Test Driven: 2000 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

The cops have had an interesting automotive history in this country.  Chrysler had a great grip on the market until the Eighties, then Chevy, and now Ford.  But, the Crown Victoria, Ford’s greatest offering to the altar of the fraternal order of police, died on September 15, 2011, after being in production for over three decades.  It’s not the best looking ride in the stable, and it certainly isn’t the one that gets all the girls.  But, it’s got room for six, eight cylinders, rear wheel drive, and a reputation for working around the clock and then some.  I grabbed the keys to this decade-plus old detective’s chariot and asked myself a very good question: Can a modern-day Blues-Mobile be worth 3 grand?

This old Ford wasn’t really in any condition for Concours, but it was certainly no junkyard candidate.  With just over 100,000 miles showing, it had a few break-in miles on the clock.  The paint was pretty worn out, and the whole car felt a bit rough but not destroyed.  Cops tend to really beat up their cars, even the undercover ones.  But, since this was an undercover ride, it had a full interior (most have no carpeting and a vinyl rear seat) and a real back seat.  The interior also had bucket seats with a custom center console (most likely, this model originally had a bench seat with a folding armrest).  Of course, this being a 2000 Crown Vic, it didn’t have many options.  All the essentials for decent motoring are there, such as air conditioning, a heater, cruise control, and a radio with CD.  Conspicuously missing was the tachometer, which did not end up on the Panther until 2006 (a poor oversight in my view).

One thing that people tend to forget is that the cops are not as interested in engine power as some may think.  The Crown Vic PI puts out 250bhp, not a lot for a 4.6L V8.  The important parts of the Police Interceptor are among other areas.  The frame is stronger, the electrical system is designed for the use of power accessories for extended periods of time, the cooling system is upgraded for extensive idle, and the suspension is beefed up for police use with higher-quality shocks and springs.  However, one of the most important things for a police car is interior room, and this is a car that has more of it than much larger vehicles.  The biggest car I’ve driven, the Maybach 57S, has plenty of room in the rear, but the Ford is better up front.  An officer with a full utility belt will feel very comfortable in the Ford’s park bench thanks to its lack of bolstering and soft cushion.  The trunk is enormous as well, with enough room for almost anything (I will leave it up to you to decide what I mean by “anything”).

The Crown Victoria was the last of its kind.  Its design is a body-on-frame, full-size sedan with rear wheel drive and a V8 engine bolted up front.  Its closest competitor, the Caprice, suffered an untimely death at the hands of GM and their obsession with SUVs in 1996 (the Texas factory was selected to produce more SUVs and therefore could no longer produce the big RWD sedans).  Time moved on, and this car did not.  Ford’s attempts to update it after its 1992 redesign were minor, including a 1998 facelift and a 2003 under-skin update (including rack and pinion steering!).  The big old Ford was an interesting character on the road.

First off, people are always scared of these cars.  Even if it doesn’t look like a police cruiser, the big Victoria has presence on the road which no car matches now.  People move out of your way even if you’re under the speed limit and one car length away at 60MPH.  That said, this is no rocket.  The 4.6 has torque and pushes off really well but doesn’t feel so powerful on the move.  It’s not a slowpoke, but it’s not fast at all.  The engine sounded tired, in every single way.  For over 100K miles, the Ford definitely felt worse than it looked, with everything loose and slushy.  The automatic transmission is no picnic either.  With only 4 speeds at its disposal, it still finds new and amazing ways to hunt between gears and generally make a fool of itself.  The car also created a few alarming noises on the street, including what sounded like a flat tire on the left rear corner–never a good thing.

In terms of handling, this thing is no BMW, and should never be approached as such.  While it is comfortable, with a smooth ride and good visibility, it doesn’t have much else.  The chassis is not at all set up for corners and even one stab of the brake pedal is a dead giveaway.  The ABS kicks in normally but the nose goes straight for the pavement and the pedal feel is soft.  The brake travel wasn’t bad but the feeling of “braking” in a Crown Victoria just made me queasy.  Body lean is surprisingly limited but grip is limited too.  The steering is just about perfect for turning corners, but not for taking corners–it’s loose and slow, even though it’s accurate.  The seats are comfortable but offer no help in corners, and I found myself gripping the steering wheel to stay in my seat.  This, however, is not what a Crown Victoria is for.  This is a car built to take a licking and keep on ticking.  It still felt like a tank even for its advanced age and condition, and although I never felt like I could take on Laguna Seca, I felt like I could easily plow through traffic behind the wheel of this behemoth.

So, in the end, was it worth the 3 grand asking price?  Maybe.  Mechanically it was in average shape, and it needed cleaning.  But it’s still a police cruiser for a song, and that alone got me interested.  I’d definitely consider it a good price but it needed a lot of work. If you’re looking for a Lotus or anything with a performance pedigree, I suggest looking elsewhere, but if you want a tough-as-nails sedan that can take more abuse than The Incredible Hulk, this is one car that I would recommend every time.

-Albert S. Davis

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