Sedans vs. SUVs: What vehicle is right for your agency?

Jun 21st, 2017

With more options available, consider your patrol and pursuit needs, terrain and budget

By Barry A. Reynolds for PoliceOne BrandFocus

With the variety of law enforcement patrol vehicles now available, some agencies are replacing some or part of their fleets with non-traditional vehicles. NYPD, for example, has been using Smart cars on a limited basis to replace three-wheeled scooters in their fleet. The Los Angeles Police Department uses electric vehicles as part of their unmarked fleet and even received a Tesla on loan to evaluate.

Apart from these examples, however, the vast majority of agencies around the country still need to restock their patrol fleets with traditional, multi-functional vehicles. Selecting the right type of vehicle for your agency requires analysis of the current models available and comparison with the demands of your agency and geography of your jurisdiction.

Most law enforcement patrol vehicles belong to one of two vehicle categories: sedan or the sport utility vehicle.


The sedan category includes four-door vehicles of the traditional car body type. These are generally well-suited for urban and municipal areas in which off-road use or severe weather conditions are less of a concern. Typically these are rear-wheel-drive vehicles with trunk space for equipment and electronic components.

Sedans are the workhorses of police cruisers, with both power and speed. The disadvantage of sedans as patrol vehicles is that they are less suited for situations in which four-wheel drive and higher vehicle clearance are necessary in order to travel over rough terrain or through snow. They also offer less interior and trunk space than SUVs, which can affect driver comfort and restrict the amount of equipment that can be stowed.

Current sedan options include the Chevrolet Caprice, Dodge Charger and Ford Police Interceptor.

The Chevrolet Caprice is offered in a 3.6-liter, 301 horsepower version that provides an average of 21 mpg or a 6.0-liter engine that delivers 355 horsepower but at the cost of reducing average mpg to 18. Both models are rear-wheel-drive and provide 56 cubic feet of front seat interior space and 17.4 cubic feet of trunk space, both of which are leaders in the sedan category.

The Dodge Charger is available in a 3.6-liter, 292 horsepower model, which gets 20 mpg on average. Also available is the 5.7-liter engine, which has 370 horsepower – best in the sedan category. Both models have 55.6 cubic feet of front interior room and 16.5 cubic feet of trunk space. Dodge also offers the 5.7-liter model with an option for all-wheel drive.

The Ford Police Interceptor Sedan comes in a variety of engine options, starting with a 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecoboost model that sports an EPA estimate of 28 mpg on the highway. Ford also offers a 3.5-liter front-wheel-drive model and a 3.7-liter all-wheel-drive model, which come in at 240 and 288 horsepower, respectively. Finally, Ford offers the 3.5-liter engine in a turbocharged Ecoboost model with all-wheel drive that features 365 horsepower but reduces overall mpg to 18. The Ford sedan models have 54.8 cubic feet of front interior room and 16.6 cubic feet of trunk space.

It’s important to balance your need for speed and power with the need for fuel economy. The difference in fuel economy may sway your purchasing decision, but applying an aftermarket solution to recalibrate the engine can boost a vehicle’s fuel economy and close the gap between mpg and performance.


The sport utility vehicle has gained immensely in popularity over the past few years. Once the common patrol vehicle for only the most extreme rural agencies, sport utility police vehicles are now being used by all types of law enforcement agencies for their versatility and ability to maneuver through the worst of on- and off-road conditions.

The sport utility category is dominated by two primary makes and models, the Chevy Tahoe and the Ford Police Interceptor Utility.

The Tahoe features a 5.3-liter engine that yields 355 horsepower with an average 18 mpg. The Tahoe is available in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel drive models, both of which feature a turning radius of 39 feet and a minimum ground clearance of 8.5 inches – essential when negotiating rough terrain or through heavy snow.

The Ford Police Interceptor Utility comes in a 3.7-liter version or a 3.5-liter Ecoboost model. The 3.7-liter engine has 304 horsepower and an average of 17 mpg, while the Ecoboost model has over 60 more horsepower at the same level of fuel efficiency. The Fords have a turning radius of 38.8 feet and minimum ground clearance of 6.4 inches.

The lower mpg of SUVs may make these vehicles seem less attractive from a budget standpoint, but recalibrating engine settings, especially when idling, can significantly increase a vehicle’s fuel economy and yield savings without sacrificing performance.

Another key consideration is interior space. Sedans and available trunk space continue to shrink even as the amount of equipment officers must carry every day on patrol continues to increase. Aftermarket recalibration can close the mpg gap between sedans and SUVs when cargo space is a priority.

Police vehicle manufacturers have stepped up their games in recent years to meet the increasing and diverse needs of the nation’s law enforcement agencies. Whether your agency patrols the temperate highways of southern states or travels mountainous areas in the worst of winter conditions, you will be sure to find a vehicle that meets your needs.

About the author

Barry Reynolds has over 35 years of experience in the police profession, including 31 years in municipal law enforcement. He is a leadership author and instructor, and owner of Police Leadership Resources LLC, which provides leadership training and consulting to law enforcement agencies. Barry previously served as a senior training officer and the coordinator for career development programs for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Training and Standards Bureau. Barry holds a master of science degree in management and is a certified leadership instructor.

This article originally was featured on June 20, 2017




Unlock the Performance of your Police Fleet with Derive Efficiency. Click here to request more information.