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by Tom Yates
Can the venerable Chevrolet Caprice ever be replaced in the hearts of the men in blue?
After spending the better part of a work day, about 6 hours, behind the wheel of the new Chevrolet Impala police package, its Caprice predecessor, and the Ford Police Interceptor, we found more than just the name had changed — in many ways, for the better.
The old Caprice was a V-8-powered front-engine, rear-drive sedan built on a separate frame and chassis. Cops have been driving this type of vehicle since Dick Tracy was a beat patrolman. The new Impala is a V-6-powered front-engine, front-drive sedan built on a unit body with a high-strength aluminum front engine cradle that carries the engine, transmission and front suspension.
That's a pretty radical change for cops, a group that resists change as a basic tenet of survival. In the police business, equipment has to work. There's no time for experimentation or product development. But Bruce Wiley, GM's North American vehicle and product manager of Police, Fleet and Commercial Operations, tells us Chevrolet has done its homework. The carmaker knows there’s going to be a lot of resistance from conservative cops, but Wiley thinks Chevy's put together a front-drive package that will work for them.
Conventional wisdom and cop cars
The terms front-wheel drive (FWD) and police car have always been mutually exclusive. Wiley says the resistance to FWD goes back to the early 1980s, when Chevrolet attempted to build a police package based on the FWD Celebrity. "That attempt failed miserably," he says. "We didn't have the knowledge base back then that we do now."
Conventional wisdom says that front drivers won't stand up under the stress police work puts on a vehicle. It also says FWD performance and durability can't equal that of a RWD vehicle; driving through ditches, jumping curbs and the general hard driving cops have to do has generally been hard on FWD.