Police cars are both the most awesome and most maddening vehicles to drive on public roads. On one hand, you're the apex predator: Other drivers get out of your way in a hurry, and highway traffic parts for you quicker than the Red Sea parted for Moses. On the other hand, everyone slows down on surface streets, causing you to be stuck behind people going 5 to 10 mph under the speed limit for no obvious reason.
I recently took a Quick Spin behind the wheel of one of the newest police vehicles on the market: Ford's unique 2018 F-150 Police Responder, which became available earlier this year. Ford expects the pickup to head to mostly rural constabularies, border patrols, fish and game services, and agencies that need the capability of an off-road pickup truck instead of an on-road patrol car.
Inside the Cab
The truck starts with the F-150 XL work truck trim and adds the FX4 Off-Road Package. That means it has vinyl flooring, basic cloth seats and a tiny multimedia screen instead of Ford's larger Sync 3 touchscreen.
The truck I drove didn't have the lights and sirens of a typical police vehicle, but it was outfitted inside with an aftermarket console that allows control panels and computers to be mounted. Because the truck has its factory center console deleted, it features a column shifter to free up some room between the seats.
Under the Hood
But Ford uses this tough-truck starting point as a platform to build on, adding the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine making 375 horsepower and 470 pounds-feet of torque. It's mated to the latest 10-speed automatic transmission and has a part-time four-wheel-drive system. Ford adds extra underbody protection with more skid plates, 18-inch alloy wheels with Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires and heavy-duty brake calipers. Under the hood, the only modification is a heavy-duty 240-amp alternator that powers all the onboard electronics and computers that law enforcement agencies install.
How It Drives
Out on the street, the F-150 Police Responder was remarkably civilized for a police vehicle. Law enforcement Chevrolet Tahoes I've driven have all been piggish, heavy and sluggish in their responses, with a lot of weight to haul around and a top-heavy feel that makes me marvel at the skills of the law enforcement officers who pilot them in high-speed pursuits. The F-150 had no such hang-ups: Despite the off-road tires (which allowed for a remarkably supple ride on-road), the pickup felt responsive and quick. Credit the torque profile of that 3.5-liter engine, but the 10-speed automatic also does wonders for keeping things in the hot zone for engine response.
Steering feel was light and heavily boosted, as one would expect from an FX4 F-150, but thanks to the aluminum construction of the F-150 shifting its center of gravity lower than that of a traditional steel pickup or SUV, it felt planted and stable around corners without the tippyness that plagues the Tahoe. The brakes are strong and easy to modulate, with the extra grip from the larger calipers bleeding off speed in the F-150 with absolutely zero drama. Acceleration is decent, but the secret to getting the most performance out of the F-150 Responder is to press the Drive mode button until it's in Sport mode.
Sport mode wakes this truck up and turns every turbocharged F-150 into a sports truck regardless of its trim level. Throttle responses get more immediate. Gears are held longer. I predict that most law enforcement officers who end up behind the wheel of these things will keep them in Sport mode most of the time just to get the most performance out of their trucks on a daily basis.
What It Costs
The 2018 Ford F-150 Police Responder starts at $44,450 including destination, but don't rush to your local Ford dealer to buy one; they're sold only through Ford's fleet outlets and only to registered law enforcement agencies. If you want one, you'll have to wait a few years to see if one shows up on the used market, like all police vehicles eventually do.
So, if you live in a rural area, you have our condolences. The best-selling vehicle in the world now gets a police package that will make spotting our friends in blue on the highway more challenging when exceeding the legal speed limit. Not that any of our readers do that. Nor do our writers. Of course not.
Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman