At 6'2", Officer Matt Wentzel of the Madison Police Department spends most of his days folded up inside a Ford Crown Victoria, patrolling Madison's south side with an aching back. But he seems rejuvenated when I meet him last Friday, stretching his legs under the steering wheel of a Dodge Charger, the newest addition to MPD's fleet of squad cars.
"There's so much more leg room in these," Wenztel explains, looking down at his feet sprawled over the floor mat. "The difference between [the Chargers] and the Crown Vics is like day and night."
Ford has discontinued the Crown Vic, forcing law enforcement agencies everywhere to shop around for an alternative. Many are choosing the Dodge Charger, an update on one of the original "muscle cars" from the 1960s. The Duke boys drove a Charger in The Dukes of Hazzard.
Wentzel paces around the Charger, opening doors, switching on lights and raving about the car like a salesman. He points out the molded plastic back seats, which unlike the plush fabric in the Crown Victoria, leave no room for stashing contraband and make cleaning up bodily fluids much less revolting. He shows off the tidy dashboard, which is a lot less cluttered than its Ford predecessor thanks to the windshield-mounted radar and camera.
Then Wentzel pops the hood to expose the ferocious engine. The new Chargers come with a 5.7-liter Hemi, dual-exhaust and a host of other mechanical ammenities that would make an auto-phile's heart rev. If you don't speak mechanic, allow me to translate: This car is an animal that devours blacktop like two-for-one tacos.