Ever heard of a PUV?

   The retail consumer might call the latest ride for police from Ford an SUV, but with its design, technology and lowered center of gravity, the Ford Police Interceptor II is less sport and more law enforcement oriented than models of police fleet past. You'd be more accurate to call this a police utility vehicle.

   In early September, Ford Motor Co. unveiled the second part of its two-vehicle strategy created to take the place of its formerly dominating Crown Victoria models, set to retire manufacturing next year. With much fanfare at the company's manufacturing plant in Lansing, Ill., company spokesman Ken Czubay revealed the utility version of the previously announced Ford Interceptor sedan.

   The company listed safety features and compatibility of parts as notable aspects of the new line of police vehicles: the Interceptor I, a sedan; and the Interceptor II, an SUV.

   With the approaching retirement of the Crown Vic from Ford, fleet managers and the law enforcement community have seen renewed energy in the police vehicle market in recent months, with the Carbon Motors E7, Dodge's law enforcement adaptation of its Charger and the revamped Caprice from Chevrolet. Emphasis by manufacturers has been placed on economical fuel options and increased safety and power abilities.

   After the reveal, law enforcement representatives and members of the media were invited to ride-along on a closed orange cone-studded course, hosted at the Ford campus. Four models were present, including the Interceptor II utility model, the Interceptor I, the EcoBoost model of the Interceptor I and for comparison, a legacy Crown Victoria police vehicle.

   Lt. Mark Twombly with the Dane County Sheriff's Office, a state agency hosting approximately 115 vehicles of various makes and missions, says the ride-along event was the most valuable part of the Ford reveal.

   According to Ford, the CVPI has accounted for 70 percent of all police vehicles sold in the United States; the present-day fleet at the Dane County Sheriff's department comes close with the Crown Vic forming about 52 percent of its cars.

   Twombly states if the Crown Vics were not being discontinued, his agency would likely carry on buying them. So why would Ford quit a good thing? Ford spokeswoman Lisa Teed says the company is being asked to provide improvement that can't be made without advanced platforms. New requirements for safety such as braking and upcoming fall 2011 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations for crush criterion caused Ford to revamp its proven and industry respected CVPI.

   A key element of concern for 26-year law enforcement vet Twombly is the real estate available inside the present police fleet offerings. He adds some new sedans have limited space for his in-car equipment needs.

   "As a county agency, our problem is with all the equipment we must carry," Twombly says. "It gets cramped in the passenger side because all our ancillary equipment needs to fit." For this reason, the Interceptor II piqued his interest, as the space for shotgun and laptop mounting is considered into the model plan. In addition, the vehicle's rear storage can potentially host the police radar, rifles and computer equipment like in-car video system and laptops that sheriff's deputies must have in tow. "That trunk area was huge, which could be a huge potential benefit for us," Twombly says.

   Teed says the decision to introduce two vehicles to replace its Crown Vic comes directly from the requests of agencies. "It's obvious Ford put a lot of thought into [the Interceptor II] and listens to what law enforcement has to say," Twombly says. In the past, other police SUVs were of interest, but the problem Twombly says usually came down to safety issues for the larger-jurisdiction state agency: a high point of gravity and rolling were a great concern. The new utility Interceptor II has a low point of gravity that reduces roll incident concern. Plus this model is pursuit-rated, which combined with its all-wheel drive for the diversity of Wisconsin weather, makes the newly revealed ride exciting, Twombly says.

   Finally, during the ride-along portion of the event, Twombly says he was impressed by the SUV's handling abilities. "I was rather skeptical because of my experience with SUVs in the past," he adds. "But the ride surprised me." Most participants were only invited to ride in the passenger seat through the snake-maneuver-lined course. While Twombly found the passenger ride helpful as a preview of the capabilities, he's still interested in what the behind-the-wheel experience will hold.

   "We're all facing the same problem right now, which is budget," Twombly says. That means even if the Interceptor II is the most wonderful ride out there, if the price is too high and it doesn't fit into the state's budget, it's out. While Teed says no price information is available for release at present, law enforcement can rest assured the cost for the new models will be comparable to the CVPI. She says she's hearing some confusion on this level, and explains that because Ford is a large manufacturing operation, it is able to bring the pricing down to the point where it's at the value of the former Crown Victoria Police Interceptor because it does not have to pass through research and development costs like smaller or more niche vendors may need to. "We are fortunate that we can actually live within the same zone of the CVPI pricing." Teed says.

   Editor's notes: Check out video of the new ride at Officer.com including passenger-side footage from the closed-course drive event. Visit tinyurl.com/FordPUV.

   Kicking off in 2011, the company will be working through account managers to set up invites for various agencies to get their hands on the wheel and experience the new vehicles. Interested parties should get in touch with regional Ford reps for drive opportunities or visit Ford's Web site.