Jason H. Harper takes America's latest cop car - based on the Holden Commodore - for a perfectly legal hoon in the name of science
How fast is a cop car, anyway? It's a question I ponder every time I spy a police cruiser. Perhaps I've seen too many television police shows from the 1970s, but I'd like to know how a police vehicle would handle in a real-life car chase.
I'm about to get some hint, as I'm sitting inside the new Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle, known as the PPV. Happily I'm behind the wheel rather than in the rear bench seat meant for perps.
Unfortunately the cruiser is missing most of the goodies, including sirens, special horns, gun racks or a big steel front guard to ram other cars out of the way. (I'd really like one of those.)
Probably for the best anyhow, as I'd just leave the sirens on continuously so I could speed through traffic.
My US$32,300 ($41,250) as-tested car is an all-black "detective" model, and it looks all business. A big sedan with large rear doors ("Don't hit your head, sir"), it has an air of sturdiness. Finding its honeycomb grille in your rear view mirror would put a ding in your day.
While the badge on the hood reads Caprice, the PPV isn't based on any US civilian car, unlike its two main competitors, the Ford Police Interceptor, based on the Taurus, and Dodge's Charger.
It hails from Holden, Australia's GM subsidiary. Holden has a reputation for gutsy rear-wheel-drive cars, but I've never driven one - until now.
The PPV is similar to the long-wheelbase Holden Commodore and is available with a six-litre V8. It's a muscle car for the good guys.
I open the door and notice that no dome light comes on. Ideal for late-night stakeouts. The interior is sparse with only a few buttons and controls.
No fancy aluminium, wood or fake carbon fibre inserts here, only hard plastic and extremely functional upholstery meant to repel dirt and fluids. I can attest to this when I eat a greasy sandwich inside, something I wouldn't do in a Mercedes or Porsche. The mustard wipes right off.
There aren't a lot of other creature comforts for your friendly law enforcers. No one-touch automatic windows or satellite radio. But again, they get the privilege of carrying guns and driving fast with impunity.
The seats, however, rock. Super wide and comfy, they were specially designed to accommodate all the equipment on police belts. I'd lobby for use of these cushions on more cars.
Last, there is a ton of room in the back seat area. Chevy's brochure points out that the PPV has three more inches (7.5cm) of rear leg room than other police sedans. A comfortable suspect is a happy suspect, it seems.
None of this, however, answers my question of how my PPV might fare in a chase through city streets in pursuit of the bad guys.
For that, one might turn to performance results from the Michigan State Police, who annually compare police vehicles. The standard engine on the PPV is a V6 with 224kW, while the V8 is a no-cost option which gets 264kW. Only the turbocharged Taurus outguns it, and only just, with 272kW.
Top speed for the Chevy is 247km/h247km/h, which leads the segment. The Michigan police tests put the PPV and turbo Taurus at a dead heat from zero to 100km/h, at 5.9 seconds.
Ne'er-do-wells might take note that the non-turbo-charged Taurus takes a leisurely 8.1 seconds to reach 100km and has a top speed of only 210km/h.
The 520Nm of torque on my V8 model indicates the PPV should tear away from a dead stop like a shotgun blast. To test the theory, I put my left foot on the brake and right on the gas. The car begins shaking and the rear wheels start spinning. Tyre smoke erupts. (Cops never abuse their equipment this way, I'm sure.)
I let off the brake and the PPV breaks free, thrusting forward. Look out bad guys, I'm on my way.
My fantasy car chase takes place on lonely winding roads, in pursuit of bank robbers, I decide.
The PPV moves along placidly until you put the pedal to the floor. The six-speed automatic transmission takes a moment to downshift, then I'm slapped back into my seat. The engine bay erupts with noise, a sound that lawbreakers probably won't relish. My car has a performance mode which lessens the traction control and a limited slip differential, which helps the handling. The brakes are phenomenally good.
I'd capture my bank robbers for sure, except for one thing: the steering is lousy. It's loose and hazy, leaving me rather spooked. In precision driving, you need to aim the car with absolute accuracy, and the PPV lacks that sense of touch.
Nonetheless, I catch the bad guys on a straight using the grunt from the big engine. I'm ready to ram them, but they give up. Rest easy, citizens. The PPV is on the job.
Law by Lambo
Lamborghini's police model has an array of special equipment including gun holsters
While the American police get glorified Commodores, Ford Interceptors and Dodge Chargers for their pursuit vehicles, spare a thought for Italy's police.
A special Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Polizia is all the Lazio Highway Police Department has to discourage speedsters - a donation from the company to the head of the State Police in 2008 to replace the ageing 2004 model. The four-wheel drive LP560 has 417kW (560hp) on tap to hit a top speed of about 320km/h and can send back real-time video to police stations.