After years of change, competition and confusion, the choice of vehicle for the London cabbie seems a straightforward one these days. Well, it is if they want to drive a traditionally-shaped ‘Black cab’ that makes a positive impression. Continuing on from the Austin FX4 and LTI TXI, the LEVC TX eCity has rapidly become the default taxi in the capital – but, unlike its predecessors, this one packs a high-tech hybrid electric drivetrain beneath its retro-styled bodywork.
The TX has a tough job to do its customer base is amongst the toughest in the world. That’s not without reason – in London alone, around 300,000 taxi trips are undertaken every day by taxi or private hire vehicle. There are more than 25,000 licensed taxi drivers, and they rack up a lot of miles on some of the most inhospitable roads in the UK – crowded, potholed and subject to increasingly stringent controls.
The latest taxi should be up to the job, as it’s evolved from the most iconic black cab of them all, the Austin FX4. It might have been a BMC product when launched, but it had been built by Manganese Holding’s Carbodies division, which had owned FX4’s intellectual property rights since 1982. That became London Taxis International (LTI) in 1992, which successfully raised the finance to launch the all-new TX1 in 1997. In 2006, Chinese carmaker Geely Group entered the scene going into partnership with LTI and its parent Manganese Bronze Holdings to create a Chinese-based taxi-building joint venture.
Then, in 2010, LTI became The London Taxi Company and a factory in Shanghai was set-up to build taxis and supply components to the factory in Coventry. Two years later, Manganese Bronze Holdings went into administration and Geely Group stepped in to rescue the business, creating The London Taxi Corporation Limited. Heavy investment duly followed – a new £250m factory was built in Ansty Park near Coventry, the company’s name was again changed to London EV Company Limited (LEVC) and the new plug-in hybrid LEVC TX electric taxi was developed.
It might be Chinese-owned, but LEVC’s TX eCity has plenty of British heritage behind it.
What’s under the skin?
Parent company Geely Group has created a brand-new bespoke platform for the LEVC TX eCity. It’s a clever bonded-aluminium chassis, which is built in the UK and underpins all vehicles assembled in Ansty Park, and has been designed to be sold worldwide – not just London. It’s powered by a PHEV hybrid drivetrain designed to drive in full-electric mode all the time, and recharged by its 80bhp Volvo-sourced 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine.
You’ll find a lot of Volvo parts inside and underneath – it’s a sister brand owned by Geely Group. The rear wheels are driven by a 147bhp electric motor powered by a substantial 50kWh battery pack. As it’s designed to run primarily on electric, it can be topped up via a 50kW DC or 22kW AC – plenty of these chargers are found in and around London.
Topping-up this way gives you 80% in 20 minutes – enough for a quick coffee break. There’s also the option (as with all EVs) of home charging via a fully-installed chargepoint or, if you’re in an emergency, a three-pin domestic socket. Claimed range on battery-alone is 64 miles. Run the petrol engine as a charger and that increases to 300 miles.
What’s it like inside?
Chances are you’ll experience the TX eCity from the rear. Compared with the old black cab, there’s the familiar seating layout for six, which you access via the rear-hinged passenger doors. You get three forward-facing and three rear-facing seats, although most passengers would prefer to face forwards. There’s more room than before, and the rear bench’s centre seat is located slightly more forward to maximise width.
The three rear-facing seats are best enjoyed sober – as was ever thus when riding in a taxi. Other niceties include USB sockets, three-pin power and your very own pin pad to pay the driver in a contactless manner. Ride comfort back there is agreeable on rough city streets, while air conditioning and a driver intercom help make your ride a civilised experience.
For the driver, it’s very civilised, too. Volvo’s TFT instrument display has been reskinned in LEVC colours, and works very well indeed. The central touchscreen is also lifted straight out of the V90 and is simple to operate, with large onscreen buttons and a simple interface. Volvo drivers will also recognise the steering wheel – although not leather trimmed – twist starter and indicator stalks. All work well, and all are a million miles away from the BL-sourced items of old.
What’s it like to drive?
Well, amazingly good. Forget how taxis used to be – this will be an absolute revelation for cabbies. The acceleration is swift and smooth, the drivetrain is silent in full EV mode. Torque is limited at low speeds, so it doesn’t lurch away like a stabbed rat – like most EVs – from rest, but acceleration picks up agreeably as speed rises. When the petrol engine kicks in to charge its motor, it’s quiet and unobtrusive. Remember old taxis that would rattle your fillings out at idle – there’s nothing of the sort here, and we’re all the more grateful for that.
In fact, we’ll go further than that. It drives really well indeed, with excellent steering, a well-cushioned and damped ride and more than enough performance to keep up with the cut and thrust. The driving position is lofty, like a full-sized SUV, and although its surprisingly large – feeling Transit-sized – you can place it in the tightest spots with confidence. It should feel like a lumbering, oversized beast, but the comically-tight turning circle and good visibility make it predictably-perfect for tight city streets.
Volvo drivers will recognise the portrait-format touchscreen interface, and it’s here that you can select your drive mode. In its default setting, the steering is quite heavy, but you can adjust that via the easily navigated system. Once you’d finished off for the day and need to rush back home, the TX will get you there at quite a pace – surprisingly so. This is a vehicle that’s devilishly good fun.
Well, haven’t taxis moved on since the Austin FX4? Modern drivers would consider time spent in the FX4 as an experience akin to a long session in a torture chamber – cramped, hot, uncomfortable and blessed with steering as wieldy as manhandling an old paving slab. No longer – on any level, the TX is a really good vehicle to drive – but then, that shouldn’t be surprising in an era of sporting SUVs and viper-striped Transits. No longer do workers need to put up with sub-standard tools.
Moreover, the TX eCity’s excellence extends to its effects on its wider surroundings. Cities will become quieter as the echo of clattering diesels slowly subsides, while the air quality will also improve as the use of EVs escalates. We won’t comment on the matter of secondary pollution and the consequences of its battery production, but things are improving on that score – say the battery manufacturers.
Given the ubiquity of the TX eCity in London and other cities already, it looks like it’s taking off – and the dream of low emissions for cities looks to become a reality. The cash price is expensive, but LEVC is offering a number of tempting finance packages to help drivers into their new electrified taxis, while the lower fuelling and running costs compared with the older diesel cabs, make this something of a gamechanger. Oh, and there’s one final bonus: it’s not too bad for passengers, either.