The old-school recipe for cop cars was simple. As laid out in 1980 by criminal justice expert Elwood Blues, you just needed a cop motor, cop tires, cop suspensions and cop shocks. And once you make sure the cigarette lighter is working, you’re good to go.
But that was nearly 40 years ago. Back then, V8-powered muscle cars, including the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, were making less than 120 horsepower. Fast forward to today, and even a basic family sedan such as the Toyota Camry can deliver more than 300 horses. It’s enough that you might be wondering whether the latest law-enforcement vehicles can keep up.
Meet the Fleet
Modern police departments can pretty much choose any vehicles they want, which has led to some interesting experiments. Fremont, the city where Tesla’s California factory is located, recently put an all-electric Model S into service.
However, most places stick to police vehicles from three mainstream domestic brands. The No. 1 choice is Ford, with about 65 percent of the market for new police cars. The Blue Oval features sedan, SUV and pickup models based on the Ford Fusion, Explorer and F-150. Also popular are the Dodge Charger and Durango, as well as the Chevrolet Tahoe.
Those six vehicles have been extensively tested, too. All of their performance data is from the annual Michigan State Police evaluations at Grattan Raceway in Belding, Mich.
Top Speed Versus Cop Speed
When it comes to high-speed chases, the fastest pursuit vehicles include the Ford Police Interceptor Utility. Models developed from the 2020 Explorer are available with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that produces an estimated 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. The Interceptor Utility can hit 150 mph with that engine. The vehicle is limited to 137 mph with its optional hybrid powertrain, but this setup also was responsible for the fastest laps of any SUV in the Michigan testing.
The Dodge Charger is among the fastest actual police cars, thanks to a 5.7-liter Hemi V8. It relies on 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque for a top speed of 149 mph.
How does that affect any perps driving normal cars? Well, cars don’t get much more normal than the eighth-generation Camry, and Toyota’s midsize sedan has a top speed of 136 mph. That’s with an available 3.5-liter V6 that’s good for 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. With its standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the same-generation Camry can convert 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque into a top speed close to 130 mph.
The bottom line is that seven of the 12 vehicle and powertrain combinations tested recently by the Michigan State Police would be able to catch up to a basic Toyota Camry. On the other hand, a fair number of civilian cars can go even faster. The fastest production Charger can blow by the police version with a terminal velocity of 204 mph.
A Quick Look at Acceleration
Being quick is more important than being fast in certain situations. Those two words may seem similar, but according to grammar experts, there’s a key difference. “Fast” is an adjective that describes the speed of an object, so that a “fast” car is one with a high top speed. “Quick” refers to the time it takes for something to happen, such as how many seconds are needed for a car to run from 0 to 60 mph. The issue is that if police cruisers can’t sprint as quickly as vehicles making their getaway, the bad guys may escape long before the cops get up to speed.
So let’s again treat the Toyota Camry as our benchmark to see who has the advantage in this area. The four-cylinder Camry has been clocked at 7.9 seconds going from 0 to 60 mph, while the V6 model can get the job done in as few as 5.8 seconds. As for the police vehicles for which we have data, only the turbocharged Interceptor Utility and the Hemi-powered all-wheel-drive Charger can break 6 seconds. The Charger’s time is 6.15 seconds when it’s sending Hemi power to the rear wheels.
Just keep in mind that 6-second production vehicles aren’t exactly rare. Normal cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Honda Accord can be a few ticks quicker than the V6 Camry, and the increasingly common Tesla Model 3 can zip from 0 to 60 mph in 3.3. seconds.
A couple of modern police vehicles will have trouble matching the four-cylinder Camry. The V6 Dodge Durango Pursuit and Ford Police Responder Hybrid Sedan require more than 8 and 9 seconds, respectively, to reach 60 mph.
Coming to a Quick Stop
The typical police pursuit isn’t merely a straight-line drag race. Criminals will resort to all kinds of tactics to throw off the cops, including the classic quick turn down a side street. In that case, police vehicles need powerful brakes to stay in control and remain in the chase. Yet this can be a bit of a weakness for cop cars.
Although many law-enforcement vehicles have upgraded brakes, the vehicles themselves usually are heavier than their civilian counterparts. This means a lot of the extra stopping power goes to handling the extra weight of radios and other equipment. The result is that the fastest and quickest vehicles in the Michigan State Police testing both required more than 130 feet to stop from 60 mph. The Ford Interceptor Utility took 131.5 feet, and the Dodge Charger required 133.8 feet. For comparison, the baseline from the Toyota Camry is 123 feet. The Honda Accord can go from 60 to 0 mph in 109 feet.
Our Conclusion on Cop Cars
After sifting through the evidence, the best we can say is that some police cars are faster than most normal cars. But the cops could be left playing catch-up if the recent high-powered midsize sedans become the new normal.