In this month's Top Gear mag, Chris Harris is your used performance car guru...
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You’re testing a taxi. Seriously?
Not ‘a taxi’. This is arguably ‘THE taxi.’ The world’s second most iconic cab (after the NY yellow cab) has had a long overdue refresh, and it’s a good ‘un. It’s the LEVC TX eCity, a new black cab for London.
This model has been built fresh from the ground up with new looks and a new part electric powertrain that should make this the most comfortable, efficient, and nicest London cab ever designed. You’ll probably never drive one, but there’s a strong chance you’ll sit in the back of one, so just pay attention alright?
Fine. It’s electric, you say?
Well, it’s a plug-in hybrid, if we’re being specific. Its rear wheels are powered by a 147bhp electric motor, which is driven by a 50kWh battery pack. This can be recharged at home or out and about using a standard plug or dedicated electric car chargers, and is good for a range of around 80 miles of emissions-free driving.
Hang on, 80 miles is a bit naff, isn’t it?
That’s just in electric-only mode. It’s a hybrid, remember? It also uses a 1.5-litre petrol engine. This never actually drives the wheels – it only acts as a generator, sending extra power to the battery pack when it starts to run low.
The system generates a significant amount of extra juice, giving the TX eCity a total range of more than 400 miles, which is pretty decent considering the average cabbie only drives a total of 200 miles a day.
If you don’t want to rely on fuel top-ups, you can recharge the battery to 80 per cent capacity in around 20 minutes from a rapid charger.
So it’s like a fancy Prius or something?
Sort of. It’s actually more like a less fancy Volvo. The TX eCity is built by Geely, Volvo’s parent company. As a result, it has very little in common with black taxis of old, but a lot in common with modern Volvo cars.
It has loads of bits borrowed from Volvo’s latest offerings, including the steering wheel, seats and infotainment display of an S90, so your taxi driver will actually be very comfortable as he or she drives you around the city.
What about the rear seats?
These are slightly improved. The TX eCity seats a total of six passengers; three forward-facing and three rear-facing. The forward-facing seats are reasonably nice, with the centre seat pushed forward slightly so the two outer passengers aren’t forced to rub elbows with the middle passenger.
The three rear-facing seats are offset in a similar fashion, but their comfort is in line with traditional black cab seats. They’re fine for short journeys, but you wouldn’t want to be stuck there for long journeys. Not that you ever would be.
What’s it like to ride in?
Nice. Smooth. Quiet. It isn’t powered by a diesel engine from the cretaceous period, so it really is rather refined – there’s none of the nasty vibration you get in older black cabs. The suspension is on the sporty side, but it absorbs the impact of speed bumps and potholes admirably, meaning drivers (if they so choose) can get about a bit more quickly.
There are some creature comforts, too. You get a pair of USB ports in the rear, so you can charge your phone, and a three-pin power socket if you want to power something a bit more heavy duty, like a laptop. Or hairdryer.
As you’d expect, the TX eCity includes a slide-out wheelchair ramp for easy access (wheelchairs can be bolted down securely inside) and the option of a panoramic sunroof so you can easily take Instagram snaps of Big Ben or Piccadilly Circus.
What’s it like to drive then?
I’ve had the pleasure of driving the TX2 in series 24 of Top Gear, where we journeyed across Kazakhstan. And let me tell you, it was quite unpleasant. Reliable, sure, but unpleasant. The old cab felt like it was put together by people who deliberately wanted passengers to suffer, but this new model is different. It drives like a modern car.
It’s perhaps closest in feel to a modern SUV, and is a reasonably pleasant place to be stuck for hours on end. The steering a little heavy in the default setting, though this can be made lighter via the touchscreen, while the brake and accelerator pedals are light, smooth and progressive.
The famous tight turning circle is present and correct thanks to front wheels that turn to 63 degrees (a normal car only turns to around 38 degrees), meaning the TX eCity can u-turn between two kerbs 8.5 metres apart.
Does all that electric stuff make it fast, like a Tesla?
No. Not at all. From 0 to about 15mph it’s actually quite sluggish, but it gets a second wind from 15-30mph, where the shove is quite muscular. During its development, its makers discovered the TX eCity had plenty of power, enough to spin the tyres and be quite anti-social, so they deliberately limited the torque delivery at very low speeds, subtly increasing torque as the speed increases. Consider this a good thing – the relaxed power delivery means cab drivers are forced to be smooth.
Is it good for the environment?
We can’t vouch for the environmental friendliness of its battery production, but it’s certainly good for the environment in which it drives. When running in EV-only mode, exhaust emissions are zero, so it’s not contributing to city smog. Indeed, cab drivers who live outside the city can commute to work using petrol power alone, saving their batteries for when they arrive in the city centre.
It also uses less fuel than a diesel-only cab would. Obviously recharging can be done at home if you have a charge socket installed (or a really long extension lead), or at virtually any electric car charging point you can find.
Will this actually take off?
It looks like it. There’s a new piece of legislation that says all new taxis must be capable of zero emissions driving for at least 30 miles. So, while the old models will still continue to run, cabbies splashing out on new models will most likely turn to the TX eCity.
So it’s good then?
If you’re a cabbie, it’s a fantastic. It’s quite expensive to buy initially (around £55,000), but the monthly payments are reasonable (£177) and you should make your money back over the years. At 25,000 miles, it’ll also go twice as long without a service compared to the old black cab.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s far nicer for passengers, too; much more comfortable, quiet and refined. All in all, we like it.
Images: Mark Riccioni/LEVC