London Taxi

The London taxi – now available in van form

THE MOST surprising car I’ve driven in the past year has just pulled another hankerchief out of its sleeve. The London black cab is now available – as a van.

It just doesn’t sound right somehow, does it? The Friday night ride home of choice across much of the capital – and an increasingly familiar sight in this part of the world too, particularly in Liverpool and Manchester – has been transformed from the B-pillars backwards into something that resembles a bloated Volkswagen Caddy, but beneath the skin shares the same combination of electric motors (and some internal combustion back-up, in the form of a 1.5-litre petrol engine as a range extender) as its more familiar, fare-fetching cousin.

While the London Electric Vehicle Company claims it can travel 377 miles in one hit – meaning that should The Champion ever launch an Inverness edition it’ll be able to deliver a freshly-printed batch without having to stop to charge up – it’s actually pitched as a response to what it calls “the Amazon-isation of retail”. In other words, all those short trips from parcel depots to your door because every other person on your street orders their stuff online. That’s a lot of short hops for blokes in vans – and a lot of air pollution if it isn’t kept in check.

But I reckon the van has the potential to be a hit for much the same reason the black cab is – it’s really, really good at what it does. When I drove the TX taxi last year I reckoned its ability to take contactless payment and provide drunken passengers with an in-built WiFi zone for their Instagram selfies was smart stuff – but not half as clever as the way it drove. A seven-seater that’s roughly the same size as a Land Rover Discovery Sport had the sort of turning circle you’d expect from a Smart, was a doddle to drive and had all of its electronic trickery harnessed by a Tesla-esque touchscreen that dominated the dashboard and was intuitively easy to use. If LECV can give a van – even one that does look a bit like a drunken Austin A35 from the front – the same sort of qualities in something than can carry two Euro pallets, then I reckon it’ll quickly build up a healthy queue of fans.

In fact, the biggest battle will be the one thing LEVC hasn’t announced yet – the price. All that’s been confirmed is that it’ll be less than the £55k its taxi cousin currently costs, but bear in mind Nissan’s all-electric NV200, with a 174-mile range, costs £19,116 before VAT.

You might not be able to get to Inverness in it, but that’s a 35-grand saving. The black cab makers might have to pull off some more magic to square that difference…

The new London black cab has an unlikely rival for your cash this Christmas

The new TX black cab uses hybrid technology to cut down on emissions

IT NORMALLY happens somewhere between Wham! and Shakin’ Stevens at the office Christmas do. It’s way past your bedtime, you’ve visited the free bar once too many, and you’re about to regale your boss with that story about how you snuck into the stationary cupboard and did something that’d land you with a police caution anywhere else. In other words, it’s time to fall into a taxi for the ride home.

But it’s almost certain – unless you’ve got an employer generous enough to whisk you down to the capital for your night out – that it won’t be the new TX black cab. It’s a lot smoother and quieter than the old TX4 taxi it’s replacing, and there’s fancy Volvo-sourced switchgear to enjoy, but it’s unlikely to make it anywhere north of the M25 for at least another six months. It’s also unlikely to win many taxi-driving friends up here for the same reason most of us think a three-bed house in London is a stupid idea; it costs an eyewatering amount of money.

£55,000, to be exact. To be fair the new taxi does come with some sophisticated electric motors and a Volvo engine as a range extender, none of which comes cheap, but it’s hard to imagine the fine taxi-faring folk of the North West forking out the price of a Range Rover Velar for something to replace their 08-reg Ford Focus Estate.

Happily, there is an alternative. If you really do want to do the falling into the back of a taxi while slightly hammered after a Christmas party thing properly – and there’ll be opportunities aplenty over the next few weeks – why not persuade a mate to buy the outgoing London Taxi for a laugh?

They are, as it turns out, ridiculously cheap if you know where to look. Go hunting for one – and it doesn’t really matter if it’s the original TX1 or the much later TX4, because if you’re a festive and mildly sloshed partygoer they’ll feel exactly the same – and prices start from just £800 for something a bit battered, and from nearer £1500 for one with some life left in it. And – as Top Gear viewers might remember from an episode earlier this year – these things can hack just about anything.

If you need a roomy diesel chariot and you can’t bear the though of buying a Renault Scenic or Ford C-Max then an old black cab is a much quirkier alternative. You’ll be the envy of your mates too; drive into town to pick them up from their Christmas party on a Friday night and they’ll love you forever.

You could even charge ‘em a few quid for the privilege. That might catch on…