What this country needs is a big, low-cost, economical to operate, four-door sedan. At least, that is what most police fleets need for their admin staff and detectives. Admin cars, while low profile compared to the patrol sedans, still represent a significant part of the police fleet. Admin, detective-investigator and similar low cost, light duty cars make up 20% to 30% of a police fleet.
This ideal admin sedan doesn’t need to have a heavy-duty police package, but it must have all the modern safety features. It should be an EPA classified Large Car, i.e., big enough interior passenger room for big, burly detectives and a big enough trunk for all kinds of investigative stuff.
It should get great gas mileage. Maybe it should have a small V-6 for the absolute cheapest way to move people around in an urban environment. Maybe a large V-6 should be an option if the sedan spends much time on the highways and interstates.
Safety? It should have every safety feature available, period. That means ABS, emergency brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, all-speed traction control, stability control and side air bags or side air curtains. As long as we are dreaming, most cops would want the sedan to be rear-wheel drive.
It would be nice if this large “econo” sedan were from a manufacturer already producing police cars. That makes the service, parts, tech support and maintenance go a lot more smoothly. And above all, as the absolute top priority, this people-moving sedan has got to be cheap, i.e., far less initial cost than a typical police sedan.
Lots of 4-door sedans meet EPA Large Car standards: Ford Crown Victoria, Ford Five Hundred, Chevrolet Impala and Dodge Charger. However, not many of these sedans are priced in the $15K bracket. And that price is what makes the Dodge Charger with the detective-admin package stand out. It may be the lowest cost of any detective-class, full-size sedan.Base Sedan
The admin-oriented Charger is priced three ways. First, the Basic Package. This has the 190 hp, 2.7L DOHC V-6, 4-speed automatic and power about everything. This government people-mover is priced around $15,700.
The base Charger has a 140 amp alternator and 600 CCA battery. It has a “touring” suspension and brakes. This is not a police package, nor a special service package. Instead, it’s a fleet-oriented, government-service-oriented sedan. Part of the retail/street appearance equipment are full wheel covers, full carpet and cloth bucket seats with a center console including floor shifter. (Any credible upfitter can mount the needed radio gear in or under the console.)
While not a Hemi®, the 190 hp, 2.7L V-6 in the Charger has a similar power to weight ratio as the 160 hp, 3.0L V-6 in the current Taurus and the 160 hp, 3.1L V-6 in the old Lumina. The 2.7L V-6 engine uses a Double Over Head Cam (DOHC) valvetrain to make the most of the engine size. It is teamed with a 4-speed automatic overdrive trans. Pursuit-performance is not the goal here. Economical people-moving is. And the 2.7L, V-6 is EPA rated at 21 mpg city. The 2.7L V-6 is only available to fleets and is simply not available at the retail level.
The base Charger, even in low trim level, is still a full-size car with a 120-inch wheelbase, a 104 cubic foot interior space (same as the Impala and Taurus) and a 16.2-cubic-foot trunk. The interior volume plus the trunk volume puts the Charger just inside the EPA full-size category. A full-size spare is available, and so is a spare delete. You do not want a full-size spare in a Charger! Self-sealing tires, which delete the spare for more room in the trunk, are also optional.
The admin Charger comes with steel wheels and street appearance wheel covers from the retail Charger SE. These actually look like mag wheels. In fact, some might think they look too good, so the smallish, police-oriented, dog dish hubcaps are also available.
The admin Charger uses exactly the same base trim level as the police package Charger. This comes from the low-trim version of the retail Charger SE. The grille treatment is body color, instead of chrome. The interior is mostly matte plastic (black or gray), instead of brushed aluminum. The admin car comes with carpeting, and cloth seats, front and rear.Safety and Performance Packages
Two packages are available for this admin-oriented Charger, one for safety and one for performance. The safety package includes four-channel ABS, all-speed traction control, electronic brake assist and electronic stability control. This package also comes with an eight-way adjustable power driver’s seat. The adder for this safety option, which should be a no-brainer, is about $545. Side (thorax) air bags are optional.
The Performance Package adds the 250 hp, 3.5L SOHC V-6 teamed with a 5-speed (Mercedes) automatic trans. This powertrain includes heavy-duty cooling, a 160 amp alternator and 730 CCA battery. This is essentially the drivetrain and electrical system used on the police package Chargers. The 250 hp, V-6 gives the Charger an overall performance similar to the 250 hp, V-8 in the Ford CVPI. This 3.5L, V-6 is rated at 19 mpg city. This upgrade, which also INCLUDES the safety package, is about $1,795.
Stability control and all the other electronic braking and traction safety systems are standard when the 3.5L V-6 is ordered, but optional on the 2.7L V-6. The eight-way power seat is optional on both the 2.7L and 3.5L V-6, but included in the fleet safety-security group, i.e., stability control. Either way, side curtain air bags are optional.
Our Charger test car had both the Safety (stability control) and the Performance (250 hp V-6) Packages, and had a price as-tested of $17,495.250 hp, 3.5L DOHC V-6
Our earlier driving experience with the 3.5L V-6 in the first LX platform car was a bit misleading. The driving was in the slightly heavier Dodge Magnum with four adults on board. We are sticking with the earlier impression...the 3.5L V-6 is adequate only for a fully-loaded Magnum. However, in the slightly lighter Charger, with only one or two adults, the 3.5L V-6 is a perfectly fine powerplant, not only for detective and admin use, but also for general, uniform patrol.
The Charger’s 3.5L V-6 produces 250 hp, just like the 4.6L V-8 in the Ford CVPI. With just a driver and minimum cop gear, both the 250 hp, 3.5L DOHC V-6 Charger and the 250 hp, 4.6L SOHC V-8 Ford CVPI perform about the same. However, the Dodge engine produces 250 lb-ft of torque compared with 297 lb-ft from the larger Ford engine. The difference in torque means the performance from the smaller engine is more sensitive to loads and cargo.
Based on the Michigan State Police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff vehicle tests, the 3.5L Charger hits 60 mph in 8.6 to 8.9 seconds. With the addition of passengers or heavy cargo, the Charger’s performance drops off in comparison to an equally loaded Ford CVPI. With one or two detectives or administrators on board, the 250 hp V-6 Charger delivers plenty of performance. Ergonomics
The Charger’s doors swing widely open, and the entrance and exit is easy. The front leg, hip, shoulder and headroom feel similar to the Ford CVPI. After all, the Charger is a full-size car! The admin Charger comes only with a center console, a floor shifter and two cup holders. The seat-belt receptacle can actually be reached when in plain clothes...not so much with a gun belt.
DaimlerChrysler calls the seats “minimal,” and they certainly are. And they have a definite “Euro” firmness. Give it a test-sit and decide for yourself. Frankly, we did not like the seats at all. While the manual seat adjusts for legroom, fully reclines and has a manual lumbar, it does not adjust for height. Detective and administrators of a shorter stature will almost certainly need the height adjustment from the power seat.
Rear seat room on all police cars is controversial and perhaps confusing. Some fleet managers don’t care about rear seat room. Some managers factor a prisoner partition into the equation...obviously not an issue on most detective and admin cars. With the driver’s seat adjusted for a 6’4” officer, another 6’4” officer easily got in the rear seat and was comfortable. To be sure, this is a four-passenger car, not five.Driving Impressions
We drove this admin sedan in the weather typical of the Midwest in winter: ice, snow, sleet, slush, rain and dry...all mixed together. It was under these conditions that the Electronic Stability Program (stability control) proved to be a genuine safety feature.
The average patrol officer, detective and police administrator is not an EVOC instructor. As such, we want the car to correct excessive understeer and excessive oversteer by itself, if it can, under emergency situations. DaimlerChrysler’s stability control does just that...and it does it faster and more reliably than your best EVOC instructor.
In terms of braking, the 3.5L Charger stopped in the shortest distance of any sedan tested by the Michigan State Police at 130.1 feet from 60 mph after a severe brake warm-up.
The top speed on the detective-class Charger is limited to 115 mph. This is not a pursuit car. It comes with T-rated (118 mph) tires. As a detective-class vehicle, per the Southwest Conference of Mayors bid, this fleet-oriented Charger is not intended for pursuit or extended patrol. If you want a pursuit car, the police package Hemi® Charger reaches 60 mph in 6 seconds and has a top speed of 150 mph. Of course, it costs more and uses a lot more gas!
The tires were 17-inch ContiTouringContact with the Conti-Seal. These are self-sealing with up to a ¼-inch puncture. When was the last time a detective or administrator changed a flat? The car comes with a space-saver spare but none is really needed. That space might be better used for communications gear.
When you test drive a Charger, pay special attention to the Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH). You may find this sedan has much lower NVH than some of the other sedans you have used and might be considering for admin. We certainly did.
We drove the admin-package Charger for a week and put 1,000 miles on it under a combination of urban, rush-hour gridlock, suburban stop-and-go traffic, and high-speed interstate. We did no patrol and no traffic enforcement. The average fuel economy was exactly 19 mpg.
The 3.5L Charger was great in urban and suburban settings...no down sides at all. In this kind of a jurisdiction, the 2.7L V-6 would have actually worked just fine and delivered even better mileage. During rural driving, the passing performance from the 3.5L V-6 on two-lane roads was okay but could be better. In this kind of patrol jurisdiction, the 2.7L V-6 would not be the best choice.
On the interstates, the 3.5L V-6 got up to speeds on the entrance ramps just fine and cruised effortlessly. Again, the 2.7L V-6 will have to work pretty hard on entrance ramps and higher speed roads.
We found the Charger to be easily maneuverable in urban traffic, side streets and alleys. While the seats are not as wide and deep as the other two police sedans, detectives and admin officers don’t wear large, gear-stuffed duty belts. The seats are definitely questionable in full patrol uniform use but probably adequate for plain-clothes use.
The 3.5L V-6 Charger has enough interior room, reasonable performance, an acceptable trunk and excellent fuel economy. No other police sedan on the market has the safety of stability control. And, this detective-admin package is relatively inexpensive.Exit of the Taurus
In the end, it all boils down to price, especially for a nonperformance sedan for detectives and admin. The Ford Five Hundred is an excellent choice as an admin car but might be a bit pricey, i.e., pretty close to a Ford CVPI. The Ford Fusion is closer to the full-size Taurus in price point, but the Fusion is only a mid-size car, and it has its limited interior space further taken up by a floor console.
The Chevy Impala is also an excellent choice as an admin car. It even comes with a street appearance, heavy-duty, police package. A non-police version is available with a very economical 3.5L V-6, which gets 21 mpg city, and this same 3.5L V-6 is also available as compatible with E85 ethanol.
Two features would make the Charger even more attractive to government fleets. First, the availability of a FlexFuel or E85 powertrain. The Charger’s 2.7L V-6 engine, when installed in the Dodge Stratus, is E85-rated. That should be an alternate fuel option in the Charger, especially the low cost government-oriented fleet Chargers.
The other feature the fleet Charger needs is the availability of a brown, tan or gold color. Blue, black and white cover the vast majority of police departments, but some sort of gold is needed to cover many of the sheriffs departments across the United States.
With the exit of the Taurus, a big hole exists in the detective-admin aspect of police fleet management. Whatever car fills that gap must do what the Taurus did...be large enough for cops, be economical enough to operate, and be very, very inexpensive to buy. Based on this, the new, definitive detective-admin car might be the Dodge Charger. Bid them all and see.Southwest Conference of Mayors
This particular detective-admin sedan is the result of a cooperative effort between the Southwest Conference of Mayors and Thomas Dodge. The Southwest Council of Mayors represents 21 communities in southwest Cook County (Chicago), IL with a population in excess of 350,000 people. They purchase 250 police and admin sedans, wagons and SUVs a year. Thomas Dodge
of Orland Park, IL supplies police package, special service package, heavy service package and fleet package police vehicles to agencies from coast to coast and border to border.
PFM spoke with Victoria Matyas-Smith, the executive director of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. After a week with the admin package Charger, this is what she had to say:
For a stripped down cop car, this is pretty loaded. It has nice features. We are not necessarily looking for the lowest dollar vehicle, but the best vehicle for that dollar.
The Charger is roomy; it is a very roomy car. The trunk is huge. It is quiet and rides very well.
I attended the DaimlerChrysler Ride & Drive when it came to the Chicagoland area. What a difference the stability control had on the simulated pursuit course!
There is a difference between a joint purchasing program and a cooperative purchase. With the joint purchase, my staff has to do the paperwork. With the coop purchase, the dealer does all the paperwork.
This is the first time our group tried anything like this. The dealer made it easy.
I hope other towns and municipalities will look into this kind of cooperative purchase.
Don’t simply default to the state bid. The state may not have bid a vehicle that matches your need. Closely read the bid! You may find unusual clauses and options. Perhaps the sedan requires an E85 powertrain. Or twin spotlights. Or a full-size spare. Or the requirement to pass the annual Michigan State Police or Los Angeles County Sheriff vehicle tests. Or traction control delete. Or the police package was bid, but nothing else. Or perhaps the vehicles was not even bid at all!
If you belong to a major, statewide police organization or association, don’t be afraid to approach a fleet-oriented dealer in your state and ask for something that your state bid does not offer. You CAN make your own deal.All photos courtesy of Victoria Matyas-Smith with the Southwest Conference of Mayors and the Purdue University Police Department.