A childhood dream came true recently when a few of us automotive journalists were invited to join loads of law enforcement officers in test driving Ford’s all-new Police Interceptor utility vehicles, including the first-ever pursuit-rated hybrid model. This spectacle took place in a parking lot at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which constantly amazes me with how many different kinds of non-NASCAR events it hosts throughout the calendar year.
Going back to 1996, I have spent countless hours riding along as a journalist with police officers and sheriff’s deputies, but only now, 23 years later, have I taken the wheel of a police vehicle. And with all due respect to those Crown Vics of yesteryear, they would be left standing at the starting line by these new Police Interceptor utility vehicles.
The 2020 lineup, all three based on the body-on-frame Ford Explorer, consists of the 3.3-liter, the 3.3-liter hybrid and the 3-liter EcoBoost. They’re all V-6 engines, and they’re each more powerful than the old Crown Vics, which sported 4.6-liter V-8s back in the day. But you may be surprised to learn that the 3.0 was significantly faster and more powerful than the rest of the lot. Intrigued? Read on.
Police departments not wanting to try anything too out of the ordinary may opt for the 3.3-liter gas engine, which produces a generous 285 horsepower and a whopping 260 pound-feet of torque. When I drove this model around the twisty-turny closed course, I was impressed with its ability to handle my erratic driving and my tendency to push too hard into the corners. The driving instructor a couple of times had to remind me to brake a bit earlier, but this Interceptor was quite forgiving.
Next up was the 3.3-liter hybrid model, and it, too, handled well and offered the same level of performance. Actually, this hybrid is said to deliver a combined 318 horsepower when utilizing gas and electric for short bursts. I tried to notice the difference, but it was relatively the same vehicle. Now go back and read that again: A hybrid SUV is performing at the same level or maybe better than an all-gas SUV, and both of these far outperform typical SUVs. Both outperform the iconic Crown Vic Interceptors of the past as well. That’s amazing to me, especially when you consider the benefits of a hybrid, which can idle in all-electric mode, saving lots of fuel over the course of a year.
Finally, they put me in the 3-liter, which threw me off completely. I wrongly assumed that this smaller engine would deliver smaller results. I was unprepared for how quick this monster is.
I wish I could have driven it for a second lap. On my first and only, I had the seat pushed back just a bit too far, and when I floored it off the line, it pushed me into the seat, and my hands loosened grip of the steering wheel. Naturally, I applied the brakes, and then I stopped to adjust the seat and steering wheel. I stomped the gas again, but I had already burned up half of that first straightaway, so I was weak going into Turn One. Never mind, the rest of the course was a thrill ride. This 3-liter engine squashed the competition with its 400 horses and ridiculous 415 pound-feet of torque.
Full disclosure: I’d have known this third Interceptor was the beefiest if I hadn’t jumped the line for the introductory talk and headed straight for the drivers’ queue. Sorry, but I was on a long lunch break, and I still needed to squeeze in a bite to eat on the way back to the office.
Turns out, the 3-liter Interceptor achieves its greatness with an EcoBoost turbocharger akin to the ones they put in Lincoln Aviators and the 2020 Ford Explorers, and just a step or two down from the popular 2017 Ford GT. It’s crazy-fast for an SUV. It was honestly more than I could handle in that one lap. I needed to get used to its power, and I’d love to have a second go at it one day.
While the track session was super cool, I also enjoyed learning from the Ford reps about the genius that goes into providing the Interceptor utility vehicles to the police. For starters, nobody idles like the police do. No disrespect here. A police officer’s vehicle is their office most of the time, so they often have to pull over somewhere, access their phones and laptops, and get their paperwork done while sitting on ready to respond to emergencies. High performance engines notoriously burn too much fuel, and if you’re just sitting there, wouldn’t it be nice to switch the engine off? You couldn’t do that in the Georgia summertime without a strong battery-run climate control system, and that’s what you get with the Interceptor hybrid. They say it can add up to thousands of dollars in fuel savings each year, and I can’t help but think it becomes a friendlier option for police who must idle in parking areas and near crowds and pedestrians.
The real kicker is that the Interceptor hybrid still gives you strong performance when you do get that call and have to stop idling and be somewhere quickly or catch up to a pursued vehicle.
Not long after Ford stopped making the Crown Victoria Interceptor, we saw Dodge pick up the slack in the police sedan market with their modified Charger. In more recent years, we’ve seen more police go to SUVs, and especially Fords and Chevys, so I’m guessing we’re going to see more and more departments opting for the Police Interceptor utility line in the years to come.
If you’re a police officer, you may want to check out the next Interceptor utility drive event if it rolls back through town. I’ll have my driving gloves on ready for Round Two.
[Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]