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A new Sonoma County Sheriff's Office patrol car, similar to a civilian Ford Taurus, is getting outfitted in the Sonoma County's Fleet Management Santa Rosa garage. Photos by Peter Fremgen

It’s the iconic cop car: The Ford Crown Victoria.

But after about two decades, Ford has stopped making the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor model, leaving police departments across the nation to switch to new Ford, Chevrolet or Dodge police cars.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has chosen the new 2013 Ford Police Interceptor sedan and SUV models, which are similar to the Taurus and Explorer, respectively. Other local police departments driving Crown Vics eventually also will have to go to new cars. The CHP apparently has chosen the Ford SUV as its next workhorse.

Several of the new Sheriff’s Office vehicles are being outfitted — from logos to siren to radios to bars on the back side windows and more — at the county’s garage in Santa Rosa, and the first could hit the streets in a month or two, says Dave Head, fleet manager for the county.

The skinny so far on the new car is that it handles better than the rear-wheel-drive Crown Vic because it’s all-wheel drive and on-board computers adjust the suspension, compensate for any loss of traction and adjust if the car is going too fast around curves or corners. But the new car is smaller and a tight fit for deputies, prisoners and all of the equipment a deputy must carry.

Inside the new, smaller Ford patrol car. It's going to be a tight fit for deputies, with all of the equipment they need. A laptop computer will go in the docking station in the center console. Also between the front seats will be racks for a shotgun and AR-15 rifle.

Head says the challenge for his technicians before the new sedans can be used is to find a back seat that will accommodate prisoners and not squeeze deputies in the front seat. Ford added a large steel crossbar support under the back seat to allow the car and deputy to survive a 75-mph rear end collision. But that extra steel takes up some of the room for the back seat in the smaller patrol car.

The new car costs $28,322, while the SUV costs $29,488. That’s without any police equipment, which costs the county about $22,000 a car and takes 40 to 45 manhours to install, Head says. A Crown Vic cost about $24,000 to buy. After a car is retired, Head says, the police equipment is reused in a new car.

The back seat of the new patrol car is pretty tight and, in this mockup, pushes into the front seat passenger's space. County mechanics are looking into different setups.

Sheriff’s Capt. Matt McCaffrey says the Sheriff’s Office looked at police models offered by Dodge and Chevrolet and decided the Ford met its needs.

“For deputies, it’s their office on wheels — writing reports and conducting their business,” he says.

Head says the county has bought 17 new sedans and four SUVs.

Although the Sheriff’s Office evaluated the Ford and its competitors, McCaffrey says how well the sedan works won’t be known until deputies put tens of thousands of miles on them.

Head says a nicety of the new car and SUV is that many of their parts, including tires, wheels, suspension, engine and transmission, are the same, making part buying and use easier. The radiator and cooling hoses are made of aircraft-quality silicone, and Head says his crew never has had to replace one.

The new Ford police SUV, which is similar to an Explorer.

Here’s how the old and new sedans match up:

–Speed. Both speedometers top out at 140 mph.

–Engine: The new car has a 3.5-liter with 280 horsepower vs. the Crown Vic’s 4.6-liter with 250 horsepower.

–Gas mileage: New car rated at 17 mpg in city and 24 on highway vs. Crown Vic’s 14 mpg in city — “On a good day,” Head says — and 21 mpg highway.

–Exterior dimensions: New is 202.8 inches long; 76.2 inches wide, excluding the mirrors; 61.4 inches tall; and wheelbase of 112.9 inches vs. Crown Vic’s 212 inches long; 78.3 inches wide, excluding mirrors; 58.3 inches tall; and wheelbase of 114.7 inches.

–Interior dimensions: New is 39 inches of head room, 57.9 inches of shoulder room, 56.3 inches of hip room and 41.9 inches of leg room vs. Crown Vic’s 39.5 inches of head room, 60.6 inches of shoulder room, 57.4 inches of hip room and 41.6 inches of leg room.

–Gas tank: Both 19 gallons.

Head says the county still has about eight or so new Crown Vics  in storage and, along with the new Fords, they’ll be put into service as older cars are retired. And with the typical life of a patrol car of about three years and 90,000 miles, the Crown Vics will be around for a while.

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