By on May 7, 2013

taxi

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:

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

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

crown_vic

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

escape

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

hybrids

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

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

nv200

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.

VPG MV-1

mv1

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.

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122 Comments on “What’s The Best Taxi?...”


  • avatar
    overdrive

    “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.”

    Seriously? This is the dribble you guys are publishing these days?

    • 0 avatar

      You should see the dribble I write on the other days! (Presumably, you mean “drivel.” I write that too.)

      • 0 avatar
        ndlaw95

        Did I miss the basketball reference in the article? Or, maybe people who feel the need to make ridiculous PC comments about a column obviously intended to be humorous should get a dictionary.

        • 0 avatar
          notruthonthissite

          So you think that comment was humorous? Really?

          And how does it relate to the “truth” about cars? Unless the “truth” is that all taxi drivers are minorities?

          Totally detracts from an otherwise informative and more “truthful” article.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Anyone who has figured out how to write dribble is some kind of genius.

        Thank you for another hilarious article Doug. I greatly enjoy your writing.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Lighten up, Francis.

      Ps: A London taxi or a Transit Connect would be my recommendation, preferably a strong hybrid (with all-electric accessories).

  • avatar
    car_guy2010

    Why is the author so worried about coming off as racist?

    Guilty conscience?

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      At least here in Canada, my friends and I have met our share former doctors, lawyers, and engineers driving taxis. A lot of probably has to due with the actual cost of submitting immigration paperwork in economies where $800 US is a non-trivial sum, as well as the usual under-the-table money to lubricate the process in corrupt countries (which is why they’re trying to get out in the first place).

      There are certainly quacks who got their education because their parents paid off the school without actually earning their degrees, but the hoops they have to jump through in Canada can be onerous. I knew a Lebanese engineer who was waiting for APEGGA (Alberta’s engineer association) to recognize his education in the Philippines. My Filipina colleague was a college professor overseas, but works as a low paying child care worker here.

      It’s not the dream, but it’s the opportunity most people are looking for. More power to them.

      • 0 avatar
        deliverator

        I know a few Chinese immigrants here, who were engineers in China, who haven’t even bothered with the process to get their P.Eng.’s here. Instead they work as drafters or non-destructive testing tech’s.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        As well they should be – that is, driving taxis.

        Their “degrees” aren’t worth the cow dung paper they are printed on. These are “educations” that would have been a joke in the US or some Western Euro country 30 years ago.

        Our pathetic HS students could walk into those 3rd world countries and “earn” that “PhD”.

        A Lebanese engineer? Not qualified to build a non-collapsing single story dog house.

        • 0 avatar
          niky

          Which you know by actually studying at a third-world University?

          A fair percentage of our former students are working in the United States. So many, in fact, that they’ve had to increase the requirements for immigrant college graduates in certain fields to masters level to keep them from competing with the Americans who obviously don’t want the jobs.

          Can’t comment on Lebanese education. Since Lebanese students come here to study. And Vietnamese, and Korean, and Indian, and… American…

          I dread to think of how awful Third-world education is… since our graduates make up a big percentage of your basic education teachers over there. Which doesn’t bode well for American Education…

          The real reason University graduates from outside the US end up doing menial jobs inside the US is quite simple: The worst paid American laborers make several times as much as degree holders in their home countries. Most doctors I know earn less than $2k a month.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Clearly it’s a Salman Rushdie reference.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Why so humorless?

      Humorless?

  • avatar
    Summicron

    So, how’s the MV-1 work as a cab? Ruggedness and simple repairs make up for the low MPG?

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Thanks so very much for posting this. I have been wondering for the last 4 years that I have lived in NE FL what the HELL is the MV1. They or we use it strictly for disabled persons transportation. It is mighty ugly indeed. I pass by the hub for them and they have about 40 on the lot. And back to your question. Are you serious? Crowned VIC FTW baby..

  • avatar
    thelaine

    The best taxi is the one driven by a mute taxi driver.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Kia Picanto. Because if I’m in the Caribbean, the type of taxi doesn’t matter.

  • avatar
    jco

    i’d say the most popular cab in Chicago is the scion xB (either version)

    the Quest is also popular, mostly with cab drivers of single vehicle operations. like, that one cab is the whole cab company. so sketchy.

    • 0 avatar

      No way! Had no idea the xB was being used as a taxi, but it’s probably pretty good for the job.

      • 0 avatar
        pietalian

        I can vouch for that. Recently rode 4-across in the back of an xB cab in Chicago. I’m sure it makes a decent cab when the number of passengers matches the number of seatbelts, but in our situation the fit was so tight everyone felt the door close.

  • avatar
    sjhwilkes

    How about the purpose built black cabs of London? Seat 5 in comfort, crazy good turning circle, last for ever (but cost a fortune to purchase), and the more recent ones are disabled accessible / hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      I love those things and would jump at owning one but they are ridiculously expensive and last I heard Manganese Bronze was closing down.

      They are my aesthetic soul-car to a T.

    • 0 avatar
      Windy

      While I like the older Austen black cabs more than the current M Bronze versions.I to would vote for any cab that could pass the rules that the hackney carriage office in London require. One of the most important for me after the comfortable accommodation space is the tight turning radius that let it make such tight turns. Also nice is the space for your bags next to the driver.
      I do understand the cost factor as why they are seldom seen elsewhere but the London rules also mean that the cabs there are clean and kept in very good condition and the driver training known as “the knowledge ” means that no matter the ethnic background of your driver (which is just as varied as that seen in NYC) said driver will know London like the back of his/her hand. Why the London system has not been used as a template for other great cities of our world I have no idea… I would far rather have the (expensive) ride that you get in London than the cheaper ride in the frequently filthy and broken down cabs often driven by folks with perhaps a basic grasp of English if you are lucky as seen in Boston and NYC and other major cities of the USA .

      And there is nothing racist in that thought. My own grandfather came to this country without English and repaired shoes till he had learned enough to enroll in night school where after ten years he had earned a degree in engineering and eventually started his own company. People in a service industry like cab driver need to first be reasonably fluent in the language of the country they are working in… After that is obtained the fact that they are multilingual will become a major asset in their profession.

      • 0 avatar
        Astigmatism

        In addition to what I wrote below, I think The Knowledge has historically been less important in NYC than it does in London: how much learning does it take to know how to get from 78th and Broadway to 14th and 3rd? And it’s really only been within the last 15 years or so that cabs would even take you to many parts of Brooklyn or Queens, which would make it much more relevant.

        • 0 avatar
          Windy

          Good point about grid system cities but the knowledge is not just about the twisty streets that change their name from time to time.

          It is about knowing the location of hundreds of places and quickest way to get between them at different times of the day places that are not just major tourist highlights but things like clubs, embassies, various corporate hq popular pubs and eateries important shops and shopping areas . It also insures an adequate level of spoken English in those that qualify for the badge.

          As to the speed of the cabs in question they seem to move with the traffic going back and forth to the airports…. And any one driving faster than 40-45 on manhattan’s north south av. Should not be driving a cab . But I am not saying that they are best for a us city just that the requirements for a London cab would make a good starting point for such a design….

          Also I could care less what a cab looks like as long as it is comfortable, clean and clean smelling; easy to get in and out of; easy to load and unload luggage and bags. That is as a passenger.

          If I was the operator of a fleet of them I would want a minimum 10 year /10,000,000 mile service life with out major overhaul. Quick change (ABS?) body panels and bumpers that would bump with all other livery vehicles in my city at speeds up to 10mph with no damage. Quick change of interior wear areas would also help with the clean and clean smelling part.
          For the driver give them great vision all around (perhaps electronically aided) and ability to respond to things like hailing apps that people use on their smart phones and other modern tech that would be of use in a low speed urban environment.

          But it will never happen due to the entrenched nature of the political and economic system that has grown up around big city cab systems…. What does a NYC cab badge sell for these days?

          Heck I would be glad to hail a Checker Cab of the old sort with the jump seats rather than fold my 6’5″ frame in to the back of a converted 4door sedan with the shield taking the space my knees need.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      They’re great for London, and would probably be dynamite in Boston, but they’re not well suited for New York City. The turning radius doesn’t matter as much when you spend 80% of your time on a grid, and the 5500 lb. curb weight, 101 hp diesel and drum brakes wouldn’t cut it on long runs up and down the avenues.

      • 0 avatar
        Power6

        There are other attributes that would make a good cab here though: Luggage in the same compartment with passengers, greater passenger space as the London cab blows away even the LWB NYC Taxi once you add the compartment separator.

    • 0 avatar
      stroker49

      Also body on frame!

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      I have seen these running around in Denver, RHD and all. VERY puzzled how they got around DOT regs.

      • 0 avatar
        Windy

        it just has to be old enough to be exempt from most of the regs and as to the RHD no rules about that amazingly… i know a RFD postman (they tend to be independent contractors these days) who uses a RHD land rover for his work after driving a LHD car from the right seat for 15 years caused him all sorts of medical troubles with his left knee ankle and hip.

  • avatar
    CapVandal

    I haven’t taken many cabs in the US in the last couple of years. I tend to like about 2/3 of the Taxi drivers I have experienced.

    Back when I did take a lot of cabs (including rather long drives after I missed the last commuter train), it was the Crown Vic — easy.

    However, a lot of em started as police cars before beginning their late middle age as Taxis. If any of those beasts are still running — its a miracle.

    The taxi business isn’t just the downtown beaters. We have semi upscale (cleaner/newer models — english as a first language) Suburban cab companies. Plus you can get a ‘limo’ / car service to the airport for about the same amount of $$. They used to be dominated by Russians. They have beater stretch limos (the firm I used) but pretty nice sedans.

    Bring back the Crown Vic and the Lincoln Town Car.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    Crown Vic if you want to get carsick by the time you reach your destination – did they specifically replace the rear springs with Slinkys before the taxi models left the factory?

    Escape if you have something on your knees that you want to rub off on the divider before you reach your destination.

    Every Caravan cab I’ve ever taken had the middle seats removed so that two people were jammed in across in the very back row with six feet of legroom. Who came up with that idea?

    The Prius cabs I’ve taken have been better than the above – they’re quiet, too slow to do as much damage as the livery Crown Vics and Towncars, and they seem generally to be in better working condition. I’m looking forward to trying the Nissan van thing, but don’t understand why they didn’t just stick with the Prius. With NYC taxis clocking something like a billion miles per year, it seems like something that the No Smoking Mayor would have gotten behind.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree on all counts. As for the Prius, I think the theory was the Nissan had a greater seating capacity. If they wanted one vehicle for all taxis, they wanted something that could handle any extreme.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      The cops beat the shit out of the suspension and then sell them to cab companies, so the back shocks are likely blown. Cab operators cheap out and buy inexpensive shocks. Thick stiff springs on inadequate soft shocks equals terrible bouncy ride quality.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        All shocks for that POS are cheap – even the “Police” models.

        You can never fix inherently bad design, which is what a Panther is…

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    I nominate Crown Vic as the champion. Since Blumberg threatened to take them away, the cabbies here got the new ones and it’s really sweet to land in one and experience cars as the God intended them to be. For other times, Prius V is nice and roomy and Toyota Sienna is a nice ride.

    Ford Escape hybrid is crap – super tight in the back and the ride is aweful.

    Nissan Altima hybrid is crap – shitty ride, its engine starts with an annoying fart, and it’s no big in the back.

    Grand Caravan vans are here only with wheel chair conversion and for some reason they are are really clapped out.

    After Crown Vic the honors should go Fords Transit Connect and the CMax.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Escape is a bit tight, but are holding up well in cab duty. Altima’ ride is not crap. It is taut without being harsh, and offers a level of handling that is surprising in this class. The Crown Vic is the car with a shit ride. Bouncy, wallowy, and once the shocks go – they pogo stick big time. Still, from a durability point of view, they last. Once they get past the sell-by milage mandated by the TLC, they get sold and become “black cars”…You often see yellow peeking out from scratches in the Earl Schibe dogcrap paint job.

  • avatar
    Tuce

    A few notes:
    - All (or almost all) NYC Crown Vic cabs are now extended wheelbase and offer plenty of legroom. As a native New Yorker, these are actually by far the most comfortable taxis to ride in.

    - The Escape also suffers from same brake/turn signal issue. As does my Audi A6, but I think it’s okay with LEDs as they’re more conspicuous.

    - The most awful NYC cabs in my experience are the older, non-hybrid Japanese minivans (Nissan Quests, Toyota whatever). For a while these were popular alternatives to Crown Vics before hybrids were de riguer. They invariably have completely shot shocks which makes rides to LGA or anywhere else torturous unbearable.

    - All NYC cab drivers drive like a__holes. Otherwise, they’re just normal people like yourself.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Sadly, dozens of BRAND NEW Crown Vic LWB taxis, stockpiled from the final production runs, were flooded by Hurricane Sandy:

      http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2012/10/31/155048713_custom-f2121ef4f646143e726be528c57a087bc62639b9-s6-c10.jpg

      These photos were widely distributed, but I haven’t heard what happened to them.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Panther holds titles from six of the eleven sanctioning bodies, and thus is the undisputed heavyweight champion in the world of Taxi. However I think if they styled the MV-1 more like a London Cab I think we’d have a new champion. Another possible contender(s) would be to stretch either the hybrid Escape, Prius, or HSC powered Camry for livery use, because the first two are barely adequate at best for taxi duty. Camry has the basic dimensions down, I’d just like to see some more leg room for those of us who travel 20-30 hrs a week.

    • 0 avatar
      stroker49

      What happened with freedom in the USA? I don’t know if there is any sanctioning bodies here in Europe for taxis. Taxi buys what they think will work and be economical. If you have a lot of luggage you take a wagon or a minivan as a customer.

      However, Denmark is special. Go there and you will travel in fully loaded Mercedes S klasse or big BMW and other fantastic cars. In Denmark they have a 100% tax on cars!!!! Cars are extremely expensive there. But if you buy a car to serve as a taxi you pay normal European prices. They drive the taxis for some years and sell them to privat persons that thinks a normal untaxed price is a bargain for a used car. Taxes can have funny consequenses!

  • avatar
    readallover

    In Vancouver, the majority are Toyota Corolla and Prius. So, if there is more than one person and one bag, you are screwed. But, it`s green.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Best for passengers? Lincoln Town Car L (long wheelbase) or a Ford Flex. Rode in a Flex in Chicago as a taxi. It was almost lunch and my wife was asleep on my shoulder practically before we could pull away from the curb (this was with the seldom seen rear bench seat). She remained asleep over the potholed streets of Chi-town until we reached the airport. That is a distinct comfort advantage for the Flex.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I agree!

      Whenever I traveled I tried to use Limo service if I wasn’t paying for it and my favorite was clearly the Lincoln Towncar of any version; standard, long or stretched.

      On a couple of occasions I got picked up at the airport in a Caddy stretch Limo and the pitching, yawing and skewing of Cadillacs made me hold on for dear life. One time, in Chicago, I started on the passenger side of the backseat but by the time we got to the airport I had been forcibly slid over and was situated behind the driver.

      But I also have very fond memories of the Checker Marathon cabs. They were ugly but I always felt safe and secure in them since they were built like a tank. I even owned an old one for a couple of weeks but some guy made me an offer for it that I simple could not turn down. As far as I know, he is still using that rolling antique in Texas, where he lives now.

      I don’t care for any of the new crop of Taxis but the Nissan NV appeals most because it reminds me of a bigger, better Checker Marathon. In civilian trim that NV could become very popular with full-size Van buyers like churches, Boys&Girls clubs, hotels, etc.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Neither – I nominate the Impala FTW. Economical, spacious, reliable and more comfortable than any old ex-police cruiser will ever be.

    • 0 avatar
      TorontoSkeptic

      Beat me to it… here the distribution of taxis is about 40 percent Impalas, 40 percent Camrys, 10 percent Town Cars (so-called “Ambassador Taxis”) and the balance is a weird mix of vans, buick sedans and other things. I definitely prefer the Impalas although it can be a little disturbing how fast your standard aggressive taxi driver gets going on city streets.

  • avatar
    david42

    I’ve been in a few NYC LWB Crown Vics, and I like them–there’s as much space as a normal sedan, even with the divider.

    In my home town, a cab company uses Subaru Outback wagons (Legacy-based, not Impreza). Never been in one, but seems like a brilliant idea. Spacious (no partition), plenty of ground clearance and suspension travel. With the CVT they’re somewhat economical, and awd is good for our winters.

    The best cab I’ve ever seen is a Mercedes S-class (w140). And not some schlubby diesel–no, a full-spec S500. On the streets of St. Moritz, Switzerland, it didn’t even stand out.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ve honestly never gotten the Panther love. If I wanted a giant car that handled poorly, accelerated slowly, got terrible MPG, misused passenger space, and looked old I’d have taken my family car from growing up – 1987 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon with “wood” panels. Oh wait… I do have a car like that except mine is a 2-door and was built in the 60s, so it’s ok.

    The best taxi would be the Honda Element. They have flat plastic floors perfect for hosing things out of.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    One aspect I am having trouble understanding is the references to blinkers. I was under the impression that they are a rarely selected factory option.

    Out west, I like the Prius as a cab because when loaded it effectively counters every taxi drivers Formula 1 ambitions, unless you’re traveling downhill with a wind behind you.

    On the minus side is the way they start to feel frighteningly flimsy a few month after leaving the factory. I’ve heard a driver explain too many times that their Prius is due for another replacement door, but it’s OK it won’t fly open on the interstate.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The market had spoken and chose the Crown Vic as the unanimous champ. They’d soldier on forever if they weren’t legislated out of existence.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I’ve been successfully avoiding New York for a decade, but back in the day I took a cab to work every morning. The best then were the Isuzu Oasis and Honda Odyssey. They had bright, airy, light colored interiors that allowed you to see what sort of detritus you didn’t want to sit in before it was too late. Their partitions didn’t clout my knees and stain my suits. Air didn’t seem to pass between the driver and passenger compartments in an offensive manner. Sadly, I probably caught one every two weeks. The other days I’d be in the back of a Crown Vic, which was everything the little vans weren’t.

  • avatar
    jaydez

    Here in Hartford we have 2 main types of cabs: Transit Connects and MV-1. All the crown vics have gone to either the junk yard or the mon-and-pop taxi services that have 5 cars.

    I actually think the transit connect makes and excelent cab. There is a decent ammount of leg room and tons of room behind the rear seat for luggage. It also gets decent fuel economy.

    I really don’t get the MV-1 which is the most common cab in Hartford. Its huge, only has 4 passenger seats and look like ti gets 10 MPG on a good day.

  • avatar
    redav

    “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.”

    Pfft. In the mid ’90s we’d put nine people in an Escort wagon: three up front, four in the back seat, and two in the cargo area. A crown vic would be like first class seating in comparison.

  • avatar
    wsimon

    I’m going to go out of the way and nominate the new Toyota Avalon hybrid. It has more room than a Camry and will still get good gas mileage, and based on what I have seen with Prius reliability it won’t break down. That said, the brand new BMW 740d taxi I took in Brussels is probably the best of the taxis, its not everyday that a cab has both power rear sunshades and full rear seat HVAC controls. Not a particularly realistic choice for nomination however.

  • avatar
    RS

    Crown Vic’s and Chrysler minivans make up most of the taxi duties around here.

    Older SWB Chrysler Minivans (Pre 2008 style)seem popular. The last one I was in showed 430K on the odometer.

  • avatar
    maxxcool7421

    You should get in touch with the American Top Gear folks and make a challenge out of it. i’m sure they’d bite…

  • avatar
    JSF22

    I agree with you the back seat of a normal wheelbase Crown Vic is horrendous — to make up for the lack of legroom you basically fall down into the seat. But you also touched on that sled’s greatest strength. With every warning light blazing, they always get you where you’re going. There is something to be said for no technology.

  • avatar
    Tucson Tripper

    All your careful caveats to try and emphasize that you are not a racist are for naught…. what a disgusting bit of racism.

    The articles isn’t very good either. How about a little research instead of the throwaway comments on the various vehicles used as taxi cabs?

    How about some compassion for immigrants that are trying to grab a piece of the American Dream… however small.

    • 0 avatar

      Wait a second! Are you implying all cab drivers are immigrants? Based on the same hypersensitivity you employ, THAT is racist! However, I do agree with one bit:

      “The articles isn’t very good either. How about a little research instead of the throwaway comments on the various vehicles used as taxi cabs?”

      Indeed. Really, it was just dribble.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “How about a little research instead of the throwaway comments on the various vehicles used as taxi cabs?

      How about some compassion for immigrants that are trying to grab a piece of the American Dream… however small.”

      How about a nice game of chess?

      I want a Doug DeMuro t-shirt.
      Why isn’t there a TTAC store?

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Immigrant is a race?

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Panther Love Redux

    Imagine a world where gasoline pump prices are 1.5 USD per US gallon lower than today with no reason to increase for years. Imo as an energy guy, we are very likely within a year plus or minus a little of this situation. Now where does a slightly redesigned and updated Panther platform specialty product made, maybe in Mexico, for the North American and Arabian markets and made largely with existing tooling sound? Cops, cabbies and limos plus a little for the household market. Fleet price well under $20k.

  • avatar
    1000songs

    Trick question. There is no such thing as a good taxi, never mind a “best” one. At least not in Toronto.

  • avatar
    Spanish Inquisition

    Face it: The greatest taxis are the Merc E-classes. Bulletproof, elegant, and delicious Merc diesel engines.

    • 0 avatar

      Stunned it took this long to be said. This is, quite simply, the truth. Apparently, the E-Class is even approved for use in NYC, though I’ve never seen one there.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      W114 and W115s are Beirut’s taxis,save for the W201s.

      All of which are better in their worst day than a Panther on its best.

      So sad when people on a car site know nothing about cars…

  • avatar
    92golf

    I drove a Checker Marathon taxi part-time while in college. I once had thirteen people in it. Fortunately it wasn’t very far. It wasn’t a lack of space that was the problem it was the weight.

  • avatar
    skor

    NYC taxi service sucks as bad as it does because of the way the medalion system was perverted so Wall St types could have one more “market” they could make “free” thereby screwing the rest of us.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    What’s the best taxi?

    Oh, Doug. Tsk. All your answers filled with so much fail.

    I present to you the Nurburgring BMW M3 ‘Ring Taxi. And the best taxi driver? None other than my girlfriend, Sabine Schmitz.

    You’re welcome.

  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    Did you know that the MV-1 was designed by a team who originally wanted to import London taxis from Manganese? They brought in about a dozen which got blown away in Katrina. And that was after they had been tested and it was determined that they wouldn’t survive NYC’s roadways, the distances, or the constant use. So, the MV-1 was designed with a full body-on-frame for durability. And plans were to move from Ford’s 4.6L to a smaller V6, with a 6-speed auto for better mileage. Very accomodating design – looks great in black -

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    This is an easy question – an immaculate LWB S-class, A8, or a VW Phaeton. Powered by the smaller diesel option, and driven very precisely (and QUICKLY) by a nice man in coat and tie. Of course, this experience requires a plane ticket to Germany. And try not to contemplate what the 85 Euro ride from the airport to BMW Welt translates to in USD.

    Note that this was not by special arrangement, just the plain old cab stand at Munich airport. I think the WORST car in line was a VW Passat wagon. Nice. London cabs are #2.

  • avatar
    kmoney

    I would put a vote in for the Prius. In Vancouver these probably make up at least 1/3 of all taxis on the road and while not the most comfortable or coolest car to ride around in, from the taxi company’s perspective they are great. From dealings with a former fleet manager:

    The ones here get bought new or lightly used and are sold after about 600,000 kms. During their ownership, there are typically no breakdowns of major components and relatively little maintenance outside of fluid changes. Besides fuel economy, the car’s main advantage is that it has no alternator to fail (typically go every 6 months in Corolla or other typical taxis) and the brakes last comparatively forever because of the regenerative braking. The hybrid transmission also lasts longer than any other typical taxi vehicle.

    When compared to a Crown Victoria prii typically would pay back their incremental cost difference in fuel savings while still within the new vehicle warranty period. Compared to a Corolla, they are still make sense despite increased initial capital outlay — mostly for the slight increase in fuel economy and the repairs mentioned above. A Corolla transmission will also have to be replaced at least once during its ownership.

    From a passenger perspective, I would still rather roll in a Crown Vic. There is something about pulling up in a place in a large American sedan that just feels different than an little hybrid.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Most cabs in London are not the well-known black Austins. They are regular cars, and you have to phone to get one. They’re called minicabs, and are just as bad as the average North American taxi.

    The Toyota Camry became hugely popular in this role which is why CAR magazine used to mock it, and ruin its reputation so that nobody bought new ones. Goodness knows what vehicles are now pressed into cab service in the UK these days, but Hyundai sounds about right.

  • avatar
    becauseCAR

    The best taxi for me has to be the Hindustan Ambassador back in India. You can fit so many people in that car, it has a seriously comfortable back seat, and the suspension can take anything that’s thrown at it. A big downside is that it’s slow and struggles to hit 100 kph. But in Indian cities, the Ambassador is best and the ultimate taxi for the daily grind.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    In the last few years, I’ve ridden in taxis which were Grand Marquis, Crown Vic, Freestar, Uplander, and Grand Caravan. The vans offered best extry-exit, visibility, and ventilation.

  • avatar
    vvk

    I vote E klasse diesel.

  • avatar
    chug

    Drove a cab for about 6 years in Denver during the late 70s – early 80s, all Checkers. The drivers bought the company sometime in that period (Yellow Cab Cooperative Association) and they had to sell the company after I left.

    Owned a stretched Checker with the jump seats for 2 years, with a V-8 (great for the rare mountain run), AC, good stereo, and spotlight for night drivers. Cab was always clean, as tips were better. And you could drive it all day and still have energy at the end of a 10 1/2 hour shift.

    Driving a cab can be interesting work, you really get a good feel for a city. All kinds of people drove when I was working, including lawyers, many students, and lots of old timers who made their living that way.

    I take cabs once in a while and have liked every driver I’ve had the last 3 or 4 years.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Old School Checker Marathon FTW!!!!!

  • avatar
    kuponoodles

    Hi Doug, you forgot the Ford Transit Connect, sliding doors, big windows, easy step in.

    I don’t understand how it lost to the Nissan NV. Especially when the VPG MV-1 is already wheelchair accessible.

    The Limo/livery guys are using Avalon’s and Camry Hybrids and retiring their panthers lately… perhaps a topic for Part 2?

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Moreover, that steering wheel appears to be a cheaper version of what’s used in the current Lincoln Mark LT pickup truck…which as far as I know is only sold in Mexico…

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    You Americans are sissies! Most of the vehicles pictured would be considered very safe and luxurious, indeed, limo-like, by many other countries (just don’t pick one from the list of the highest GDP in the world). Now tuk-tuks, that’s scary!

    Decades ago, our taxis were pretty much unregulated, and mosty uses tired, decades-old (Japanese) compacts that’s probably never designed to last that long, much less when used in a heavy-duty application like taxi. So the average taxis back then probably shouldn’t be on the road. Tired, bent bodies with no smooth panels anywhere, sagging chassis, wheels that were not quite straight, horizontally and vertically or even wobbling, missing lights, cracked windshields, you name it. Cars in your average junkyard in the US is in better condition. I’m sure there are countries in the world where this is still the case.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The description fits most of the Crown Vics I hailed in NYC from 1999 to 2002. It isn’t the fault of the cars themselves. It’s just the nature of running a car 24 hours a day in a city with crummy roads and accident prone drivers. I couldn’t even tell you how many cab wrecks I’ve been in. It was so many that they all run together. Often these accidents would occur when I was sharing the cab with one or more friends. You could tell the experienced New Yorkers, because they were out the door and hailing another cab before the broken glass stopped tinkling. Apparently, most other cab users have witnessed a bunch of wrecks too.

    • 0 avatar

      But, as you mention, you have to exclude countries on the highest GDP list. After all, as much as we’re coddled by the “luxurious” Panther (which I admit is nice compared to lots of countries’ cabs), the Europeans are all getting driven around in E-Classes!

  • avatar
    mr_min

    Tsk Tsk B&B, think bigger, think global..

    Since the title of the article what is the best Taxi (not by region)

    I’ve traveled to many places around the world and my favourite Taxi is the Toyota Crown Classic or Comfort depending on where you are. (Japan, Singapore, & Hong Kong)
    - Upright cabin with plenty of glasshouse.
    - Solid rear axle with 4 speed manual column shifter or A/T.
    - Optional LPG for greeness
    And the best part, powered rear door so you don’t have to open the door when you.
    Its an old fashion pre cost cutting Toyota.

    If you want spacious waft-ability then the Holden Caprice (Chevy PPV)with a V8…

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Toyota HI-ACE mini bus… Game over, I win!

  • avatar
    Mikein08

    The best taxi is the one you don’t have to ride in because you are smart and/or talented enough not to have to live in a city where taxis are a necessity of life.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I wear a hi-visibility road worker’s vest when cycling to work in the warm weather and walking in winter’s dark.
    I wear it for the city taxi drivers. I don’t want to get hit but if I did there would be an extra clause of blame for the driver. Assuming I’m riding/walking legal the taxi would have to explain to the police and their own insurance how they didn’t see me.

    I would never take a taxi in my neck-of-the-woods. I would drive, transit, cycle or walk first. Taxi would be the absolute last choice. Fact is I haven’t taken a taxi in years, possibly not this century. So there gandu – no tip from me.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Something I haven’t seen touched on in any of the comments, I think, is accessibility. Part of the reason the winning Nissan van and the other “Taxi of Tomorrow” contenders are such tall, blocky vehicles is that making at least some of them wheelchair accessible was required (see http://gothamist.com/2013/03/28/nissan_unveils_handicap-accessible.php#photo-1). Accessibility pretty much eliminates any car-based solution.

    That being said, I miss the 1980′s and 90′s when fewer cities had any kind of uniformity standard and cab companies used whatever roomy cars they could get their hands on. A ’73 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham did taxi duty in Philadelphia into the early 1990′s; I rode in it once. In New Orleans in 1996 I saw all kinds of 70′s and early 80′s GM sedan taxis — not just Caprices; there were a number of Olds 98′s and a gorgeous ’73 Buick Electra.

  • avatar
    tedward

    As a NYC resident and avid TTAC reader. Thank you, awesome article.

  • avatar
    TW4

    The Crown Vic is the undisputed champion, but it’s long in the tooth and needs to be replaced by a modern full-size sedan. I nominate the Chevrolet Caprice and Dodge Charger police vehicles. Take off the lights and paint them yellow. Good to go.

  • avatar
    Oelmotor

    Toyota Crown “Comfort” (YSX 10 or YSX 11).

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    How about Mercedes-Benz taxicabs as they are very common here in Germany?

    I hailed taxicab outside Munich central train station one evening. A Mercedes-Benz S-Class (Model type W221) donned in taxicab livery arrived to pick up my fare. It was the most luxurious taxicab I have ever ridden with plush leather seats, magazines stowed away in the pockets behind the front seats, acres of legrooms, smooth ride, etc.

    http://i203.photobucket.com/albums/aa54/cawimmer430d/SPOTTED8932/15MercedesS-ClassTaxi.jpg

    Best of all, the fare is the same as the worker class taxicabs…

  • avatar
    tkmedia

    VW Santana

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    Sorry Doug..I liked some of your other work but..

    1) Crown Vics are almost all long wheelbase now. It’s easily the best because its more durable and now has the best back seat. The other vehicles are okay when new (albeit often crammed – the Escape is the worst) but suffer from durability issues.

    2) I don’t get the PC stuff. It doesn’t matter what race/religion/nationality your cabbie happens to be they tend to be awful. What you seem to need is the will to drive badly on crowded streets – good drivers don’t seem to be part of the selection process. Cabbies seem to be pretty much a race to the bottom – its all about finding the cheapest labor to man the medallion.

    3)Too much ink is wasted on NYC and NYC cabbies (and i say this as someone thats lived there for many years.) Cabs barely function in that city. it’s a very slow way to get around and its very expensive for the distance travelled. NYC should add in protected bike lanes. Then everyone could just ride bikes.

    4) For the people who complain people are spoiled – and that all the vehicles are nice. In NYC they have this huge divider that takes up all the leg space in the rear. Prius is fine for cab without it – with it its useless.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    I like the Mercedes E 350 CDI.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Panther is safer than the last rickshaw I rode in.

  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    A Michigan maker of vans for the disabled that received a $50-million Energy Department loan has quietly ceased operation and laid off its staff.

    Vehicle Production Group, or VPG, stopped operations after finances dipped below the minimum threshold required by the government as a condition of the loan, says its former CEO, John Walsh. Though about 100 staff were laid off and its offices shuttered, it has not filed for bankruptcy reorganization.

    Extracted from USA Today.
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/05/08/vpg-auto-fisker-solyndra-tesla-doe-loan/2143201/

  • avatar
    AnsonYu

    An Australian Ford Falcon with a 4L I-6 or a Toyota Crown Comfort with
    column shift(!) manual.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    It appears VPG has just ceased doing business.

    One less candidate to debate.

    • 0 avatar
      FAHRVERGNUGEN

      Yesterday’s gnu’s. But don’t count out The Taxi That Yassky Killed – maybe there are third parties with bigger bank accounts interested in acquiring the design, tooling etc. And there were a LOT of pre-orders from potential customers for the cars…

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    I have really enjoyed reading over this thread. It exposes the very souls of the readers of your blog.
    1. very minimal sensa Yuma. Not that there is anything wrong with Yuma.
    2. not the slightest clue as to what it might be like to actually run or operate a cab or limo service.
    3. mainly white collar salarymen who mostly use cabs and limos when they are on expense account
    4. a few NYC residents who are too weak to go into the Subway (dat’s really weak folks) and too poor to afford cabs (pretty poor). Time for these losers to go back to Iowa where they came from.


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