We Drive the New Explorer, Hybrid Cop Interceptor Edition!

Ford plans to push hybrids on its way to an EV future.

DEARBORN, Michigan—Ford Motor Company has committed to spending more than $11 billion on electric-vehicle development by 2022, but its bigger, more high-profile green-car effort centers on the Explorer and Police Interceptor Utility hybrids, as well as the hybrid and plug-in-hybrid variants of the all-new Escape coming later this year. The automaker's campaign to market its latest hybrids included inviting us for a very brief test-track drive of the new, rear-drive-based Police Utility.

The Strategy

"Seventy percent of F-150s today are EcoBoost"-powered V-6 models, according to Dave Felipe, manager of hybrid engineering for Ford. "We have the same strategy going forward with hybrids." To be clear, the Ford Escape, Explorer, and Police Utility Interceptor hybrids won't cost the Blue Oval the $11-billion-plus it has committed to developing a slew of electrified vehicles, with the lion's share of those funds slated for fully electric vehicles such as the Mustang-inspired crossover, F-150 EV, and an EV planned in conjunction with recent investment partner and with upstart EV truckmaker Rivian (likely to be a Transit-style delivery van done in cooperation with another recent Rivian investor, Amazon).

The expanded hybrid strategy clearly has its roots early last decade when the automaker thought it would have to meet the now-suspended 54.5-mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard set for 2025 under the Obama administration, and it might as well try to sell them. Like Toyota, Ford's pure-EV effort is dwarfed by the number of battery-electrics major rivals like General Motors and Volkswagen Group have indicated they will introduce in roughly the same time period.

Ford says the all-new Police Utility Interceptor hybrid, with its 3.3-liter V-6 and 47-hp electric motor will achieve a 24-mpg combined EPA fuel-economy rating, a 41-percent improvement over the outgoing '18 model's 17 mpg. The 2018 Ford Police Utility Interceptor had a transverse-mounted 3.7-liter V-6 powering all four wheels. The old model came with a six-speed automatic, while the new model comes with a 10-speed automatic, with the motor sandwiched between the transmission and the longitudinal V-6.

The Drive

A short drive on a small coned-off section of Ford's test track showed the hybrid powertrain will provide more than sufficient straight-line acceleration to chase perps in stolen Porsches. Ford touts an October 2018 Michigan State Police test that shows the HEV Police Interceptor is the quickest cop vehicle available, which includes the Dodge Charger sedan and V-8-powered utilities like Chevrolet's Tahoe-based model. The Ford's 3.3-liter hybrid doesn't launch with quite the kick-in-your-back immediacy of a performance EV, but its 322 lb-ft of torque arrives quickly, and if the coned track had let us floor it for more than roughly a quarter-mile, we probably would have found the 318 horsepower more than adequate, too.

The uprated, heavy-duty cop-spec brakes are sharp and almost touchy. The '20 Explorer's big, heavy body yaws enough to let you know it's cornering, and while the test track was pool table-smooth, we'd guess the springs and shocks are tuned so as to not beat up Officer Friendly after eight hours on crusty, potholed roads. The SUV's cornering attitude felt pretty neutral even as the Interceptor Utility threw around its weight, although, again, this was a very short drive. We'll get behind the wheel of civilian '20 Explorers next month, and we expect a much more thorough experience.

More Details

Ford says that at current gas prices (less than $3.00 per gallon in Michigan) the Police Interceptor Utility hybrid will save local constabularies about $3,500 per unit per year versus the basic, nonhybridized model, based on two eight-hour shifts and counting gasoline saved both while running and while idling.

The Police hybrid features two pursuit modes. Under high-speed pursuit conditions, it makes the most of the electric motor's 47 horsepower, while around town, it powers down the battery to save the charge. Ford also will offer the new Interceptor Utility with a non-HEV 3.0-liter V-6 and presumably for state troopers given to wide-open freeway chases, as well as the 400-hp EcoBoost V-6 from the upcoming civilian Explorer ST.

The Police Interceptor Utility adds the usual requisite cop-car equipment, including heavier-duty engine and transmission cooling, the upgraded brakes, and 75-mph rear-impact protection, which consists of an x-brace behind the rear seat and a ladder frame mounted at the rear of the unibody. The rear-impact protection adds 160 pounds to the vehicle and leaves no space for the third-row seat that's standard in the civilian Explorer.

Ford says the hybrid version is priced $3,500 higher than the base V-6 Interceptor Utility, so the marketing pitch is that it will pay for itself in one year of fuel-cost savings. Ford says it has orders for about 1,100 hybrid Interceptor Utilities so far.

Ford also displayed the underfloor battery packs for its 14.4-kWh '20 Escape PHEV, as well as for its Escape hybrid that will offer more than 550 miles of total range in front-drive form. The regular Escape hybrid will be available with front- or all-wheel drive, while the pluggable one, with an all-electric range of 30 miles, will be FWD only. Both of these Escapes were detailed at Ford's preview in April. The civilian 2020 Ford Explorer and the 2020 Ford Escape go on sale this fall.

The Blue Oval says it has sold more than 700,000 hybrid cars and SUVs so far, second only to Toyota in terms of hybrid sales and boosted by volumes of Escape hybrid taxis. Ford also showed off a 2012 Escape hybrid that has served as a New York City cab for more than 400,000 miles with virtually no degradation to its battery pack.