Change is afoot on the highways of the United States, and drivers across the country may soon have to adapt the connection between their eyes and their right feet to a new silhouette.
The Dodge Charger is mounting a challenge to Ford’s Crown Victoria for the title of supreme police cruiser, and it’s a mighty strong challenge at that. Dodge delivered a police-package Charger to Roadfly this summer, with everything but a working siren. We learned two things. First, driving a police car is not as fun as you think it is. Secondly, Ford needs to watch its back.
Ever since the demise of the Chevy Caprice, Ford’s Crown Victoria has held a firm stranglehold on the budgets of police departments for the last decade, with no logical competitors in sight. Cops across the country prefer big, body-on-frame American sedans with rear-wheel-drive and V8 engines. That’s the same reason taxi drivers prefer them: they are tough, and can take abuse in far greater doses than front-wheel-drive counterparts, eliminating cars like the Ford Taurus, the deceased Dodge Intrepid, and the Chevy Impala from everything but University policing duties. No other American companies have seen fit to make rear-wheel-drive anything save trucks, SUVs, and the occasional sports car, so the Crown Vic’s dominance has gone unchallenged.
This created a pretty big opening for the Dodge Charger, a truly American muscle sedan done in the old style. Our test car was equipped with the Chrysler 5.7L 340-hp HEMI V8, which fires it to sixty mph in six seconds flat, more than two seconds quicker than the police-spec Crown Vic.
You can also watch the 2007 Dodge Charger Police Package on YouTube.
That figure seemed totally within reach as soon as we slid into the low-slung Charger. Apparently this Charger has a 148-mph top speed (which we did not test), and can get around a racetrack (or a public road) a good bit faster than a Crown Vic in law enforcement trim. Due to a curb weight of over two tons, the police-spec Charger sometimes feels sluggish when taking off from low speeds. However, the HEMI quickly makes its presence known, and really howls as it easily pushes the Charger towards triple digits.
The Charger is a newer car than the Crown Vic, and it looks the part inside and out. Our test car was decked out in heavy-duty cloth seats up front, with a vinyl bench in back. You have doubtless seen a few Chargers by now, so you’ll know that the angry furrowed brow and gun-sight grille is a much more intimidating prospect than the Crown Vic’s conservative, senior-citizen front end. Trust us, it looks even more bone-chilling when it’s decked out in black and white, adorned with a heavy-duty bar, and filling your rear-view mirror.
The Charger Police Package starts as a 3.5-liter V6-equipped model. Our tester added a $3,500 “Customer Preferred Package 29A” that included many of the bare essentials needed for police work, such as heavy-duty cooling, heavy-duty brakes, a different floor console to replace the stock one (chucked in favor of a big metal slab to mount laptops and such), and no-frills 18 x 7.5” steel wheels.
This package also equips the Charger with “Performance steering and suspension,” which actually made a huge difference. The Charger’s steering won high praise in the Roadfly office for its directness, yet the effort needed for major inputs was remarkably low.
The HEMI engine is a $2,230 upgrade. Our test car had a few more fleet-specific tweaks like an 8-way power driver’s seat for $380, spot lamps for $200 each, and a full-size wheel/tire combo in the trunk ($160).
We couldn’t imagine how a cop car could get much better without being a Corvette, but there was one chink in the Charger’s armor. Because the stock car’s shifter is ‘on the floor’ and not ‘on the tree,’ it needed to be relocated to the column to make room for the police-specific center console. The transplant was only a mild success, and during our research we discovered that cops testing the Charger had complained about the difficulty of getting into ‘drive’ quickly from reverse. For our part, we had some trouble getting the car into the proper gear without some practice. It is equipped with Chrysler’s AutoStick function, however, to give the driver more control over upshifts and downshifts.
The Crown Vic still beats the Charger in one crucial area, and that is price. Our V8 Charger cruiser carried a sticker of around $30,000, about four grand more than a Crown Vic. However, the V6 Charger costs around the same as the Ford (a V8 is standard on the Crown Vic), and offers the same level of performance. More competition is better for the consumer, and we’d like to see Ford come out with an updated rear-drive sedan with a V8 to challenge this Charger. If they don’t, the future looks substantially bleaker for the darling of America’s police forces.