Each fall, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department conducts performance and fuel economy tests on police package vehicles. The current LASD program dates back to 1974, when they took it over from the Los Angeles Police Department, which began testing police vehicles in 1956. The current testing program involves EVOC instructors from both agencies as test drivers.
For more than 50 years, the vehicle testing has been held at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds, home of drag racing’s Winternationals in Pomona. In fact, this famous drag strip is still used for acceleration testing, and the massive parking lot is still used for the city pursuit course.
Again this year, some of the high-speed testing was held at the Auto Club Raceway in Fontana. The site of the former Ontario Motor Speedway, this is the location of events like the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Pepsi 500, and Auto Club 500 races. Since the LASD vehicle testing protocol emphasizes braking and handling characteristics, one of the interior tracks is used, rather than the high-speed banked oval track.
Fontana’s interior road course is remarkably similar to the old Pomona road course. While both courses are asphalt-paved and have flat curves, the new course contains some 90-degree, “S” and hairpin curves—13 turns in all. However at 1.47 miles, the Fontana is slightly shorter than the old 1.57-mile Pomona course. Test protocols remained similar on the new track.
The other major police vehicle testing program is conducted by the Michigan State Police. Both vehicle testing protocols are grueling. However, the operating environments of the two agencies are somewhat different. Being located in an urban environment, LASD places more emphasis on acceleration, handling, braking and mechanical reliability. While maximum top speed is important to the MSP, this performance area is not attempted under LASD’s test protocol.
Chevrolet submitted two versions of their RWD Chevrolet Caprice PPV. The standard engine, sourced from Camaro—Cadillac is 3.6L DOHC V6, which has Variable Valve Timing (VVT) and Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI) developing 301 hp. The super-strong, Gen IV 6.0L V8, developing 355 hp, is available as a no-cost option.
The FWD Chevrolet Impala 9C1/9C3 is powered by essentially the same Camaro—Cadillac V6, with slightly higher compression, developing 302 hp and six-speed automatic. The handling and stopping was improved on the 2013 models, thanks to suspension upgrades, 17-inch wheels and tires, and larger front brakes.
Also tested was the RWD Chevrolet Tahoe PPV, the industry’s only remaining body-on-frame police vehicle in production. Upgrades for 2013 include a larger battery (660 CCA) with a dual battery option and increased payload capacity.
Dodge submitted four versions of their successful Charger sedan in versions powered by their recently introduced, all-aluminum, 292 hp 3.6L Pentastar V6 “corporate engine” and of course, the legendary the 370 hp 5.7L HEMI® V8. Both versions were tested with the standard 2.65 rear end as well as the optional ratios—3.06 on the HEMI® and 3.07 for V6-powered versions.
Ford submitted different versions of their Police Interceptor Sedan and Police Interceptor Utility. Both the Taurus-based PI Sedan and the Explorer-based PI Utility share the same platform, the same FWD and AWD drivetrains and some of the same powertrains. The base engine for the PI Sedan is normally aspirated, 288 hp 3.5L V6. The 305 hp, 3.7L V6, formerly available only on the PI Utility is now a low-cost option on the PI Sedan. The other optional engine in the PI Sedan is the twin-turbocharged, 365 hp 3.5L EcoBoost V6.
The PI Utility comes standard with the same 300 hp 3.7L V6. This is the only police engine for the PI Utility. Both vehicles come standard as All-Wheel Drive (AWD). On the PI Utility and standard 3.5L V6 version of the PI Sedan, FWD is available as a delete option.
To simplify matters this year, there was no separation of FlexFuel E85 and non-FlexFuel vehicles. All vehicles were tested on gasoline, i.e., E10 gasohol. Like the MSP, the LASD/LAPD only tests police-package, pursuit-rated sedans, crossovers and SUVs. As such, no special-service package sedans, crossovers, SUVs or pickups were tested.
Similar to last year’s evaluation, all three manufacturers also submitted various vehicle models for a “ride & drive,” where the vehicles can actually be driven around a separate low-speed course by individual officers, administrators, and fleet managers.
Preliminary Handling Test
All police vehicles first undergo the Preliminary Handling Test. Each vehicle is driven by four different test drivers—two EVOC instructors from LAPD, and two from LASD. Each instructor drives eight laps and then immediately hands the vehicle over to another driver, for a total of 32 laps. The crossovers and SUVs are tested with 400 pounds of ballast, which simulates how these vehicles will perform in the field loaded with police gear. The sedans do not use added ballast; the driver is the sole occupant.
Like the Grattan Raceway used by the MSP, on the Fontana road course used by the LASD-LAPD, speeds in excess of 100 mph are common at the end of the straightaways. In reality, these conditions are somewhat more severe than the average officer would encounter in the field during a “typical” urban emergency response or pursuit. If a vehicle can survive the preliminary handling test, it will survive most pursuits in the real world.
For the score, both the fastest and slowest laps are automatically eliminated and the remaining six laps are averaged out. Each driver independently evaluates each vehicle at the end of this phase. Vehicles that are rated as “unacceptable” are disqualified and are not allowed to participate in further testing. This year all of the vehicles submitted were deemed “Acceptable.”
For the second year in a row, the stand-alone fastest police vehicle on the Preliminary Handling Test was the AWD Ford PI Sedan with the twin-turbo, 3.5L EcoBoost V6. (AWD helps even on hot, dry pavement.) This was followed by a three-way tie between the Dodge Charger 5.7L V8 (3.06 axle), the Chevy Caprice 6.0L V8, and the Chevy Caprice 3.6L V6. (That direct injection Chevy 3.6L V6 is strong.)
This group was followed by another three-way tie between the Charger 3.6L V6 (2.65 axle), the Charger 5.7L V8 (2.65 axle), and the AWD Ford PI Sedan with the new-for-2013 3.7L V6 from the Mustang. The rest of the vehicles finished in one-second increments with the Chevrolet Tahoe PPV acting as rear guard.
The take-away lesson from this test is how strong the Chevy 3.6L V6, the Dodge 3.6L V6, and the Ford 3.7L V6 engines are compared to the more gas-hungry optional engines in these same vehicles. And gasoline is now above $4 per gallon…once again.
Immediately after completing the Preliminary Handling Test, the brakes are tested under simulated real-world police operating conditions with hot brakes and tires. This duplicates conditions after an emergency run or a vehicular pursuit. This is the most severe brake test performed by the police community. After a brake warm-up procedure, the vehicle is then accelerated to 60 mph and the brakes applied to simulate a “panic-stop” with ABS activation.
The best braking performance came from the AWD Ford PI Sedan with the 3.5L base V6, which stopped 2 inches shorter than the AWD Ford PI Sedan with the optional (and recommended) 3.7L V6. This was followed by a three-way tie between the Charger V6 with both axle ratios and the Caprice V6.
Among the more powerful drivetrains, it was Caprice V8, then Ford PI Sedan EcoBoost and then Charger V8. All of the sedans stopped within 7 feet of one another—less than a half car length. All of the sedans outbraked the crossovers/SUVs. The Ford PI Utility was just inches from the last sedan, while the Tahoe SUV has a stopping distance a full car length longer than the PI Utility.
The acceleration times to various speeds up to 100 mph are recorded. So are the ¼-mile Elapsed Time and Trap Speeds. In nearly every case, the vehicle with the quickest zero-to-60 mph time also has the quickest ¼-mile time and speed. (Maximum top speeds are not attempted or measured.)
This year saw some of the best acceleration performance ever recorded at the LASD-LAPD tests. In order, the Ford PI EcoBoost V6, Caprice 6.0L V8, Charger 5.7L (3.06 axle), and Charger 5.7L V8 (2.65 axle) all reached 60 mph in the five-second bracket. Virtually all the rest of the police sedans, all engines, all drives were in a giant traffic jam in the seven-second, zero to 60 mph bracket.
The Ford PI Utility V6 reached 60 mph in eight seconds, while the Tahoe V8 got there in nine seconds. To put all of this in perspective, year-in and year-out the Ford CVPI averaged 8.8 seconds.
The Fuel Efficiency Test simulates real-world conditions and is conducted over a 100-mile course. The protocol uses patrol deputies, in full uniform, to drive each vehicle through this course. Each vehicle is driven through the course four times with different drivers, during peak (rush-hour) traffic conditions. The course is divided with urban, suburban and freeway driving conditions. Headlights and air conditioning are turned on and the transmissions are placed in the default “Drive” position.
The vehicles are driven in a normal manner, i.e., the vehicles are neither driven gently nor driven for maximum performance. The fuel mileage obtained from each run is then averaged. By definition, this test simulates the mileage that a detective or administrative vehicle would obtain. Experience shows that a marked patrol unit would obtain about 60 to 70 percent of these mileage figures.
The Charger Pursuit with the 3.6L V6 (2.65 axle) achieved the stand-alone best fuel mileage: 20.0 mpg! Next efficient was a three-way tie between the Charger 3.6L V6 (3.07 axle), the base FWD-only Ford PI Sedan with the base 3.5L V6, and the Caprice 3.6L V6, all averaging 19 mpg. Most of the rest of the sedans, regardless of engine or axle, achieved between 17 and 18 mpg. The Ford PI Utility was one notch down at 16 mpg, while the Tahoe PPV was three more clicks down at 13 mpg.
Each deputy fills out a checklist rating his impression of each individual vehicle. The evaluations are conducted separately and the ratings are averaged to minimize any individual prejudices for or against any of the vehicles. Vehicles are evaluated for general suitability and efficiency as a patrol vehicle, or other specific functions the LASD may require. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department does not recommend any specific vehicle or tire. Their test results are published annually and are available on their website.
John Bellah is the technical editor of Police Fleet Manager and a retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.