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Preview: Ford Utility Interceptor

Written by PFM Staff

Mid-size SUV? Full-size crossover? Full-size crossover SUV? Maybe a seven-passenger utility? Whatever you decide to call it, Ford is calling it the Utility Police Interceptor. And the Utility PI is very much in the hunt for the Ford CVPI volumes when it goes away after August 2011. By the way, the last date to order the Ford CVPI is March 1, 2011. The Ford Sedan Police Interceptor and the Utility Police Interceptor will be produced in late 2011 for delivery in early 2012.

The Utility PI, the second of Ford’s two Police Interceptors, is an excellent solution for officers who need to carry more gear in their police vehicles than can typically fit in a police sedan.

The big news is that the Utility Police Interceptor will be pursuit-rated. That will make the Utility PI the only pursuit-rated 4x4 SUV. (The pursuit-rated Chevy Tahoe only comes with Rear-Wheel Drive.) The top speed of the Utility PI is 120 mph. At Ford, the terms “police package” or “pursuit rated” mean the vehicle has been tested in high energy rear crashes, and is designed to prevent fuel leaks in the event of such crashes.

The formal police package for the Utility Police Interceptor, just like the NextGen Sedan Police Interceptor, is still under development. While they have both been formally “revealed,” both are still 2012 or 2013 model year police vehicles. However, even at this early stage, we know quite a bit about the Utility PI.

Car Chassis

First, the chassis or platform. The current Explorer has a more truck-like chassis, while the next generation retail Explorer and police Utility PI will have a more car-like chassis. The current Explorer is built on the U2 platform, designed for Ford’s mid-size SUVs. It is different from the T1 (Ford F-150) platform used for the full-size SUV, like the Expedition.

The new Explorer is built on the D4 car platform, the same platform as the Ford Flex. This is a modified version of the D3 platform, the Ford global full-size car platform. The D3 platform is used for the current retail Ford Taurus and Sedan Police Interceptor. Internal platform codes aside, the new Explorer moves from a Real-Wheel Drive, body-on-frame, truck chassis to a Front- Wheel Drive, unibody, car chassis.

The NextGen (Sedan) Police Interceptor and the Utility Police Interceptor have a slightly different wheelbase—the sedan is 0.3 inches longer—and the two have a very different track—the Utility PI is 1.5 inches wider. The front and rear suspension is virtually identical for the sedan and the Utility.

The Utility PI shares many driveline and powertrain parts with the NextGen (Sedan) Police Interceptor. This includes the 3.5L V6, 6-speed transmission and many suspension parts. The two Police Interceptors share electrical bus systems, 220 amp alternators and batteries. The Utility PI uses the same P245/55R18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires and wheels as the Sedan PI. The brakes are the same, but since the Utility PI is slightly heavier, the friction material in the pads will probably be different. The Sedan PI and the Utility PI also share service, maintenance and tech training.

In spite of the obvious external similarities to the retail Explorer, just like the Sedan Police Interceptor, the Utility Police Interceptor has literally hundreds of parts and processes different from the retail version of the same basic vehicle.

Old Explorer vs. New Explorer

The current Explorer uses an independent, short-long arm (SLA) front suspension and independent trailing blade SLA rear suspension. The upcoming Utility PI will use the same basic suspension as the new Explorer and current Flex and Taurus, i.e., a MacPherson strut (front) and multi-link independent (rear).

Regardless of the illusion from significant sheet metal differences, the new Explorer is very close in actual size to the old Explorer. The wheelbase on the new Explorer is about an inch shorter, 3.7-inches longer and 5.2- inches wider than the current Explorer. A key to excellent handling from the new Explorer is that the track is 6 inches wider. The front approach angle and the rear depart angle are a bit less for the new vehicle. And the ground clearance for the new retail vehicle is an inch less than the current one.

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. The new Utility PI will have a sand-snow lower radiator shield and an engine-transaxle skid plate that will be either standard or optional.

Interior Room

The exact police package for the Utility Police Interceptor is still under development. That means dimensions like head room, leg room, hip room and shoulder room for the Utility PI are also still under development. To the point, some occupant dimensions for the NextGen Sedan Police Interceptor are very different from the retail Taurus sedan. The same will be true of the Utility PI compared to the retail Explorer.

That said, the front seat and back seat headroom on the new 2011 retail Explorer is bigger than the old 2010 retail Explorer. The front leg room is smaller, but the rear leg room is bigger. Critical for officers in their duty belts, the front and rear seat hip room is bigger, and so is the front and rear seat shoulder room. The Utility PI is roomy and comfortable, even in full uniform, body armor and duty belt. The Utility PI and Sedan PI share the same police-specific, duty beltsculpted police seat.

The Utility PI has the kind of excellent outward visibility you expect from any crossover or SUV. The rear seats on the police vehicle do not have rear head rests. The current special service package Explorer has a center console mounted gear selector. The Utility Police Interceptor will have an instrument panel mounted shifter just like the Sedan Police Interceptor.

While the new retail Explorer is a 7 passenger SUV, the new Utility Police Interceptor will not have a third row seat. The Utility PI will be a 5-passenger SUV, with the space behind the second row seat open for cargo. The volume of the cargo space below the line of sight (not blocking vision out the rear glass) almost exactly equals the trunk space of the Ford CVPI (23.4 cf compared to 20.6 cf for the Ford CVPI trunk). The cargo volume behind the second seat, a critical area for law enforcement, is identical for the current Explorer and the new Explorer. The flat load floor on the new Utility PI is designed to haul 800 pounds of cargo.

Drivetrain

The Utility PI will come standard with Front-Wheel Drive, and All- Wheel Drive is definitely an option. For a department that buys the Utility PI only for the cargo space, the FWD base model might make sense. Of course, the vast number of Utility PI vehicles will be AWD. According to Ford Fleet, the Utility PI with AWD has “moderate offroad capability.”

The new retail Explorer has the option of Ford’s “Intelligent 4WD with Terrain Management System” developed for the Land Rover. However, the optional drivetrain on the Utility Police Interceptor will be the “Intelligent All-Wheel Drive.” The Land Rover-like Terrain Management System will not be available on the Utility PI.

Instead, the Utility PI will use the same AWD system used on the retail Flex, retail Taurus and the 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 4WD defaults to Front-Wheel Drive operation. As the system detects slip, power is transferred to the rear wheels. Normal operation with the AWD Utility PI will also be FWD unless the AWD feature is needed.

Durability of the AWD system in police use? After all, this will be the first pure AWD system ever used in police service. At Ford, the police package vehicles, sedans and SUVs all pass the retail durability tests performed twice. The police vehicles are run on the normal retail durability tests, then the go through the test again. For better durability, the AWD transfer case is water-cooled and the unit uses synthetic oil.

Powertrain

At the time of the “reveal,” the Utility PI is scheduled to come standard with the 280+ hp, 3.5L V6 bolted to a 6-speed transmission, already used in the Ford Flex, Ford Taurus and Ford Edge. In comparison, the current special service package Explorer 4.0L V6 produces 210 hp. (The 292 hp V8 4.6L engine is not available with the special service package in the current Explorer.)

The 3.5L V6 will be the new generation Twin Independent Variable Cam Timing (Ti-VCT) engine. This is an upgrade to the existing Intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT) engines. 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.

The 3.5L V6 in the next gen Utility PI is expected to get 20 percent better fuel economy in city driving and 30 percent better fuel economy in highway driving than the 4.0L V6 in the current Explorer. Some of the improved fuel economy is due to the smaller, more advanced V6, compared to the larger, current V6. Some of the improvement is due to the slightly lighter (about 100 pounds) new vehicle.

Compared to the current, special service package Explorer V6, the towing capacity of the new Utility Police Interceptor is the same. However, Ford Fleet repeatedly advised against using this pursuit-rated Utility PI as a tow vehicle. Instead, use an Expedition to tow.

The powertrain for the Utility PI is under development. The Michigan State Police and Los Angeles County Sheriff tests in late-2010 will be run with the 280+ hp 3.5L V6 announced at the September “reveal.” However, Ford Fleet is still developing the police package and considering a number of powertrain options and enhancements.

Ford is committed to having the Utility Police Interceptor, when fully upfitted and realistically loaded, match or exceed the performance of the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Many fleet managers are looking at the crossover Utility PI as a direct replacement for the outgoing Ford CVPI.

Ford’s rollout plan for both the Sedan Police Interceptor and the Utility Police Interceptor includes grassroots sessions and static displays across the country for the next few months. Early next year, Ford will begin a large number of Ride & Drives across the country. Watch for the full report on Driving Impressions in the next issue of Police Fleet Manager.

Photos by Brad Brewer.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Sep/Oct 2010

Rating : 10.0


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