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Road Warriers 1997

The search for the perfect patrol vehicle continues. Has it arrived in the new '97s? Here's a look at some contenders.

March 01, 1997  |  by Craig Peterson

Chevrolet Camaro

Our favorite traffic car returns for another year of duty, largely a carry-over from last year. The torquey LT1 V-8 received a lower-restriction exhaust for '96, good for a 10 bhp bump to 285 at 5,200 rpm, a figure unchanged this year.

ASR- Chevy- speak for acceleration slip regulation; we'd call it traction control- is optional and worthy of consideration by northern departments pondering four- season operation of the Camaro. ASR applies the brake to a spinning rear wheel and chops the power if need be, a technique that enables the optional Goodyear RSA footwear to effectively transfer power to the pavement, even in truly awful conditions.

The cockpit, as before, features cloth bucket seats with good lateral support, although the side bolster does rub on a holstered sidearm. Adjustability is good, thanks to a lower cushion that tilts, as does the seatback. A tilt steering wheel helps round out the driver- friendly ergonomics.

Handling is excellent, nearly neutral at the limit, due to the steamroller 50- series tires and 80 in -wide aluminum wheels that make full use of the nicely damped suspension. The accurate steering faithfully keeps the driver in touch with the road, permits razor- sharp turn-in and allows subtle correction in midcorner.

On a back-road tour from Denver to Phoenix and back, we spent two days hammering down mountain grades and diving deep into corners at upwards of twice the suggested limits without ever inducing fade from the big four-wheel discs.

It goes as well as it stops. Zero to 60 was reached in 6.1 seconds, 100 mph rolled past in 14.5 seconds and 140 mph was showing in less than a mile. Top speed: 151 mph. Now that the Caprice is gone and Ford has yet to offer the restyled Mustang for police work, there are no other domestic police vehicles in the same league with the Camaro. Sure, it's strictly a traffic unit, hefty officers don't fit it very well, and crawling into and out of the low Camaro all day long can be a nuisance. But all that's forgotten the first time you toe deep into the throttle and hear the throaty roar of a big American V-8 getting down to business. To us, that alone is worth the price of admission.

Ford Crown Victoria

For '97, the big Ford receives a re-engineered steering box with a new on-center detent to help stabilize the control valve and improve tracking. The box benefits from new low- friction bearings, a new sector shaft and sector cover, and machining improvements that reduce clearances and enhance steering precision.

Inside, cloth bucket seats remain standard issue, providing adequate comfort while allowing installation of a large, central equipment rack. Dual airbags and full instrumentation are standard. The Crown Victoria's superior ergonomics make the controls almost intuitive in nature and foster a sense of familiarity after only a short time behind the wheel.

Four- wheel discs with ABS are standard. Unfortunately, ABS and traction assist are unavailable if the limited- slip differential is ordered.

The sole powerplant is the Triton 4.6- liter SOHC V-8, which generates 210 bhp at 4,250 rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm. Throttle tip-in is precise, overall response is excellent and the comparatively small- displacement engine feels stronger in the midrange than test numbers show. Despite its relatively high specific output, the 281 cubic-inch engine is coupled to a relatively tall 3.27:1 final drive and is asked to motivate nearly two tons worth of automobile. On the road, this translates into very modest low-speed acceleration, a trait that's highlighted by the electronic four-speed automatic's refusal to downshift to first gear except at very low road speeds.

Next year, the Crown Victoria squares off against the new Chevy Tahoe four-door police vehicle. Despite the SUV's extra 1,000 pounds, having tested the Tahoe, we predict a close match between the two. Power-to-weight ratios of the two are within a percentage point of each other and the Chevy benefits from much greater torque- 330 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm versus 275 lb-ft at 3,250 rpm- which, coupled to a stout 4.10:1 final drive, will enable it to accelerate father to 100 mph. The lighter Ford's .34 Cd aerodynamic drag- about 30 percent less than the Tahoe's- should see it pull ahead to reach a maximum in the neighborhood of 130 mph, 10 mph more than we expect to see from the more powerful Tahoe.

The Crown Victoria fulfills its mission with confidence, offering a well- sorted package of proven components. And with its NGV engine option, the big sedan can go about its mission squeaky clean, emitting a phenomenally low amount of pollutants. We like that combination: effective law enforcement and social responsibility in one package.

CONTINUED: Road Warriers 1997 «   Page 1 of 2   »

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