With more than 18,000 police agencies nationwide, there’s certainly a need for police-oriented vehicles even though, numerically, the police vehicle marketplace remains minuscule compared to the overall automotive landscape. There’s no denying manufacturers derive a sense of pride and contribution when their particular vehicle is used for law enforcement use. And the same holds for us officers in the field—we all know the pride and excitement of driving a new police vehicle that looks great, drives well and allows us to do our job with ease.
Unfortunately, unless your agency has a trust fund or recently won the lottery, we also know the embarrassment of driving a creaky spare unit with more wires hanging out than a 12-year-old with braces and paint more faded than Vanilla Ice’s career. It’s defeating, unprofessional and not very motivating. Thankfully, manufacturers in recent years have collaborated with law enforcement agencies to develop vehicles that will remain enjoyable to work out of even as they get older.
Exhibit A: the newly redesigned 2007 Chevy Impala 9C1 Police Package. Chevrolet also makes the 9C3 Police Package, which is an undercover version of the 9C1, but in this article I’ll concentrate on the patrol-package Impala.
Trotting Through History
To refresh, the Impala nameplate has been with Chevrolet since 1958 when it was offered as a trim package on the Chevrolet Bel Air. Named after an African antelope, the Impala joined other muscle car nameplates in the 1960s with its SS trim packages featuring ground-pounding 427 cubic-inch engines. In the 1970s, however, driving “performance cars” such as the Impala was pretty much like dancing with your cousin at a wedding: You were there because you had to be, you didn’t really enjoy it, your cousin didn’t make it much fun and you really couldn’t wait for it to end.
The Impala nameplate was discontinued in 1985, but in 1991 Chevrolet turned the police vehicle market on its ear with the introduction of the Caprice 9C1 police package. This platform featured the classic components of a great police car: big interior, big trunk, big engine and a live rear axle. While styled a bit like an upside-down bathtub, the 1994-1996 model years of the Caprice Classic Police Car still won the hearts of many an officer. With its dual exhaust, 3:08 rear-end ratio and a thumping 5.7-liter engine more or less borrowed from the Corvette (and making 260 hp and 330 foot-lbs. of torque), the Caprice Classic blew every other police vehicle available into the proverbial weeds. My agency still uses one for various training duties, and officers still woo over the throaty exhaust, ample power and big interior.
An offshoot of that Caprice was the 1994-1996 Impala SS, which featured items culled from the police-package Caprice, speaking volumes about the effectiveness of that packaging. For whatever reasons, Chevrolet killed off the Caprice/Impala in 1996 and didn’t re-enter the Impala nameplate into the lexicon of automotive choices until 2000.
The introduction of the 2000 Impala left those with thoughts of another powerful rear-drive behemoth adrift in a sea of V-6 engines, cramped quarters and front-wheel drive. The 2000 Impala was a sign of things to come: smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles with front-drive packaging for lower cost and better efficiency. The 2000 Impala featured two engine packages, a 180-hp, 3.4-liter engine, and a 3.8-liter variant making an even 200 hp. Compared to the Crown Vic, the Impala was nimbler, more fuel efficient and ran circles around the Crown Vic in the snow with its front-wheel drive.
Still, it had issues. As one who put many miles on the 2000-2005 Impala, it was ill-suited for highway-patrol work. While stable at high speeds, it lacked top-end power, suffered from heat exhaustion and drive-line fragility, and ground clearance was a real problem when it came time to enter medians, things my Crown Vic had no issues with. Plus, it was cramped with a dash much too close to the driver, door openings that were too small, a center radio console that eliminated much-needed cup holders and a digital speedometer that cast a blue hue over the inside of the car. Visibility was also poor out the rear windows, the trunk was tight and the only officers who seemed to fit in these cars were either smaller females or skinny males. Huskier officers like me invariably ended up dislodging half the gear on their duty belt each time they wedged themselves behind the wheel. Plus, its oddly boxed looks and narrow profile made it difficult for the average citizen to take it seriously as a police car. And while some agencies like the NYPD grew to swear by these first-generation Impalas, it was clear changes needed to be made for the Impala to compete with the Crown Victoria and the newly introduced Dodge Charger.
Enter Mark Clawson. As the marketing manager at Chevrolet for mostly truck-based platforms, Clawson was approached with the task of taking over the Impala program. Clawson agreed with the condition that he be allowed to make the changes needed to bring the Impala to an acceptable level. The result? An almost complete redesign of the Impala in 2006. You can still see the Impala’s 2000-2005 heritage in the new model, but it’s vastly improved in many areas.
Although the redesigned Impala was introduced in 2006, the introduction of the 9C1 Police Package and subsequent integration into police fleets has been more recent. Gone is the somewhat anemic 3.8-liter, 200-hp engine, replaced by a newer, smoother 3.9-liter engine that puts down 242 hp and 242 foot-lbs. of torque. As with other 2007 offerings, it also features Active Fuel Management technology, which shuts down several cylinders under light loads to enhance fuel economy. Power from the 3.9 feeds into a heavy-duty 4T65E four-speed automatic transmission coupled to a transaxle with a 3.29 ratio. Interestingly, traction control is not available on the 9C1 package, while it is a choice for civilian versions. Still, the addition of 42 more ponies, plus variable-valve timing, makes for much improved acceleration and throttle response.
Chevrolet claims the 3.9-liter engine gets the Impala to 60 mph in under 8 seconds. 2006 acceleration tests conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on the 3.9-liter Impala determined a 0-60 mph average of 8.43 seconds, which compared favorably against the department’s tests of the Crown Victoria (8.44 seconds) and the V-6 version of the Charger (8.63 seconds). By comparison, the 2005 Impala tested by the department was almost a full second slower (9.44 seconds) than Clawson’s redesigned Impala. More impressively, the new Impala ran almost 6 seconds faster to 100 mph than the 2005 model, important when considering the Impala for traffic enforcement use.
Behind the wheel, the new drivetrain feels much more lively, and the variable-valve timing means that power is much smoother and more consistent than before. It’s not a Hemi Charger, but it certainly now has the beans to play with the rest of the crew. Of course, Chevrolet does offer a 303-hp beast of an engine in the new Impala SS, which would fit nicely inside the engine bay of a 9C1 Impala. Chevrolet says it isn’t offered because of lack of demand, but perhaps it asked the wrong cops.
The first-generation Impala handled pretty decently, with minimal body roll and fairly predictable chassis behaviors. With front-wheel drive, the Impala tends to understeer when driven hard. The 2007 model retains these familiar behaviors, with the continuation of independent McPherson struts up front and an independent tri-link suspension setup in the rear. All corners have coil springs, and heavy-duty stabilizer bars, front and rear, come standard. The 9C1 also features increased ride-height springs with heavier rates to address past ground-clearance issues. Wheels are of the heavy-duty 16×6.5" variety, wrapped in Pirelli 225/60R-16 tires V-rated for speed.
Brakes are four-wheel disc with ABS standard. The 9C1 features special police calibration for the ABS, as well as heavier-duty pads. This makes for a competent chassis when pushed hard. The brakes are progressive with minimum fade under hard use, and chassis tuning allows for trailing-throttle adjustments for understeer. The rack-and-pinion steering is direct, and feedback is good.
All told, the Impala is easy to drive fast with good roadway feel. If there is one drawback, the absence of traction control does rear its head in the form of wheel spin on bumpy surfaces under hard acceleration, as well as during inclement weather. Traction-control would be welcome in areas of the country (such as mine) that feature snow, rain and dirt on the roadway a good portion of the year.
The Interior & Body
In these two areas, the new Impala 9C1 really shines. Clawson and crew really listened to the complaints of officers and civilians about the ergonomic shortcomings of the previous Impala. Starting up front, the dash layout is all new, with the squared-up old dash replaced with an angled-dash layout a full five inches further forward. The dash has also been redesigned with improved ergonomics and styling. Most importantly, the A-pillar has been pushed forward a few inches, making the door opening a much larger area, a real sore spot in the old Impala.
The seats also have been reinforced with under-seat structural tubes to better withstand side impacts, and Chevy added a center crush box between them. Dual-stage front airbags come standard, with side airbags optional. Seats are cloth up front and vinyl in the rear. The entire floorpan has been reinforced to enhance the safety cage, and the C-pillar has also been stretched rearward for better access to the rear seat area. In back, the trunk opening has been substantially widened and lowered to allow for easier loading and unloading of duty items. Overall, these changes make for a more aerodynamic Impala with improved looks and better functionality.
It appears Clawson and crew’s attention to the details in the new Impala has paid off. The newly redesigned 9C1 Impala has evolved into a serious player in the law enforcement marketplace, and while it isn’t the stormer of yesteryear, it’s a vehicle that can now be considered alongside the veteran Crown Vic as well as the young upstarts, the Charger and Magnum.