The Maxim Field Guide to the North American Cop Car

They’ve got beautiful plumage, but speed traps still suck.

Cop car watching is hugely popular. Drivers sit perched on their seat with the accelerator a bit closer to the floor than it should be and scan interstate highway dividers, turn outs, and rest stops for the telltale sirens and push-bars that mark a copper’s conveyance.

Catching sight of one is a double-thrill: The menacing beauty of a well-kept American sedan with black steelies quickens the pulse, and the realization that the car contains an officer who might ticket you for dropping the hammer on an empty road produces a brake-stomping, adrenaline-surging fury. Sightings end in confrontation or escape, but few drivers take the time to appreciate the growling patrol cars staring them down with roof-mounted spotlights.

Here’s why you should take that extra beat: The current lot of police-spec sedans, pickups and SUV’s is a handsome bunch. While we don’t recommend baiting them (tempting as a good chase is), any encounter with a cop car can’t be all bad when they look this sweet.

2015 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan

Spec: 3.5L Twin-Turbo V6, 365 horsepower

Top Speed: 149 mph

The civilian Taurus is a bit of a bulgy dame, with a thickness that is incongruent with its slender headlights. The Interceptor, though, uses copious black paint to tone things down and turn those eccentric features into something ominous. The eyes squint behind a push-bar, and the high haunches look powerful. Available with either a naturally aspirated (300 hp) or turbocharged V6, the Interceptor will stay with you to 150 mph, and all-wheel drive means you won’t be making any snowy getaways in your Subaru (Canadian cops also keep these AWD stormers handy). This homely spinster runs a merciless neighborhood watch.

2015 Ford Police Interceptor Utility

Spec: 3.5L Twin-Turbo V6, 365 horsepower

Top Speed: 132 mph

As the Ford Explorer, this SUV has the soft curves and low ride-height of a minivan (much to the chagrin of fans of earlier, truckier generations). But, as with the Taurus-Turned-Interceptor, police livery does a lot for its presence. Black steel wheels tone down the tinsel, and a smattering of antennae out back gives the look of a high tech paddy wagon. Even with all-wheel drive, this is no offroader, but in enforcement guise, this family truckster looks bad enough to earn a role in some urban dystopian movie (though it usually resides in fairly-utopian middle-class suburbs).   

2008 Ford Crown Victoria P71 Interceptor

Spec: 4.6L V8, 250 horsepower

Top Speed: 128 mph

The classic Crown Vic P71 is right up there with the Caprice 9C1 in terms of modern classics. It’s part of America’s visual fabric. But, with underpinning from the late seventies, the Crown Victoria hasn’t been on the technological front lines (or even, really, back at the base) in three decades. The big V8 made only 250 horsepower, and an antiquated four-speed meant dismal fuel economy. Still, to this day, these are the cars cops love most: simple, durable, and cheap to repair, with rear-drive and a V8 allowing for Cops-style power-slides should the situation require it. Plus, the sound of Ford’s modular V8 under hard acceleration is string section of any urban soundtrack.

2015 Dodge Charger Pursuit

Spec: 5.7L V8, 370 horsepower

Top Speed: 149 mph

The release of Dodge’s 707-horsepower, supercharged Charger Hellcat gave the world its most sinister sedan. Though it’s down 2/3 of a liter of displacement and a supercharger, the Dodge Charger Pursuit looks just as mean as its civilian superstar brother—this is a phylum to watch out for. With a front fascia screwed down in a perpetual frown and a rear deck lit red with a seamless swath of LEDs, the Charger Pursuit will never be playing good cop. The best you can hope for is that you’ll never break a law within its reach and be able to appreciate the beast from afar.

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe PPV

Spec: 5.3L V8, 355 horsepower

Top Speed: 139 mph

Sometimes, police need a truck whose ride height puts them eye-to-eye with drug kingpins in Cadillac Escalades. For that, Chevrolet offers a police-spec version of the Escalade’s platform-mate, the Tahoe, though without the Escalade’s humungous 6-liter motor. In full regalia, the Tahoe is a whole lot of enforcement: its push bar is about 3-feet tall, and twin spotlights look like they could illuminate an amphitheater. Sometimes, steel 17-inch rollers are cooler than chrome dubs. Often sold in rear-drive only, this bruiser is often sighted in downtown urban patrols.

2012-2015 Chevrolet Caprice PPV

Spec: 6.0L V8, 355 horsepower

Top Speed: 147 mph

This conservative sedan is police-only, so you should be clear on this: If there is a Chevy Caprice behind you, watch the hell out. Originally sold in Australia as the Holden Commodore, Chevy brought this car over a couple of years ago after realizing it needed a traditional V8, rear-drive sedan to compete with the popular Charger Pursuit. With none of the Charger’s evil looks or the Ford Interceptor’s interesting shape, the Caprice nevertheless makes a compelling case for itself with a huge back seat (all the better to pass out in) and a wonderfully large 6-liter V8. Replete with a column-mounted shifter, this is the American police sedan in classic form: staid and powerful, with a backseat big enough for a dozen hoodlums. This is anachronism we can get behind.

1994-1996 Chevy Caprice 9C1

Spec: 5.7L V8, 260 horsepower

Top Speed: 130 mph

Jelly bean on attack! This rounded sedan can be found skidding around corners in any nineties cop movie, or off-duty as the car ex-military gym teachers buy at police auction. Despite its soft looks, though, the 9C1 has a hard heart: a (slightly) detuned, 5.7L LTI V8 from the Corvette. While they’ve since been out-powered by modern sedans like the Charger and Caprice PPV, there was a decade when these special-order 9C1’s were the fastest car in many a rural town, and garnered respect accordingly. Yeah, it looks like a Buick, but it goes like a Vette.

2015 Chevrolet Impala Police

Spec: 3.6L V6, 290 horsepower

Top Speed: 150

The last vestige of “old GM,” the Impala is a stone best left unturned. While a modern GM V6 makes admirable power, everything else about this rental-fleet cruiser is pretty tedious. Even its press materials can’t work up much excitement: “The Impala Police is spacious and safe.” It well may be both those things, but no more than any other car on this list. For the Chevrolet aficionado, we recommend putting your heart behind one of the company’s extravagant V8 offerings, not this peahen.

2015 Ram 1500 Special Service

Spec: 5.7L V8, 370 horsepower

Top Speed: 106 mph

Texas is thick with these Hemi-powered police trucks, as are the better funded municipalities in Mexico. They’re big, brutish, and powerful, with the same V8 found in the Charger. But, unlike the charger, the Ram will happily and easily transition from a high-speed highway chase to a bumpy, across-the-median caper, and its bed allows officers to toss any contraband right in back without having to wait for backup. If you find yourself unsure whether you’ve come into contact with a standard Ram or a Ram Special Service, check the wheels—any Special Service truck will have 18-inch steelies, while most civilian Rams roll on flashier chrome. She’s a big bird, and a strong one. We recommend deference in all encounters.