If there is one thing that unites some of the most iconic films of the 20th century, it is the powerfully romantic theme of the police car chase. Sometimes the good guys are the ones fleeing the boys in blue, and in other scenarios, it’s the bad guys fleeing justice. In either event, there is just no better way to raise the tension and drama of a storyline. Whether it's the insanely imaginative scenes in Smokey and the Bandit, or The French Connection, Bullitt, or more recently, Baby Driver, this is a totally compelling plot device. There's the wailing of a big V8 or V12, tires smoking and screaming as they struggle for grip and the mesmerizing sight of a car launching itself into the air over crests on the road.
And the car chase isn’t just a staple of box-office hits – they have also become a regular feature on 24-hour cable news. We’ve all seen those dramatic images filmed from helicopters, with cars and pick-up trucks running traffic lights at blinding speed, often ending up brought to a halt by officers using ‘spike strips’ to puncture tires.
So, a friendly warning if you are even remotely tempted to flee the long arm of the law – here are ten police pursuit cars that you will simply not get away from. If you see them behind you with lights flashing, you should just pull over and shut down your motor. But, on the other hand, there are another ten examples that probably won't catch you even if you're doing the legal limit.
20 Catch Anything: McLaren MP4-12C
McLaren Racing was formed over 55 years ago and swiftly came to dominate Formula One racing. From its first win in 1968 to date, McLaren have won an astonishing 20 Driver’ Championships, so when the company decided to build a road car in the early 1990s, it was bound to be a world-beater. And the 240mph F1 was just that.
McLaren followed up the F1 with the MP4-12C, which joined its British countryman, the Aston Martin, on the Dubai police force.
The MP4-12C is a little slower than its F1 predecessor, but a top speed of 205mph is hardly pedestrian. And its handling is superior to the F1’s, too. There’s plenty of supercar drama as well, with dihedral doors that open up and forward and a hilariously large automatic wing that pops up to improve the car’s stability at speed.
19 Catch Anything: Porsche 911 Carrera
Long regarded as one of the finest handling sports cars the world has ever known, the Porsche 911 is also one of the world’s most successful racing cars. It has earned countless wins at the legendary French Le Mans classic race, and it is revered among motoring journalists for its superb agility and performance. So what better police cruiser to take on the challenging mountain roads and high-speed autobahns of Austria. Wearing full police livery, the 911 Carrera boasts supercar pace with an ability to reach 62mph in just 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 183mph. And unlike the majority of the other cars here, the Porsche has a comfortable ride quality and outward visibility is excellent, great for spending long hours behind the wheel. As a bonus, overall fuel consumption can reach 38mpg.
18 Catch Anything: Ford F-150 Police Responder
Ford’s F-150 is already the number-one-selling vehicle in America, and now it has a serious new accolade – Ford claims that the police liveried and equipped Ford F-150 Police Responder is the first-ever pursuit-rated pick-up truck to come to market. It certainly has the power to give any would be Smokey and the Bandit characters cause for pause, with a thumping 375hp from its 3.5-liter turbocharged V6.
And with a big 470lb-ft of torque this F-150 has grunt to take on tough off-road terrain.
It’s a serious police vehicle, too, with all the radio, computer and emergency gear you’d expect. Inside, the front seat bolsters are slimmer than usual to accommodate officers wearing duty belts. And for extra peace of mind, the front seat backs have ‘anti-stab plates’ to protect against extra-bad dudes.
17 Catch Anything: Ford Mustang Saleen
Police cars tend to be larger sedans powered by mildly tweaked engines. They also carry a lot of heavy extra gear in the trunk and inside, so they’re not the fastest things on the road. Which is why this fully liveried and equipped Mustang is so special – no amount of extra equipment is going to slow down a V8 ‘Stang featuring an incredible 730hp. This monstrously powerful Mustang was specially designed by legendary tuner Steve Saleen for the Riverside Police Department in Riverside California. There are no official performance figures but Steve Saleen said: “This is one of the fastest police vehicles ever built. If you are attempting to elude the police in the Riverside Department's jurisdiction, beware; your chances of getting away are quite slim.”
16 Catch Anything: Lamborghini Huracan LP-610-4 Polizia
It makes a lot of sense that the country responsible for some of the most sensational supercars in the world would want something extra special for its highway patrol cops. And special it is – Lamborghini very generously donated one of its latest supercars to the Italian State Police. The cop-spec screamer, designated the Huracan LP-610-4 Polizia, looks just stunning in its police livery. The Lambo has even been assigned to conduct routine patrols, and is equipped with a gun holster, computer, police radio and other cop essentials. It can even act as an emergency medical vehicle, with an onboard defibrillator and a refrigerated compartment for transporting blood and organs. And with a V10 wailing under the rear engine hatch, it can hit 60mph in just 2.8 seconds.
15 Catch Anything: Aston Martin One-77
Seriously, those thinking of misbehaving even in the same postcode as this Dubai police-liveried Aston Martin One-77 should just put their wheels in park and prepare the best-ever excuse. To give some idea of just how exclusive this Aston is, just 77 – as the name suggests – were produced. And it took the mighty purchasing power of the fabulously wealthy city of Dubai to put one of these rare supercars on the force.
This 750hp V12 machine will get to 60mph in just 3.5 seconds and will continue on to 220 mph.
And its price tag, which is in the region of $1.7 million, would buy around 42 typical American patrol cars. Fortunately for would-be felons, the big Aston is used mainly as a public relations tool. But I wouldn’t press your luck.
14 Catch Anything: Subaru Impreza STI
For those speeding drivers hoping to evade capture in Greenfield, Wisconsin, local officers have just one message. Don’t even think about it. The police there have equipped themselves with a mighty Subaru Impreza STI. Subaru has a long and noble history of victory in the notoriously challenging World Rally Championship, earning three Drivers’ Championships in the mid 1990s and early 2000s. So they know a thing or two about building four-wheel-drive powertrains that can put down the engine’s power regardless of whether you’re on gravel, snow, mud or plain old asphalt. "We use it for speed enforcement, cruising enforcement, and community service assignments," Chief Brad Wentlandt explained. "It's a great way to connect with the community and sparks dialog with the officers."
13 Catch Anything: Bugatti Veyron
The fabulous wealth contained in U.A.E’s Abu Dhabi means that lots of its inhabitants can afford some of the most extreme performance cars in the world; Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Bentleys are just about as common as Fords in any American metropolis. So how on earth are the Dubai police expected to catch up with speeders so well equipped? By commissioning what has been called the fastest police car in the world, that’s how. The Dubai police force’s Bugatti Veyron will hit 62mph in a scarcely believable 2.6 seconds, and it won’t stop pulling until the electronic speed limiter calls time at over 233mph. That’s what you get when you have 1200hp and four-wheel drive to call upon.
12 Catch Anything: Dodge Charger Pursuit
This player has all the right numbers. Namely, a bellowing 5.7-liter V8, all-wheel drive and some exclusive touches that make it uniquely good at catching bad guys and keeping the officers inside safe. With a 150mph top speed and 0-60mph coming up in just 5.9 seconds, this is a patrol officer’s dream ride.
In fact, it has a few features a civilian customer might like, depending on which part of the world they’re living.
The front doors, for example, are bullet resistant. Another important feature of the big Dodge is its reinforced steel frame. Should you find yourself being rammed from behind at speeds like 75mph – a constant threat when officers are stationary on highway shoulders – the protection built in is a great reassurance.
11 Catch Anything: Ariel Atom
One thing that most traffic cops expect of their workday ride is, well, some bodywork. So imagine the surprise on the faces of the Avon and Somerset constabulary in the UK when the Ariel Atom reported for duty. The Atom is fantastically lightweight thanks to its space frame design, which remains largely uncovered. And coupled with a 350hp Honda engine, this fearsome little bruiser can hit 60mph in just 2.5 seconds, putting it firmly in Bugatti Veyron territory. The constabulary used the Atom during a campaign to raise awareness amongst the super bike community of just how dangerous excessive speeding is, with track demonstrations to drive the point home. Some consolation, then, in the knowledge that you’re unlikely to ever get pulled over by this road rocket.
10 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Segway
Those visiting Stockholm, Sweden who spot officers beetling about on two-wheeled Segways might want to stifle a laugh. These guys aren’t parking enforcers, they’re the real deal cops, complete with scary-looking sidearms. Stockholm recently concluded a trial of Segways, the two-wheeled self-balancing transport that has become a familiar sight in urban areas. The police are happy with the results of the trial and will be keeping the Segways on the force – cops like their elevated stance as it gives them a better view of what’s going on, whilst making them a more visible deterrent to bad guys. If you’re in a car, though, you’re safe to have a chuckle at the Segway’s top speed of 12.5mph. You’d have to be driving something tragically slow not to escape. Actually, forget the car – a top line sprinter will do twice that speed on foot.
9 Couldn't Catch A Beater: BMW i3 Electric
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) ordered up 100 BMW i3 electric cars for use on the force, which makes perfect sense for a city so attuned to environmentally friendly transport (this is where the hybrid Toyota Prius first achieved success). But because the i3 has a top speed of considerably less than 100mph and won’t make it much further than 160 miles on a charge, it has been relegated to administrative and other non-emergency details.
So a bad guy with a BMW i3 cop car behind him knows that he’ll outrun it by exceeding 92mph (OK, nobody can outrun a cop radio and a Spike Strip).
Adding insult to injury a CBS Los Angeles report found that the LAPD BMWs were getting very little use, with some doing less than 3000 miles per year.
8 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Lada Riva
Visitors to downtown Havana in Cuba will be treated to marvellous automotive nostalgia with early and late 1950s Americana, everything from Buick Roadmasters to Ford Thunderbird ‘squarebirds’. It’s a testament to the ingenuity of the locals that these old beasts are still running. Because of continuing trade embargoes, though, Cuban cops have had no choice but to tool around in old, Soviet era Lada Rivas. They were pretty rubbish when new, and age has done nothing to improve them. With 80hp, four-cylinder engines, a top speed of 95mph (probably when new, so all bets off now) and 0-62mph in 14.5 seconds, performance is glacial. A 1958 Thunderbird would have hit 62mph in about 9.6 seconds and top out at around 115mph, so Cuban cops could get smoked by 60-year-old wheels. Embarrassing.
7 Couldn't Catch A Beater: 1972 VW Beetle
Even the term ‘Police Interceptor’ is intimidating. It calls to mind a big, gleaming black American sedan with massive pushbars up front and more red and blue flashing lights than a New Orleans Saturday night. Turns out not all police interceptors are created equally. When a Blount County, Tennessee officer pulled over a suspiciously driven Volkswagen Beetle, the driver was charged with Driving Under the Influence and the characterful little Bug was confiscated. Blount County cops evidently have a sense of humour – they turned the 1600cc, 70mph-tops Bug into a junior-league Interceptor, complete with county sheriff colour scheme, spotlight, siren and pushbars. Quite what this flyweight cop car would be capable of pushing, though, is an open question.
6 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Honda Kei Car
Police forces in Japan have used all kinds of super-performance cars on their police forces, including the likes of Honda’s supercar NSX and Nissan’s titanic GT-R. But there’s another breed of cop car at, literally, the very end of the opposite spectrum. They are tiny-tot cars that fulfill the legal requirements for a category called ‘kei’ – there are significant tax and insurance benefits to running these cars.
To qualify, they must be no more than 11ft 2ins long and 4ft 10ins wide.
Engine power must not exceed 660cc. Still very popular in Japan, Keis are also the smallest car that is still highway legal. So cop liveried Keis are a common sight, although the only way they’ll burn rubber is with the help of a Zippo lighter and a bit of patience.
5 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Toyota Prius
German traffic cops facing a choice between a Porsche 911 and a Toyota Prius Hybrid could be forgiven for stampeding the line for the former. The Porsche has long been a feature on German autobahns while the Prius is pulling more mundane duty in cities like Berlin. So unlike the 911, the Prius doesn’t have to be particularly quick, which it isn’t with a 0-62mph run in 10.1 seconds. But Berlin police will welcome the Toyota’s efficiency and low emissions, which will help bring down their fleet’s overall pollution quotient. Politically, that’s a big deal in Germany. Having said that, you’re unlikely to find a police officer that’d put up his or her hand for the Toyota over the 911.
4 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Dodge Aries
The Dodge Aries was one of a large series of cars sitting on the K-car platform, which saved the Chrysler Corporation from almost certain collapse in the early 1980s. It was possibly the blandest car to come out of that era – it probably should have worn a white-goods barcode rather than a nameplate.
Ironic, because the man behind the K-car was Lee Iacocca, the same guy who brought us the Ford Mustang.
Front-wheel drive with a transverse engine and lighter body, the Aries did at least have comparatively good fuel economy going for it, even if the standard four-cylinder engine delivered dismal performance. The police version, with a massive lightbar on the roof and donut-eating cops onboard with all their equipment would have been hard pressed to crack 60mph in much less than 16 seconds.
3 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Volkswagen e-Golf
It would be difficult to find a more patriotic police force than the Paris gendarmerie, so it’s a big deal that they have taken on 16 pure electric Volkswagen e-Golfs for patrol duty. There is, after all, a very French contender in the top selling Renault Zoe. The e-Golf is not going to beat the Zoe on performance, nor will it be up to any sort of high-speed pursuit action as it’s only capable of 85mph flat out, and a 0-62mph sprint of 8.5 seconds isn’t even warm hatchback territory. So what’s the big advantage? Well, it’s got a range of 250km with four burly coppers on board plus their equipment. Simply put, the Zoe doesn’t have the range or the space to match it.
2 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf led the charge of practical, mainstream pure electric cars that could provide zero-emission daily driving. That’s why it sits so firmly in the top-five list of best selling electric cars in the world. But like its electric police brethren, it has to be happy pootling around town – a Dodge Charger Pursuit, this will never be. But urban police departments are discovering real advantages to electric cruisers. Cities as diverse as Seattle and Lisbon, for example, are discovering that routine patrol routes with an established mileage means the fear of running out of range isn’t such an issue. Another advantage is their contribution to cleaner air – when on duty, gas powered cop cars spend a lot of time idling, partly because their onboard computers don’t like getting too hot or too cold. And nor do cops.
1 Couldn't Catch A Beater: Amphibious Quadski
The San Francisco Police Department has a novel way of policing dry land and open water without the need to buy separate boats and cars. It’s called a Quadski and at the press of a button, it can either retract its wheels to come over all boaty, or stick them out again when terra firma beckons. Either action takes a scant five seconds. It’s quite a cool looking thing, and while its 45mph top speed on water is pretty decent, the same speed on land isn’t going to catch serious felons unless they’re riding a moped. Which they don’t tend to do.
Power comes via a BMW Motorrad K1300 motorcycle engine, which is impressive tech.
However, the first amphibious car (the Amphicar) launched in 1961 and there have been few since. Mainly because they’re seriously flawed at both disciplines.
Sources: International Business Times; Los Angeles Times; Road & Track; Carscoops.com; Carbuzz.com; Motortrend.