Ford Utility Police Interceptor, expect that the outstanding brakes, acceptable acceleration (when empty) and a platform with excellent handling will yield lap times significantly better than the Tahoe. And, expect the Utility Police Interceptor to lap the Grattan road course faster than the Ford CVPI.

Again, special service package vehicles such as the Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4 and Ford Expedition are not tested on the road course. This, in addition to clear and frequent written disclaimers from each manufacturer, is to emphasize that these vehicles are not intended for highspeed, pursuit-style driving.

Fuel Economy

The Michigan State Police bases its fuel economy rating on the EPA City mileage results. Fuel economy matters now more than ever. Because fuel economy is a tangible cost, unlike acceleration to 100 mph, for example, some fleet managers consider this operating expense on equal footing with the initial expense of the vehicle. They are not going to spend a $0.15/gallon difference for a car that runs on premium fuel.

Yet selecting a patrol vehicle with a 1.7-mpg difference in mileage is (cost-wise) the same as selecting an engine that runs on premium fuel. Of course, expect 15% to 20% less mileage when running on E85 ethanol, so to break even, E85 must cost 15% to 20% less.

The Winners

Fleet managers divide police cars into so many categories, it is impossible to identify any one car as a “winner” based on the NIJ-funded MSP tests. Across the nation, fleet bid categories are subdivided into FWD and RWD, into V6 and V8, etc. The “winning” car, the car with the best overall performance, may be the best V6 powered sedan, or the best RWD sedan, or the best V8 RWD sedan.

If some of the artificial bid distinctions are removed, and instead the term “police package sedan” is used, an overall winner is obvious. The new Chevy Caprice has the fastest acceleration, the highest top speed, the shortest braking distances and the quickest road course times. While the “communication– ergonomic” ratings from the MSP were not released by press time, the Caprice has the largest combined passenger and trunk volume of any sedan. The larger size has weighed heavily in the past for favorable ratings.

For its part, regardless of vehicle platform, the MSP is careful to point out that these tests (the minimums, the maximums and the category weights) are all designed for the way the MSP uses its highway patrol vehicles. Other departments will certainly use their vehicles in a different way, and this should put a different emphasis on the test results.

The MSP weighs the six test phases to suit the needs of a state police or highway patrol. The needs of city and county law enforcement agencies are probably very different. While subtle changes have taken place from time to time, the MSP typically weighs the tests as 30% for the road course, 20% for acceleration, 20% for braking, 15% for top speed, 10% for ergonomics and 5% for fuel economy. These numbers are plugged into a bid adjustment formula available at the NLECTC Web site.

Different weightings may be selected. For example, an urban department may want to emphasize fuel economy, ergonomics and braking while deemphasizing road course, acceleration and top speed. Because most bids are close, this change in weighting may point to a different “most bang for the buck” police vehicle.

Photos by Larry R. Lee.

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2010

Rating : 9.7


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