What kind of patrol vehicle do you want to drive? Do you want something with a lot of room, or something smaller with a low profile? Do you favor a high top end for expressway traffic enforcement or is good cornering and tight handling important to you in your municipal department? Of course you want something safe and comfortable, but how's your department's vehicle budget?

In the words of one EVOC trainer, "Every officer wants the best vehicle they can get their hands on. Every department wants the most cost-effective fleet possible. Somewhere in between is probably the best place to be."

Eventually every department has to purchase vehicles. Many just go to the local dealership and ask for a beefed up vehicle off the lot. Sometimes, local politics makes this a necessity, and many government officials think they're saving money by taking this route. However, because many states have central bid purchasing, it's usually more cost effective to go with the state purchase price.

Of course, there is still a choice to be made regarding make and model, albeit a limited one. Gone are the days when most departments drove the same vehicle. Because weather and other environmental conditions vary so much and departmental missions can be so different from region to region, several manufacturers now offer both standard duty patrol units and special purpose ("big and brawny") vehicles. When a boss is trying to decide which vehicle to select, he or she needs reliable, unbiased test results and other information.

MSP Testing Methodology

The Michigan State Police have been testing duty vehicles for more than 25 years. In 1981, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) became the sponsor of the MSP tests through its technology assessment arm, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC). These tests have evolved over the years, with constant improvements to the testing protocols, and they continue to yield a fair and balanced view of vehicle capabilities as well as other performance factors.

Tests are conducted to determine acceleration and stopping distance as well as top speed and pursuit/emergency high-speed handling characteristics. Since ergonomics and comfort are important considerations, these dimensions are evaluated. Along with all of these factors, fuel economy is also measured and reported.

The Michigan State Police conduct their vehicle tests every autumn, taking a look at the next year's crop of would-be patrol vehicles. Acceleration, braking, and maximum speed are tested at the Chrysler Proving Grounds, in Chelsea, Mich. High-speed pursuit/emergency handling characteristics-otherwise referred to as vehicle dynamics-are evaluated at the Grattan Raceway, located in west-central Michigan. The Proving Grounds tests are conducted on a Saturday and the Grattan Raceway tests take place on the following Monday. Sunday is reserved as a "rain day." In their efforts to provide a fair and balanced testing protocol, MSP makes every effort to avoid wet road conditions.

Of course, rain conditions are typical for patrol operations and testing on wet roads would be a valid measure of a vehicle's handling capabilities. The problem lies in ensuring that each and every vehicle has the same testing environment. Because wet conditions can vary from minute to minute, the Michigan State Police have opted to avoid such conditions in the interest of fair testing protocols.

Each year, different manufacturers bring their vehicles to be tested. The vehicles are production models equipped as they would be if they were ordered and purchased from the factory by your city or county. Vehicles are tested in a "slick-top" configuration and without "A" pillar spotlights, in order to keep the tests standardized for all vehicles. Additionally, the vehicles are run with production model tires that are available as original factory equipment.

There are two different categories of vehicles tested. One category comprises vehicles that would be suitable for "general service" patrol that may be subjected to high-speed and pursuit driving. The second is for vehicles that wouldn't normally be pressed into that kind of service and are more likely to be used as "special service" vehicles. These are the four-wheel-drive vehicles, the SUVs, and the pickup trucks. Last year, a third category was added for motorcycles.

Automobiles such as the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria make up the general service category, accompanied by some specially designed sport utility vehicles such as the Chevrolet Tahoe. All vehicles are subjected to the acceleration, braking, and top speed testing. Only the general purpose patrol vehicles and a few specially designated SUVs participate in the high-speed handling (vehicle dynamics) tests.

The 2008 Tests

This year's tests were held Sept 15-18 and included vehicles submitted by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. There were 11 vehicles in the general service category:

  • Dodge Charger 3.5 liter
  • Dodge Charger 5.7 liter
  • Dodge Magnum 3.5 liter
  • Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter
  • Ford Police Interceptor 3.27 4.6 liter
  • Ford Police Interceptor E85 3.27 4.6 liter
  • Ford Police Interceptor 3.55 4.6 liter
  • Chevrolet Impala 9C1 3.9 liter
  • Chevrolet Impala 9C1 E85 3.9 liter
  • Chevrolet Tahoe PPV 5.3 liter
  • Chevrolet Tahoe PPV E85 5.3 liter.

There were five entrants in the Special Service category:

  • Chevrolet Tahoe (4WD) 5.3 liter
  • Chevrolet Suburban three-quarter-ton (4WD) 6.0 liter
  • Ford Explorer (2WD) 4.6 liter
  • Ford Expedition (2WD) 5.4 liter 3V
  • Ford F-150 (2WD) 5.4 liter Super Crew Cab[PAGEBREAK]

Speed and Acceleration Testing

Acceleration and top speed testing were rated in increments. Each vehicle's acceleration performance was measured in increments of 10 mph; so the first test was from 0 to 20 mph, the next from 0 to 30 mph, and so on, up to 0 to 100 mph, then a top speed was recorded.

Test numbers were pretty close from vehicle to vehicle, but the Dodge vehicles were the clear winners.

In the general service category, the Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter was quickest in the first three test brackets (0 to 20, 0 to 30, 0 to 40 mph) followed closely by the Dodge Charger 5.7 liter, then the Ford Police Interceptor 3.55 4.6 liter. The Dodge Charger 5.7 liter took the next six test brackets, followed by the Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter. In other words, the two Dodges were number one and two in every test bracket. The Dodge Charger 5.7 liter also took top speed honors (148 mph), with the number two slot going to the Chevrolet Impala 9CI 3.9 liter (142 mph).

It was interesting how the gap widened as the vehicles accelerated. At 0 to 30 mph, the Dodge 5.7 liter vehicles were at 2.52 and 2.55 seconds respectively, and at 0 to 100 mph, they were at 15.19 and 15.82 respectively. In contrast, the third and fourth vehicles were at 2.94 and 3.02 in the 0 to 30 mph bracket, but at 21.61 and 21.68 in the 0-100 mph bracket.

In the special service category, the results were spread out a little more. The first two test brackets were shared by the Ford Explorer 4.6 liter and the Ford Expedition 5.4 liter, with the Explorer taking the number one spot in brackets 0 to 20 mph up through 0 to 100 mph. The Expedition took the number two slot in the 0 to 30 mph, 0 to 40 mph and 0 to 50 mph brackets but then moved to number three behind the Chevrolet Suburban three-quarter-ton for the remaining brackets up through 0 to 90 mph. The Expedition took second place in the 0 to 100 mph bracket. The fastest special service vehicle was the Ford Expedition 5.4 liter, at 105 mph, while the Ford Explorer 4.6 liter came in second, at 104 mph. Three vehicles topped out at less than 100 mph: the Chevrolet Tahoe (4WD) at 97.3 mph, Chevrolet Suburban three-quarter-ton at 97 mph, and Ford F-150 5.4 liter, at 95 mph.

60 to 0 Brake Testing

Braking was tested a little differently than last year. Vehicles were tested for braking capability in order to calculate their projected stopping distance from 60 mph.

In the general service category, the winner was the Dodge Magnum 3.5 liter with a stopping distance of 136.0 feet, followed by the Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter at 141.1 feet. The longest stopping distance was 148.0 feet by the Ford Police Interceptor 3.55 4.6 liter.

In the special service category, the Ford F-150 Super Crew Cab 5.4 liter took the honors, at 147.3 feet, followed by the Chevrolet Suburban three-quarter-ton at 156.4 feet. The longest stopping distance recorded was 173.7 feet, by the Chevrolet Tahoe (4WD) 5.3 liter.

Vehicle Dynamics Testing

As mentioned, vehicle dynamics testing was limited to the general purpose vehicles. The track is two miles long, and each vehicle was driven a minimum of eight laps by each of four drivers for a total of 32 laps each. The score is the combined average of each driver's five fastest laps (for a total of 20 laps per vehicle).

Two Dodge vehicles earned top scores, with the Dodge Charger 5.7 liter coming in at an average time of 1:37.77, and the Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter at 1:37.94. The Ford Police Interceptors were a little slower, at 1:40.59 and 1:40.70 respectively. The slowest in this test was the Chevrolet Tahoe PPV (2WD), at 1:43.82.

It is interesting to note, however, that the spread is only 6.05 seconds from the slowest to the fastest vehicle, which says a lot about the dynamic handling characteristics of all the vehicles tested.

At presstime, all of these scores were preliminary, pending the release of the MSP final report. More detailed results of the testing can be downloaded from the Michigan State Police Website (www.michigan.gov/msp). There are spreadsheets available in PDF format, containing all test results for each vehicle. Ultimately, the entire test report will be generated and published, as it has been in years past.

Over the past quarter-century, the data gleaned from the MSP vehicle tests have proven to be a fair and reliable source of information for police administrators from countless departments. It's only through the dedication and commitment of the MSP Troopers and support staff that this testing is possible, and they are performing an invaluable service for the law enforcement community.

 

The Two-Wheeler Tests

This was the second year that the Michigan State Police decided to test motorcycles. Both Harley-Davidson and BMW brought bikes for consideration, and the testing was conducted at the Michigan State Police Precision Driver Training Facility on Sunday Sept. 16. Three machines were tested:

  • BMW R1200RTP
  • Harley-Davidson Police Road King
  • Harley-Davidson Police Electra Glide

In the acceleration and top speed testing, the BMW was the clear winner, although the Harley-Davidson Police Road King bested it by .01 seconds in the 0 to 20 mph bracket (1.29 and 1.30 seconds, respectively). From then on, the BMW was consistently faster in every test bracket, finishing with a 0 to 100 mph time of 10.01 seconds. The Harley-Davidson Police Road King gained second in every test bracket, turning in a 0 to 100 mph time of 25.44 seconds. The Electra Glide was third on every test, with a 0 to 100 mph time of 26.05 seconds. Top speeds were 130.9 for the BMW, 109.1 for the Road King, and 106.2 for the Electra Glide.

The BMW also took first in the Braking Test, with a projected stopping distance from 60 mph of 139.0 feet. The Harley-Davidson Police Road King score was 171.4 feet, and the Harley-Davidson Police Electra Glide score was 173.3 feet.

Riders also tested each machine's ability to come to a stop from 40 mph while negotiating a transitional surface, from one type of surface to another. In this case, the test traversed a dry surface onto a wet surface. This was meant to simulate a situation where a motor officer may leave the roadway and have to brake while moving onto a slicker roadside surface. In this test, the BMW excelled again, with a projected stopping distance from 40 mph of 98.0 feet. The Harley-Davidson Police Electra Glide was next with 125.6 feet, followed by the Harley-Davidson Police Road King with a score of 136.0 feet.

Finally, each machine completed a vehicle dynamics test similar to that used to test the patrol cars. Here, a road course which included curves and a switchback-over nine-tenths of a mile-was negotiated by four riders doing six laps each. Each rider's best five laps were averaged, then the four riders' averages were again averaged to get a cumulative average for each machine (for a total of 20 averaged laps per machine).

The BMW took honors, with a combined average of 5:49.4. The Harley-Davidson Police Road King was next at 6:17.4, followed by the Harley-Davidson Police Electra Glide at 6:19.0.

Steve Ashley is a retired officer and has been a police trainer for 20 years. He conducts use-of-force and driving classes at a Michigan academy.

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