The track was wet, and that was a big problem.
As several hundred of us gathered at a rural raceway in central Michigan, we couldn't wait for the sun to come out. Aside from the chill and dampness in the air, a wet track meant that vehicle testing was going to be delayed. After all, while pushing police vehicles to their limits can only be described as a really good time, it's not at all reasonable to ask the test drivers to do it on a wet roadway.
The 2007 Model Year Patrol Vehicle Tests were conducted by the Michigan State Police, as they are every year. Each year, different manufacturers bring their police package vehicles to mid-Michigan for these tests, which have become the benchmark for many law enforcement agencies. There are two separate categories for test vehicles; general service patrol vehicles, such as the Ford Crown Vic unit we're all so familiar with, and "special service vehicles," which includes vehicles with a higher center of gravity, generally deemed inappropriate for high speed, pursuit driving. This latter category includes the Chevrolet Tahoe four wheel drive and Ford Expedition SUVs, as well as others. The general purpose vehicles go through all the tests, while the special service vehicles are not subjected to the high speed vehicle dynamics tests.
Typically held in September for the coming year's models, the tests include many different dimensions of vehicle performance. On this particular day, we were observing high speed handling tests at the Grattan Raceway in Grattan, Michigan. The setting is rural and very peaceful, if you don't count the constant sound of vehicles traveling at high speeds.
Due to the wet roadway, volunteers were driving the vehicles around the track in order to speed the drying of the pavement. Dozens of chiefs, sheriffs, and other law enforcement personnel, as well as manufacturers' representatives and media types milled around on the infield of the raceway, consuming food that was tasty, but quickly getting cold. Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, the MSP safety monitors pronounced the track ready for testing, and we were underway.
Two days prior to this, most of the same folks were standing in the fog at the Daimler-Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, doing much the same thing--waiting for conditions to improve. That time it was fog, which significantly impacted visibility.
Once testing began, we observed a variety of vehicles from Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler being put through their paces. Vehicles were tested for braking capability in order to calculate their projected stopping distance from 60 miles per hour. In this category, the winner was the Dodge Magnum 3.5 liter, with a stopping distance of 129.9 feet. In the special service category, the Ford Escape Hybrid 2.3 liter took the honors, at 139.3 feet.
Acceleration and top speed testing was broken out a little differently. Each vehicle's acceleration performance was measured in increments of 10 mph; so the first test was from 0 to 20 mph, the next from 0 to 30 mph, and so on, up to 0 to 100 mph, then a top speed was recorded.
The results were interesting. While the spread from vehicle to vehicle was pretty close, the Dodge vehicles were the clear winners. In the general service category, the Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter was quickest in the first two test brackets (0-20 and 0-30 mph) followed closely by the Dodge Charger 5.7 liter, then tied with the Dodge Charger 5.7 liter in the 0-40 mph bracket. The Dodge Charger 5.7 liter took the next six test brackets, followed by the Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter. In other words, the two Dodges were number one and two in every test bracket. The Dodge Charger 5.7 liter also took top speed honors (148 mph), with the number two slot going to the Chevrolet Impala (139 mph).
In the special service category, the results were spread out a little more. The first two test brackets were taken by the Ford Explorer 4.6 liter, with the Dodge Magnum 3.5 liter tying with the Ford Expedition models for second place. The Dodge Magnum 3.5 liter took the rest of the test brackets (from 0-40 mph up to 0-100 mph), with the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD splitting the second place honors. The fastest special service vehicle was the Dodge Magnum 3.5 liter, at 116 mph, while the Ford Expedition 5.4 liter came in second, at 104 mph. Two vehicles topped out at less than 100 mph; the Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD at 98 mph and the Ford F-250 5.4 liter, at 95 mph.
High speed vehicle dynamics testing was limited to the general purpose vehicles, as it usually is. The score here is the average time for four different drivers on five laps of the Grattan track (for a total of 20 laps per vehicle). Here again, the Dodge vehicles grabbed top honors, with the Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter coming in with an average time of 1:37.65, and the Dodge Charger 5.7 liter a close second at 1:37.69.
Something new this year was a pilot testing program with police motorcycles. Both Harley Davidson and BMW brought bikes for consideration. The testing isn't formalized, but serious consideration is being given for next year's tests.
More detailed results of the testing can be downloaded from the Michigan State Police website. The results are still in their preliminary stages, but final reports of the full results should be available soon.
The Michigan State Police have a proud tradition of excellence, and these tests are a great benefit to the law enforcement community. The fact that the results are acknowledged as the benchmark by agencies across the country is proof enough of the enormous service provided by MSP to cops everywhere.
Stay safe, and wear your vest!