Suddenly, with lights flashing and siren wailing, the police car roared ahead at full speed over the snow. I didn't even look in the mirror; my adrenalin soared and my focus sharpened. There was a slippery turn coming up but I knew that, whatever happens, he wasn't going to take me. Not this time.
But that's only because I was actually the one behind the wheel of this Dodge Charger Pursuit 5.7-litre AWD police car. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) was staging a show of its fleet of four-wheel- and all-wheel-drive vehicles – ranging from a giant Ram Power Wagon to a Chrysler 200 to a tiny Jeep Renegade – at Mirabel Airport, just outside of Montreal.
Easily, however, with its lights, sirens and black-and-white paint job, the Pursuit was the vehicle that turned everyone who sat behind its wheel into a giggling 10-year-old boy.
And, though the Charger Pursuit and the red civilian Charger parked nearby may look the same, underneath that sinister bodywork they are different animals, from the ground up. The Pursuit rides on steel wheels with high-speed tires specially designed for police use. The suspension and bushings are beefed up, as are the brakes, cooling package and the heavy duty electrical system. Inside, the shifter has been moved to the steering column to free up the centre console, vinyl is used on the floors for durability and ease of cleaning, while the seats have carve-outs to accommodate police utility belts. It's also equipped with the Secure Park feature: if an officer needs to leave the vehicle while it's running, the shifter is prevented from anyone else putting the car in drive.
The Pursuit is offered with a 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 in rear-wheel drive; the 5.7-litre Hemi comes in rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (that last combination isn't offered on the retail Charger). Even the all-wheel-drive system has been recalibrated for police work.
This is just a short list of the changes to the Pursuit, which, along with the civilian Charger sedan, is made in Brampton. But, says Alison Rahm, chief engineer on the Charger program, while they are different, their development is not altogether separate.
"Both cars actually gain a great deal of synergy from each other," she says. "There are things we do specifically for Pursuit that add value to the retail car, and vice versa. For example, sometimes we've made changes for durability on the police car, and it only made sense to back that into the retail side. Also, with our next-generation radio coming from the retail side, we've been able to offer a backup camera on the police car for the first time."
But Pursuit development is not just done in-house at FCA. Neil Young, manager of what the company calls "vehicle integration engineering," the department behind the Pursuit, says input from law enforcement is crucial to its success.
"We work with police officers to understand what their needs are today and in the future," says Young. "For example, we have a 22-member police advisory board and, with that process, we bring in police officers, fleet managers and experts in the industry who we talk with to find out their needs.
"We also do annual third-party testing. Every year, we submit our product to be tested by the Michigan State Police along with our competitors. The tests are quite gruelling and, this year, we did very well, the team is very proud of it."
And it should be. Out of 14 vehicles at the most recent test late last year at the Chrysler Proving Grounds (which also included utility vehicles), the Pursuit 5.7-litre AWD scored the fastest average time in a track-based test, had the second-fastest top speed of 240 km/h and was bested in braking only by its 3.6-litre sibling.
And at the Mirabel snow course? There was no official timing, but the slippery surface – which became more difficult the more it was used – was a good test for the Pursuit's AWD. Like FCA's other AWD systems (22 different AWD or 4x4 systems in all) it's a part-time feature that activates not only when detecting a loss of traction, but also with low temperatures and even the activation of the wipers. On a high-speed slalom and autocross course, the Pursuit was surprisingly good at keeping a direct line in turns, with just a few dabs of opposite steering and throttle blipping needed to keep the rear end from kicking completely out. Even at a portly 2,034 kilograms, understeer is controllable.
The Pursuit AWD could make handling and driving in extreme weather easier and safer, even at higher speeds sometimes needed for law enforcement. Which is good for police, not so much for scofflaws.
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