Police making transition to new Ford Interceptors

  • 25-Jan-2013 06:25 EST

New Ford Interceptors are available in sedan and utility versions.

"Bad guys don't stop driving when it's raining...or snowing." That was how Ford proposed the idea of taking police out of their 20-year comfort zone with the rear-drive Crown Victoria. It was so much the public image of a police car that even a civilian version commanded a cautionary look from drivers of other automobiles.

However, the police "Interceptor" (pursuit) version was a different machine, and the new Ford police cars, although based on the D front-drive platform (Taurus/Explorer) are too. Gaining police acceptance for the changeover was not destined to be easy. But with 2012, the first year of marketing the new police models, now complete, results have been very satisfying, AEI was told by Bill Gubing, Platform Chief Engineer, with "near zero police-specific failures."

The Crown Victoria platform with the V8 engine had been the top-selling police pursuit car for more than 15 years. Ford holds 75% of the 40,000 unit/year market, but updating the 25-year-old platform was not going to be as productive as starting with something more modern. Not that the D-platform is new—it originated with Volvo—but it had lots of upside, had been updated, and included all-wheel drive to provide superior rain/snow handling performance.

There are two new D-platform Interceptors, a sedan based on the Taurus, and an Explorer-based utility vehicle, which provides more interior room and higher seating position. Because it adds new function, the utility has been running at about half of the early sales mix.

Overcoming rear-drive appeal

"Police were very much into V8 rear drive and the space in the Crown Vic," explained Gubing. "It was second nature to be in a Crown Vic." There is still some rear-drive, V8 preference, he admitted, and as a result Chrysler's rear-drive platform (Dodge Charger) is holding much of the remaining 25% of the police market.

Ford set the stage for a changeover with police comparisons on wet and dry driving courses with the new AWD D-platform V6 models and the rear-drive V8-powered Crown Vic. The improvements in both dry and wet road control were convincers, Gubing added, and the next steps were to tailor the D-platform models for police use.

Most important: the D-platform Ford Police Interceptors later had to prove themselves against competitive entries in the high-speed performance and braking tests by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Michigan State Police. Even the Explorer-based utility model outperformed the Crown Vic.

Specific upgrades

Police-rated models have a mix of civilian car technology and specific upgrades.

The V6 powertrains are close to but not quite "off the shelf." The cars are available either with the 3.5-L TIVCT (twin independent variable cam timing) rated at 300 hp (224 kW)/285 lb·ft (386 N·m) or 3.5-L EcoBoost twin turbo rated at 365 hp (272 kW)/350 lb·ft (474 N·m).

The police EcoBoost has pistons and connecting rods from the F-150 V6, which had been subjected to a million mi (1.6 million km) test and then given a public teardown to prove its durability. The police car with this engine has a rated top speed of 148 mph (238 km/h). Although some police had been concerned about durability of the turbos, "there hasn't been a single failure yet," Gubing said.

The utility is equipped with the 3.7-L V6 rated at 300 hp (224 kW)/300 lb·ft (407 N·m). The Crown Vic Interceptor, equipped with the 4.6-L V8, had been rated at 250 hp (186 kW)/297 lb ft (403 N·m).

The V6s have the same water pump and radiator fans as the civilian models, but the radiator is a heavy-duty design—a three-row with a higher fin density. A high-performance air-conditioning system installed in cars sold in the Middle East is available.

The transmission is the same six-speed as in the civilian vehicles, but an oil cooler—used only in heavy-duty civilian cars—is standard. There is a unique shift calibration as the police prefer firmer and quicker shifts, sacrificing civilian car smoothness for performance. The shift lever is column-mounted so a police driver can make a fast J-turn without having to move his right arm to the console.

The Interceptor's AWD coupling is the same as in the civilian, and it has identical clutch packs but higher viscosity fluid with more anti-wear additive and formulated for up to 175°C (347°F). Although these characteristics reduce fuel economy slightly, the overall result for the switch from the Crown Vic is approximately a 20% reduction in fuel consumption, Gubing said.

The Interceptor's AWD coupling does have an "extra"—a fluid-to-coolant cooler plumbed into the radiator-heater circuit. An electronic algorithm monitors usage: idle time, high-speed operation, and temperatures from sensors in the engine and power transfer coupling to determine fluid change intervals.

Power steering is now electric. Wheels, tires, and brakes are specific, starting with 18-in steel with large openings for brake cooling airflow, and Goodyear Eagle variant tires, custom developed to provide capability for all-season traction and high-speed pursuit. The steel cords are extra stiff and the rubber is a specific compound for grip, surrendering a fair bit of ride comfort, Gubing admitted. The suspension is tuned both for handling and load, including the ability to carry 250 lb (113 kg) in the trunk of the sedan and 400 lb (181 kg) on the load floor of the utility.

Brakes have large diameter four-wheel vented rotors, 352 x 32 mm (13.9 x 1.3 in) in front, 345 x 19 mm (13.6 x 0.7 in) in the rear, now also being installed on D-platform civilian models except the base Explorer and Taurus SHO. Front calipers use two pistons, rear calipers single piston. But all Interceptor caliper pistons are stainless steel and have silicone seals for heat resistance. Linings are specific, and the fluid is U.S. DOT 4. Hydraulic lines are routed for maximum cooling.

Interior durability

Interiors have easy-clean vinyl flooring and seats of a highly durable, stain-resistance poly blend. Fronts are made with large reliefs in the lower backs for gun and utility belts. Backs of the front seats have steel "anti-stab" inserts. The front doors have seat-belt fabric strips at the hinges to take impact load when police push hard on the doors to exit quickly at the scene of action.

There is no console per se, as most police departments have specific electronics they transfer from cars being retired from service.

The police have high crash performance requirements. Ford certifies the vehicles for a 75 mph (121 km/h) rear crash to protect officers in front when a police car is parked at the side of the road. This is in addition to a specific 50-mph (80-km/h) frontal crash requirement, which requires managing twice the crash energy in a civilian car, 40-mph (64-km/h) test.

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