A grand debut at the Las Vegas Speedway E-mail

The new police car from Ford, developed by the people who drive them.

The iconic patrol car of the last decade, the Crown Vic, is soon to fade away into history when Ford ceases its production next year.

The questions on the minds and lips of police leaders, fleet managers and, most importantly, law enforcement officers, have been: "What will be taking its place?" and "Will it be as good as the Crown Vic?"

Those two questions and many more were answered at the Las Vegas Speedway on March 12 when Ford unveiled the next generation Police Interceptor before a crowd of about two hundred law enforcement personnel and media. Judging from the smiles and comments coming from the men and women as they stepped out of the demonstration vehicles and removed their protective helmets after a few white-knuckle laps around the speedway, I'd say that Ford answered those questions quite well.

Ford Police Interceptor

The day began with Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, explaining the company's strategy of designing the first purpose-built police vehicle; one that would be created not only by the engineers at Ford but by the very people who spend their careers driving them - law enforcement officers.

To that end, the company put together a Police Advisory Board made up of law enforcement professionals from North America to give a real-world viewpoint from the ground up.

The new car features specially designed seats which take into consideration gun-belts, level three ballistic protection in the door panels, and anti-stab panels between the front and rear seats.

The list of safety features is impressive. The frame itself is specially designed to protect the occupants in case of impact, including a beam that runs the width of the car and a built-in "roll bar."

The car is built to withstand a 75 mph crash from behind, and comes not only with the normal airbags but side protection airbags and something that is brand new - an airbag "curtain" that senses if a vehicle is going to roll over and protects the occupants from the glass windows as well.

Add to that a sonar device which senses movement around the car and objects to the rear of the vehicle and an all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive which enhances the stability and performance.

Ford Police Interceptor

Comfort and practicality were clearly evident by the amount of room and layout of the interior. There's plenty of space made available for the normal patrol car add-ons, such as shotgun and rifle racks, computer terminals, radar and prisoner separation units.

Now let's get to the good stuff. How does this baby drive and handle? The car is an all new vehicle and purpose built for police - basically a Ford Taurus on steroids with two choices of engines.

One pumps out 263 horsepower. The other is a turbocharged V/6 engine named "Eco-Boost" which puts out a whopping 365 horses. Both outperform the Crown Vic and are more fuel efficient.

The highlight of the day was getting onto the track. With professional drivers behind the wheel, each of us began with a lap in a Crown Vic, followed by laps in the new Interceptor, one with the regular V/6 and the other with the "Eco-Boost V/6.

Having driven Crown Vics on patrol in Las Vegas for more years than I choose to divulge, I must admit to a certain amount of skepticism as to whether it could be out-performed. But the difference was quite clear. Both new cars were quicker, handled corners better, and had stronger suspension than the Crown Vic.

The car equipped with the "Eco-Boost" engine was incredibly responsive and I found that the one authorized lap left me wanting more.

The really good news? Ford announced a second utility Police Interceptor will make its debut later in the year.

Although the Crown Vic may be passing into history as America's police car, the new Police Interceptor will carry on that proud tradition with the men and women who protect America's cities, counties, towns and highways.

Lt. Randy Sutton is a 33 year veteran with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. and the author of: TRUE BLUE Police Stories by Those Who Have Lived Them, A COP'S LIFE, and TRUE BLUE To Protect and Serve. He is the creator of the seminar "Policing With Honor." He can be contacted at www.policingwithhonor.com.

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