I rarely ride in taxis. This is by design, since taxis are, in fact, the single scariest vehicles in North America. I’m not talking about taxi drivers, who I find to be really good people – an opinion that’s largely based on the fact that I think I’d be called racist if I said anything bad about them. So instead I’m talking solely about the taxis themselves, which are very scary.
I base my opinion largely on taxi rides in New York City. There, they have precisely two types of cabs: old Crown Victorias and recent hybrids. Somehow all of these vehicles sound exactly the same, which is to say: like they’re about to fall apart. Presumably, this is because they’re about to fall apart.
I know this because, occasionally, when I peer past the cab driver – who could be of any race, and is very nice, and smells great, and certainly isn’t screaming curse words at other drivers in a foreign language – I often notice that virtually every warning light is on. Just as often, I notice the speedometer is approaching 50 miles per hour, which is referred to in New York City as “cruising speed.”
Of course, it isn’t surprising that taxis are poorly maintained, since money is lost with every second they aren’t on the road. As a result, this is a typical conversation between a taxi driver and his mechanic:
Ahmed, Steve, your transmission is failing and you need new brakes.
Taxi driver: Maybe next time. Today, I am redeeming this coupon for a free alignment!
Taxis aren’t just poorly maintained: they’re also rather uncomfortable. For instance, I recently took a taxi ride with a group of friends, and I have to say that nine people are rather snug in a Crown Victoria. This was especially true for the three guys who rode in the trunk.
But taxis are necessary in our society, which is why we should focus not on complaining, but improving. (That should be on one of those posters that hangs in middle school hallways, right next to the one that shows Rob Lowe saying “Be careful what you film.”)
As a result, I think we should debate today’s most common taxi choices and try to reach some sort of conclusion on which car is best for the job. Hopefully, we can decide this before Derek starts posting stories that are actually informative, sending this article to the second page. There, it will only show up when potential taxi drivers Google “best cars for taxi” as they dream of a better life in America. (Note: this is not racist. Really. I have minority friends.)
The nominees are:
Dodge Grand Caravan
The Dodge Grand Caravan is the most popular minivan in the United States. This is almost entirely due to its sales success with Enterprise Rent-a-Car, taxi drivers, and the occasional confused grandparent who swears he needs a minivan for when the grandkids come to visit.
The Grand Caravan offers both good and bad. On the plus side, it has two sliding doors, tons of room, a reasonably nice cabin, and airbags in every place they have them in the Odyssey plus maybe one more, so they can brag about it in the ads. Unfortunately, there’s one big negative: the Grand Caravan’s brake lights and turn signals are the same unit, which hasn’t been acceptable since the 1970s.
Ford Crown Victoria
I’m beginning to think the legend of TTAC’s obsession with the Panther is greater than its actual obsession with the Panther, so I’m going to go negative here. This car’s biggest problem is that, despite being as long as a regulation racquetball court, it has as much rear legroom as a domestic flight on AirTran.
This is especially true of New York City Crown Vics, since they have a partition between the front and rear seats, along with a TV screen that features Michael Bloomberg giving tips on how to avoid a mugging. (Chief among them: “If you walk around with your phone visible, it will get stolen, unless of course it’s a Blackberry.”)
More importantly, the Crown Vic also fails the “brake lights and turn signals must be different” test, but that’s OK, since it was actually designed in the 1970s when that was acceptable.
Ford Escape Hybrid
Many New York City taxis are Ford Escape Hybrids. This is interesting because the Escape Hybrid, like its Crown Vic cousin, was recently discontinued. My theory: this is no coincidence, but part of a strategy buried deep in the “One Ford” plan that says “For the love of God, make people buy our cars, not rent them for short periods of time.”
It’s a shame the Escape Hybrid is disappearing, because it’s actually a decent car. For instance, it can crawl over curbs, sidewalks, potholes, and protesters, all of which is important in New York City. Also, it gets 34 mpg city, which is twice as much as the Crown Victoria, except for the ones owned by TTAC commenters.
Hybrid Midsize Sedan
Hybrid versions of normal midsize sedans are becoming more popular as taxis, as is the Toyota Prius. I don’t mind this, as it takes the burden of buying them off you and me. They’re also reasonably comfortable, tremendously bland, and – with a cabbie behind the wheel – far better at driving than a typical hybrid car.
2004ish Nissan Quest
The Nissan Quest is not based on the Nissan Primera or the Nissan Sentra. I checked this because yesterday’s article mistakenly said the Infiniti G20 is based on the Nissan Sentra, which invited a firestorm of criticism not seen since the time I said Lincoln was coming back. Instead, the Nissan Quest is based on the Nissan Armada, which is a mechanical twin of the Infiniti EX35. Interestingly, all three cars share an engine with the Nissan 370Z.
JUST KIDDING! The 2004ish Nissan Quest isn’t twins with anything, except possibly a middle school science experiment gone wrong. It actually gets worse inside, where a large plastic cylinder inexplicably sticks up from the floor. In taxi models, this is covered in dried vomit, presumably caused by looking at the Quest.
That Nissan Van Thing
Perhaps inspired by the Quest’s success at being a strange-looking van only capable of finding success with taxi drivers, Nissan is creating a strange-looking van purpose-built for taxi drivers. This will soon debut in New York City, where we will quickly discover its resilience to collisions with bicycle messengers.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with the VPG MV-1. Basically, it’s a purpose-built taxi cab, much like the Checker Marathon, but far uglier. This could be because it’s built by AM General right next to the Hummer.
To me, it’s the modern-day Ford Crown Victoria thanks to body-on-frame construction, the ol’ 4.6-iter V8, and an interior that’s filled with Ford’s cheapest switchgear. (And, oddly, a Lincoln steering wheel.) Yes, it’s a van, but – if you consider driving dynamics – that only bolsters the comparison. TTAC should rally around this one, and possibly demand a performance version.
So, TTAC, which is it? Or do you have your own suggestion for the best taxi cab? Keep in mind that this may be your only chance to communicate with the next generation of taxi drivers. Except, of course, when you’re yelling at them in traffic.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.