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Chargers Take Vegas

Written by Russ Schanlaub

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway was host to the unveiling of the first production model 2006 Dodge police vehicles in mid-November. The reinventing of the Charger is in itself big news in the auto industry, a true American classic the Charger first hit the market in 1966 and became synonymous with the term “muscle car.” The Charger went on to become a favorite in the race circuit. Although the new Charger is much more refined than its predecessors, and it is a four-door sedan now instead of a two-door coupe, the powerhouse is still very much alive within.

The DaimlerChrysler officials invited police media for an afternoon at the speedway where they proudly displayed their finished products. Dodge’s Strip, Road and Track (SRT) professionals with help from the staff at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway arranged a short autocross-inspired track designed to show off the acceleration, handling, maneuverability and stopping power of the cars.

Drivers started the course with a hard right turn launch taking them directly into a three-cone slalom followed by an S-curve. Clearing the S-curve, drivers approached a straight stretch which allowed them to accelerate hard but offered an obstacle avoidance test in the roadway.

Next step on the course was a 90-degree left into the longest straightaway which was a seven-cone slalom course at the end of which was a 180-degree turn breaking into a double S-curve ending in the stop box, offering a chance to experience the stopping power of the Charger’s enhanced brake design. With the acceleration of the Hemi models it was possible to reach 60 miles per hour approaching the stop box and experience the estimated 131 feet 60 to 0 stopping capabilities.

The course did not allow for a test of the top end speeds, after all, 150 mph is just that. Instead, it provided ample opportunities to feel the car hold the roadway during hard acceleration, braking and turning, all resembling an abbreviated yet amplified version of what police cars may actually face on duty.

Driving through the S-curves and hairpin turns during acceleration allowed the Charger to show off the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and complementing traction of the specially designed ContiProContact tires. The awesome acceleration in the Hemi model was proof positive that the Charger’s “take-off” speeds live up to their reputation, however a driver was still hard pressed to force the car into even the slightest loss of traction.

The Hemi powered cars were as impressive as expected; there is certainly no shortage of power in acceleration. Administrators shouldn’t cringe at the thought of the Hemi’s powerhouse reputation, however; the sophisticated and refined technology provides for a very controlled and reasonable display of the power.

In short, there is plenty of power but certainly not too much of it. The 6-cylinder version of the cars were of course more mild in acceleration but certainly should not be considered any less of a vehicle in terms of the police need for take-off power.

Both the Charger and the Magnum held tight to the pavement steering through the slaloms and S-curves though the Charger seemed to have slightly more handling capabilities on the tightest of curves. Overall, every version of the Dodge police car was fast, smooth and tight through the circuit course.

Prior to the police media event the DaimlerChrysler SRT pros had hosted the mainstream media for the introduction of the civilian lineup. The gracious hosts allowed police media to experience the track with those “civilian” cars as well including none other than the high-performance flagship “Dodge Viper SRT 10” which was present in a hardtop and convertible model.

Unfortunately, pricing of the Viper is out of range for most police department budgets and the interior room would be detrimental to squad car needs, but driving such a powerhouse through this type of course is something every sports car or hot rod enthusiast should have the opportunity to experience, and with 510 horsepower, it was a first and second gear-only experience on the course.

Other SRT models were on display at the event including convertible and hardtop Chrysler Crossfire SRT6, which is reminiscent of the James Bond-type Aston Martin, and the newly designed Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 8 that looks and drives like an SUV with a racecar attitude.

Two different models of the full-size Dodge Ram truck were also available for testing; the quad-cab SRT 10 was impressive before even driving it with its 22-inch polished wheels and hood scoop featuring the “Viper Powered” logo. The Viper Powered 10-cylinder engine inside provides 500 horsepower of tire-smoking take-offs.

For the “street racer” fan, the redesigned Dodge Neon SRT 4 was present, offering a turbocharged engine which is one of the fastest Dodges ever made. The retail versions of the Charger and Magnum were available as well along with the more luxurious Chrysler 300 which, other than the obvious police design differences, were very similar to the police Charger and Magnum.

The Charger represents new competition in the area of rear-wheel drive sedans specifically designed for police use. The Charger offers stiff competition even with the standard 3.5-liter Magnum V-6 which produces the same 250 horsepower offered by the CVPI’s 4.6-liter engine, and according to the Michigan State Police tests, the same 8.9 second 0 to 60 speed, higher top end speed of 135 mph, and better fuel mileage of 19/27 compared to the CVPI’s 17/25.

Police agencies looking to enhance power can upgrade the Dodge Charger to include a 5.7-liter Hemi engine boasting 340 horsepower where the 0-60 mph time is cut to 6.5 seconds and the top end speed jumps to 150 mph. Even with the monster engine the fuel mileage is estimated at 17/25, equal to the Ford CVPI.

Some of the forward thinking in the Charger/Magnum police units seems to be as beneficial to upfitters and maintenance personnel as much as to officers. Charger and Magnum police cars come standard with wig wag headlights and flashing taillight units already installed, as well as wiring from the front bumper to the center console area with three 20-amp-fused battery feeds and three 20-amp-fused ignition feeds.

The center console area is fitted with an equipment mounting plate for mounting console units that saves installers from drilling holes into the floorboard, a task which carries horror stories from many jurisdictions. Another standard feature in this area is a grommet for feeding wires from under the hood to the passenger compartment of the car, sure to be an installer favorite.

Upfitting issues have been electronically problematic for all police cars for decades. The problems generally center around aftermarket installers tapping into the factory wiring harnesses and existing equipment to install a third party’s equipment.

With so many different hands in the operation there are bound to be electrical issues that the Charger designers have attempted to resolve through a universal control system, a specially designed module and software unit located in the car. Upfitters simply tie their equipment into the module to enable the vehicle to handle all electronic functions without jeopardizing any of the factory-installed electrical components. Chrysler is the first in the industry to provide such a system.

The Charger has earned the governmental five-star crash rating and offers anti-lock brakes, multi-stage airbags and safety belt pretensioners as standard equipment and side curtain airbags as optional equipment. Dodge is above the competition, however, in offering the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) stability control and the all-speed Traction Control System (TCS) as standard features.

Driving the car through the obstacle course in Las Vegas emphasized the value of these technological advances. The Charger seemed to literally “stick” to the road. Throughout the course of the testing at the track it was rare to see the vehicle break traction with the road and when it was seen it was through a driver’s serious effort to cause it. The drive train and four-wheel independent suspension package including the ESP and TCS are high-end options for police vehicles and are taken directly from the Mercedes E-Class line.

Enhancing the ESP and TCS in road gripping performance the Charger also comes standard with a new breed of tires made by Continental Tire Company called “ContiProContact.” These high-end design performance tires offer some recent technological advances and are V-rated. They were originally designed for European sports sedans and offer excellent all-season traction even in light snow as well as increased performance in wet traction and hydroplaning resistance.

The enhanced heavy-duty four-wheel disc brakes on the Dodge police lineup are superior in initial testing as well. The stopping distance for the Charger Hemi from 60 mph was 131 feet. Brake endurance seems to be the Achilles for all police vehicles. The Daimler engineers have redesigned the brakes on the Charger/Magnum series by increasing the size of and venting the rear brake rotors along with other modifications to improve stopping power and reduce wear on braking.

With the 250hp V-6, the Dodge Charger and Magnum are very price competitive to other police sedans in most jurisdictions. At around $2,000, the Hemi V-8 upgrade certainly increases the price. However, when price shopping, the fleet managers and administrators must take all of the additional standard options into consideration in the area of pre-installed equipment and time-saving options for upfitting. Of course DaimlerChrysler offers GSA and government pricing in all jurisdictions; more jurisdictional specific information and local contacts can be found at the DaimlerChrysler Web site at www.fleet.chrysler.com.

The obvious thought and design invested into the police package Charger and Magnum are proof that not only did Daimler Chrysler wanted to officially re-enter the full-size police car market, they want to take it over. The Dodge police cars are not simply rear-wheel sedans with heavy-duty transmissions; they are specifically designed to be police cars.

DaimlerChrysler assembled teams of design experts and experienced police personnel, they did extensive research, performed tests, conducted surveys, and went back to the drawing board when they found issues. The result is a police car designed with input from police agencies across the country that delivers exactly what it should, which is more than most expect.

The introduction of the Charger/Magnum series police vehicles means that the police industry has caught up with automotive technology. These modern cars with their well-planned designs for safety, speed, comfort and pricing are sure to be a hit with police agencies big and small.

Russell Schanlaub is a special agent with the Bi-State Drug Task Force in Northwestern Indiana. He is a certified instructor, a member of the Indiana Drug Enforcement Association (IDEA) and a charter member of ILEETA. He can be reached at Russman@ffni.com.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2006

Rating : 9.8


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