2019 LEVC TX Taxi Review: Driving the New Plug-In Hybrid London Taxi


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Taxi! In Manhattan, a battered yellow Crown Vic would shimmy to the curb; in Paris, a growling Peugeot 504 diesel. Down in Calcutta, it would be a Hindustan Ambassador, a motorized fossil based on a 1958 Morris Oxford. Up in Tokyo, a spotless Toyota Crown with a rear door that apparently opens itself and lace antimacassars on the headrests. In the years before the globalization of the auto industry, taxis were part of the unique visual signatures of the world’s great cities. But perhaps none has ever been as deeply embedded in a city’s iconography as London’s black cab.

Taxis have been a part of the London streetscape for centuries. The first hackney carriages—carriages for hire—were licensed by city authorities in 1662; the term is variously thought to have originated from the French term haquenée, describing the medium-sized horse regarded as best suited to pulling passenger carriages through London’s narrow and crowded streets, or from the village of Hackney, now an inner London district, that was the city’s main supplier of horses.

London taxis began to be motorized before the beginning of the 20th century, with 75 electric-powered cabs operating between 1897 and 1898. The first gasoline-powered cab appeared in 1903. But that giddy rush of technological change soon slowed back to a slow trot: The London Taxis International (later London Taxi Company) TX4, which ended a two-decade production run last year, owed its general form and proportions to the Austin FX4, which launched in 1958 and was built for 39 years with only minor cosmetic changes and periodic powertrain upgrades.

At first glance, the 2019 LEVC TX seems, like its predecessor, steeped in tradition, echoing the avuncular automotive form language of the 1940s. It looks tall and upright, with a narrow grille and separate front fenders, a rounded yet near vertical D-pillar flowing down to a bobtail trunk, and a soft fender line undulating through the body side. Appearances are deceptive, however. This is the most radical rethink of the London black cab in more than a century.

The clue is in the name. LEVC stands for London Electric Vehicle Company. Under the TX’s faintly retro skin is a thoroughly modern series hybrid powertrain that comprises a Chinese-made turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder Volvo engine, a 147-hp Siemens e-motor, and a 31-kW-hr battery. As in a Chevrolet Volt, there’s no direct link between the internal combustion engine and the driving wheels. The front-mounted 81-hp engine is used as a generator to charge the battery that powers the rear-mounted e-motor. The e-motor drives the rear wheels via a GKN co-axial transmission similar to that used in the twin-engine Volvo T8 hybrid. LEVC claims the TX will run 80 miles before the internal combustion engine needs to fire up and feed charge into the battery.

The TX also comes equipped with a suite of Volvo safety features, from basic antilock brakes, stability and traction control, to forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking.

Designed under the direction of former Volvo design chief Peter Horbury, the TX’s sheetmetal cleverly disguises proportions that are closer to a modern minivan than a car. The TX is 11 inches longer overall than the old TX4, has a wheelbase almost 4 inches longer, and is nearly 2.5 inches taller. Overall width is the same. There’s no rear hatch, or even a trunk: Large bags and suitcases can be stacked up front in the flat-floored luggage compartment alongside the driver, a design feature resurrected from the 1948 Austin FX3. Despite the increase in size, and the addition of a battery and an e-motor to the powertrain, the aluminum-intensive architecture means the TX weighs just 562 pounds more than the TX4.

All that Volvo hardware, technology, and expertise is explained by the fact that LEVC is a wholly owned division of Geely. The Chinese automaker has been involved with London cabs since 2006, when it partnered with London Taxis International parent company Manganese Bronze Holdings to make versions of the TX4 for the Chinese market. Geely took full control of London Taxi Company in 2013, and has since invested more than $430 million on developing the TX, and constructing a brand-new factory just outside Coventry, England, designed to build more than 20,000 vehicles a year.

That’s a big increase from the 1,500 taxis a year that came out of the old LTI facility close to the center of Coventry. But Geely plans to export the TX to markets around the world, and the plant will also build a small commercial van based on the TX’s aluminum-intensive architecture and sharing its series hybrid powertrain. LEVC says TX prototypes have completed more than one million miles of testing—more than the combined total of the previous three taxis—including durability tests in the Arctic and the African desert.

The TX might be going global, but it’s taking a lot of London with it, with features honed over decades of operational experience on some of the world’s most crowded and demanding streets. The TX’s front wheels turn 63 degrees, giving it a turning circle of less than 28 feet, slightly less than that of a tiny Smart city car. It’s a London taxi standard dictated, according to legend, by the tight radius of the turning circle outside The Savoy Hotel.

Taxis are all about the rear seat, so that’s where we start. The rear doors—which hinge at the rear—open 90 degrees into a broad, flat-floored passenger compartment with room for six, three across the generous rear seat, plus three more in separate rear-facing jump seats. The jump seat nearest the curb swivels outward to enable easy access for less able passengers, and an inbuilt ramp slides out from the floor to allow wheelchair access. Other amenities include onboard Wi-Fi, two USB charge points, and a 230-volt AC power socket.

Rolling serenely through the cut and thrust of north London traffic on pure EV power, the TX is whisper-quiet compared with its rattly old diesel-power predecessors. The ride feels more composed, too. The rear seat is still located right above the rear axle, but the TX has a modern independent setup rather than the live axle used in the TX4. Legroom could be more properly described as lounge room. The tall glass house and panorama glass roof flood the cabin with light and deliver rubbernecking tourists first-class views.

The old TX4 was cursed with an upright and cramped driving position, a near-Dickensian workspace awash with cheap plastic and Pep Boys switchgear. The TX’s cockpit is, by contrast, Swedish industrial chic. Volvo-sourced hardware is rendered in subtly grained black plastic with minimal satin chrome highlights. The instrument panel is a variant of Volvo’s crisply rendered three-dial TFT display, and the same infotainment touchscreen found in Volvo cars and SUVs is fitted in a high-mounted pod that angles toward the driver. The driver’s seat still doesn’t move that far rearward—the room goes to the paying customers—but it’s much more comfortable and accommodating.

The TX is relaxing and easy to drive in the hustle of London traffic, thanks to instant-on e-motor torque that delivers quick, seamless acceleration. In fact, says LEVC, early testing showed the TX to be a little too lively to 20 mph so the software was tweaked to deliver smoother rollout. The steering is light and very direct; on full lock, the TX virtually pivots on its rear axle. The little Volvo engine starts up smoothly and is very quiet when running, betrayed only by a distant turbo whoosh rather than an insistent clatter of combustion.

The powertrain can be configured via the touchscreen to one of three drive modes. Pure EV mode does exactly what it says, allowing the TX to run solely on battery power. In Smart mode, the computer figures the optimal conditions under which the internal combustion engine can be used to deliver the TX’s maximum 377-mile range—for example, when speed exceeds 50 mph, or when the battery charge level falls to 10 percent. In Save mode, the internal combustion engine runs all the time to keep the battery at a maximum state of charge.

LEVC says the 80-mile pure EV range is enough to cover a typical cabbie’s shift in central London, where traffic speeds often average little more than 4 mph during the day. Most drivers—50 percent of London’s 23,000 black cabs are owner driven—will leave home with a fully charged battery, courtesy of an optional 7-kW wall charger. A network of 300 taxi-only 22-kW AC chargers being rolled out across London by the end of next year will provide an extra 50 miles of range in 45 minutes if needed. The TX can also be plugged into 50-kW DC fast chargers that will pump an 80 percent charge back into the battery in just 25 minutes.

All that tech and capability doesn’t come cheap. The TX costs the equivalent of $73,000, about $13,000 more than a TX4. But LEVC says the average London cabbie will save more than $550 a month on fuel, and offers finance deals that keep the increase in repayments to less than $60 a month. Service intervals have been increased from 12,000 miles to 25,000 miles, and the battery is covered by a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty.

Engineered to be roomier and more durable than a passenger-car-based cab such as a Toyota Prius or Camry Hybrid, and quieter and more comfortable than a repurposed commercial vehicle such as the execrable Nissan NV200 that clangs and clatters around Manhattan, the LEVC TX is a masterpiece of industrial design. Geely set out to create the ultimate taxi for a world that will see the number of people living in cities double by 2030. And it has.