ST. PETERSBURG — The Crown Victoria gets such poor gas mileage that Ford is discontinuing the popular model this year.
But that didn't stop the City Council on Thursday from ordering a curtain call, agreeing to buy 86 Crown Vics at a total cost of $2.1 million.
The purchase of the cars, used widely by national law enforcement, will replace 61 Crown Vics that have reached the end of the line. It also will provide 25 more cars for officers who don't already have take-home vehicles. The cars are 2011 models.
With the purchase of a tried-and-true model, the city avoids a debacle like last year when the newly ordered Chevy Impalas turned out to be too small to provide space for the cage that separates officers and prisoners.
Still, council member Karl Nurse said the purchase of the Crown Vics seemed to violate the spirit of an executive order by former Mayor Rick Baker, which aimed at buying city vehicles that are fuel-efficient.
"The Crown Vic is the least efficient vehicle in its class," Nurse said.
In 2009, when the City Council approved more than $1.1 million to buy 47 Chevy Impalas, a lighter car, for the police department, Nurse declared it a triumph for the environment.
"This is the first time that we've followed the mayor's order to buy the most fuel-efficient vehicle available," Nurse said then.
The Police Department all along had maintained that it bought the Impalas because they were cheaper, not as a sop for environmentalists. Mayor Bill Foster said the Impalas were an experiment.
"We'd prefer not to experiment again with those," he said. "The Crown Vic isn't the most fuel-efficient, but it's the most fuel-efficient that meets their needs."
Foster said Baker's executive order said the city should buy fuel-efficient vehicles "when reasonably feasible." The Crown Vic meets city standards because it's the most practical vehicle available to the police.
Considered to be durable, affordable, and a high-performing vehicle, the Crown Vic is popular with police and taxicab fleet managers. Other models will be considered in the future, said police Chief Chuck Harmon. He said the Impalas were only getting one more mile per gallon.
According to fueleconomy.gov, the Crown Victoria gets 16 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. An Impala with a 3.9 liter engine gets 17 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway.
"We obviously know now the pitfalls with the Impalas," Harmon said. "What I still promise is that we'll look at the Chevy (Caprice) and the Dodge (Charger) when we do a comprehensive look."
Harmon said the Impalas are being used by the department, just not by anyone with patrol duties.
Harmon had the full support of council members, who mostly applauded the decision.
"You guys have to get what you need," council member Bill Dudley told Harmon. "I'm not saying we should get gas hogs, but you should get what will protect the officers. I think the Impala looks like a police car with training wheels. It's so small. Crown Vics are the standard. You need to do what you need to do."