‘Designed, engineered and built in Britain,’ declared Frazer-Nash at the launch of its new taxi challenger, the Metrocab. The old Metrocab, you might recall, was a composite-clad rival to LTI’s venerable TX4, which, worthy-as-it-was, never quite managed to topple the king. However, this time around, the ambitious Frazer-Nash intends to change all that.
The new Metrocab is also composite-clad (carbonfibre on the prototypes) over an aluminum frame, but it has moved the game on considerably. The successor to LTI, the London Taxi Company, really needs to be looking over its shoulder at this young pretender as its new rival ups the ante on both the environmental and technological fronts.
In brief terms, it’s a Taxi with a twist – it’s known as a Range Extended Electric vehicle (REE). Its petrol engine has no mechanical connection to the driven wheels and acts purely as an electricity generator. Metrocab would not be drawn on the engine supplier, but confirmed its potential Euro VI credentials and an engine capacity of around 1.0-litres.
The Metrocab’s engine charges the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery pack (stored under the passenger compartment floor), which has a stored capacity of 12.2kWh. That should give a real world (lights, heater, wipers, meter powered up) range of more than 50 miles (while a Nissan Leaf may double that, bear in mind that this is a purpose-built commercial vehicle that can carry seven passengers and its driver). This battery supplies a pair of 35kW DC brushless motors and an electric differential unit which power the rear wheels.
Mechanically, the Metrocab features a steering and suspension set up, which will apparently be ‘quite familiar’ to owners of existing vehicles, but with added air suspension. What might be unfamiliar is the regenerative braking system – when the vehicle is braking, or even rolling downhill, the brakes turn into generators and feed a trickle of charge back to the battery pack.
Enough of the technical aspects, what does it feel like on the road? Well, there’s only one way to find out so six of us – five bona fide badge-carrying cabbies and myself – all hop in for a ride. Yep, six of us – three flip up seats face the rear bench. So, with a combined weight that doesn’t bear thinking about, we set off – silently. My fellow passengers are rather surprised at the standing start, with a bottomless pit of torque available.
‘Quicker than my Vito,’ one passenger remarks, ‘rides well, too’. The ride, particularly over London’s rutted speed-bumped roads, is really rather exceptional – and squeak and rattle-free. My fellow fare-earning passengers note, though, that some niggles such as demisting issues and a weak PA system need further improvement.
The comfort is rated as high, as is the spacious airy feel aided by the glazed roof – perfect for additional advert revenue, as a shrewd passenger noted. It gives a bird’s eye view if the capital, particularly as we cross through Tower Bridge.
Questions about London’s rudimentary charging system (and plug-in locations) need to be answered, but the quiet smile from Metrocab’s Gordon Dixon when AROnline asked him about induction loops sunk in the capitals highways might hint to the future – he assures us the Metrocab is more than equipped for induction charging technology…
‘Price it right and treat us fairly,’ seems to be the mantra at City Hall from the drivers – only time will tell if Metrocab has succeeded on that issue.