Each fall the big three of U.S. police car makers turn their latest models over to test drivers from the Michigan State Police for comprehensive evaluations at the DaimlerChrysler proving grounds in Chelsea, Mich., and timed laps at Grattan Raceway in Belding, Mich.

The Michigan State Police Vehicle Evaluation program is executed in phases. Vehicles are tested for acceleration, braking, and top speed at the Chelsea proving grounds. From there, vehicles intended for pursuit functions negotiate the 2-mile road racing course at Grattan Raceway. Finally, the cars are subjected to the scrutiny of working police officers and communications specialists who evaluate them for ergonomics as well as ease of installation for communications equipment. Here are some of the highlights of the Michigan State Police's 2003 Model Year Police Vehicle Evaluation.


Spurred by the fact that many law enforcement agencies were using retail Intrepids as patrol vehicles, DaimlerChrysler developed its AHB Police Pursuit Package for the Dodge Intrepid. Powered by a 3.5-Liter V-6 that generates 244 horsepower, the Intrepid racked up an impressive 136-mph top speed at the Chelsea Proving Grounds. And with Chevrolet no longer manufacturing the Camaro, that gives the Intrepid claim to the title of the fastest production police car.

For the 2003 year Dodge added increased fluid volume in the Intrepid's power steering system and fluid pressure in the braking system. In addition, improvements were made in the software that controls the ABS system. These changes improve steering and brake performance. Side airbags and a remote locking system have also been added as available options to the Intrepid police package.


For 2003 Ford has made numerous refinements to its Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

The Crown Vic is the last of the "traditional" police cars. Powered by a 239-horsepower V-8 engine, the rear-wheel-drive Crown Victoria is manufactured with body-on-frame construction.

In comparison, both the Chevrolet Impala and Dodge Intrepid are V-6-powered, with front-wheel drive, and unitized construction. This means that the main structural component is the body itself, as compared to the Ford Crown Victoria and now discontinued Chevrolet Caprice Classic, which mounts the body on a separate frame.

For 2003 Ford redesigned the frame on the 2003 models using hydroformed components for greater strength and occupant protection in case of a collision. Other new features include rack-and-pinion steering, upgraded brakes, and repositioned rear shock absorbers to improve handling and stopping.

For those agencies looking at SUVs, Ford offers special service packages for the Explorer and the Expedition.

General Motors

Chevrolet's Impala police car is a front-wheel-drive sedan powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 engine that develops 200 horsepower. New features on the 2003 models include external engine oil, power steering, and transmission fluid coolers. Also, top speed for the 2003 Impala has been electronically increased from 124 mph to 129 mph.

Now entering its third year of production, the Impala has garnered very positive reviews from high-profile police agencies. For example, the New York City Police Department has been so impressed by Chevrolet's front-wheel-drive sedan that it intends to change over its patrol fleet to Impalas.

General Motors also continues to be a major player in the law enforcement SUV market with the H1 Hummer and the Chevrolet Tahoe.

Powered by a 6.5-liter turbo-diesel, the GM H1 Hummer 4-door wagon, KSCS Tactical Vehicle is the only law enforcement SUV that is certified as pursuit-capable. Of course, when talking about the Hummer, pursuit is a relative term. The 2003 H1 topped out at 85 mph in the Michigan tests, the slowest of all the pursuit vehicles. It also demonstrated the longest stopping distance of any vehicle in the 2003 model tests.

While not rated as a pursuit vehicle, the Chevrolet Tahoe is a popular special service vehicle that is available in both two- and four-wheel drive versions.

Other specialty vehicles available from GM include the Chevrolet Express Van 1SA Package, Prisoner Transport Van Configuration.

Down the Road

One of the reasons the Michigan State Police tests draw so much attention from police fleet managers each year is that they offer a glimpse into the future of police vehicles.

Here's a quick look at some vehicles that may soon be in your agency's garage.

Ford brought out a prototype Crown Victoria with 3.55 rear gears compared with the 3.27-1 rear axle ratio of the standard Crown Victoria. This prototype also had a larger air intake box, which was good for an additional 7 horsepower. You may soon see the lower gear ratio as an option for urban police departments where quicker acceleration is more important than top speed.

Another prototype Crown Victoria at the Michigan test attracted a lot of attention for one very good reason. It was fast-very fast. The experimental Crown Vic sports a slightly detuned Mercury Marauder engine for truly impressive performance-in the LT-1 Caprice category with a 141-mph top speed. But don't go and hammer your Ford Dealer for one, just yet. There are several technical hurdles to overcome.

And then there is the cost factor. If it becomes available, the dual overhead cam Marauder engine will add about $2,000 over and above the price of a standard Crown Vic.

In response to demands for a pursuit-certified SUV, Chevrolet brought out a "concept" Tahoe, which offered passenger car performance both on the track and in acceleration and braking.

While nobody at DaimlerChrysler will officially confirm or deny them, rumors are being heard that Dodge will market a V-8 rear-wheel-drive patrol car in the near future.

To obtain a copy of the test results, contact the Michigan State Police at: www.michigan.gov/msp

John L. Bellah is a working police officer with over 25-years of experience. He is a frequent contributor to POLICE, on both automotive and law enforcement issues.