New TX black cab driven

This Bri­tish-built elec­tric ve­hi­cle is a more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly take on the iconic Lon­don taxi. Steve Cro­p­ley goes for a spin in the new TX


We try the range ex­ten­der

We’re glid­ing. That’s what it feels like. From the driv­ing seat of this new six-pas­sen­ger taxi – which starts with Lon­don’s de­sign rules but aims at mar­kets across the world – there’s eerily lit­tle noise in­tru­sion from wind, road or me­chan­i­cal parts.

The elec­tric mo­tor cur­rently do­ing the driv­ing is at least three me­tres away from my ears, wrapped around the rear axle. The 1.3-litre petrol, three­cylin­der range-ex­ten­der engine, set trans­versely in the nose, is cur­rently si­lent be­cause we’re well in­side the 70-80 mile en­ve­lope of elec­tric driv­ing range of the thin, wide bat­tery rid­ing be­neath us, so it’s sim­ply not needed.

The alu­minium-and-com­pos­ite con­struc­tion of the body and chas­sis around me has dulled the usual road noises, at least on these fairly smooth semi-ru­ral roads of outer Coven­try. The fa­mil­iar shud­der­ings of the well-sea­soned steel-bod­ied black cabs I’ve be­come used to in Lon­don are en­tirely ab­sent. This, I tell my­self, is progress worth pay­ing for.

I’m be­hind the wheel of the all­new LEVC TX taxi, the one that has just be­gun tak­ing pay­ing cus­tomers in Lon­don, and it’s a re­mark­ably en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence. In a steady state, as I say, it glides. If you gun the ac­cel­er­a­tor, you get the kind of clean, prompt, pow­er­ful re­sponse no diesel-and-slush­matic TX4 (the ven­er­a­ble out­go­ing model) is ever go­ing to pro­vide, and there’s so much for­ward progress un­der your foot that you won­der for a sec­ond whether it’s all strictly nec­es­sary. Per­haps for “Don’t lose that cab!” or “Quick as you can!” scenes from de­tec­tive films of the old school.

In round­abouts, the car leans a lit­tle but grips and turns in will­ingly like, well, like any other wellengi­neered sa­loon. You sit up high, for sure, and have bet­ter vis­i­bil­ity than any fam­ily sa­loon, but there’s a prom­i­nent cen­tre con­sole and an im­pres­sively sup­port­ive seat (even though the ex­am­ple I’m driv­ing is

If you gun the ac­cel­er­a­tor, you get a clean, prompt re­sponse Fol­low­ing TX’S im­mi­nent launch, TFL cal­cu­lates that around 40% of Lon­don’s taxis will be zero-emis­sions ca­pa­ble by end of 2020

in the least ex­pen­sive of three of­fered trim lev­els), so there’s still a pleas­ing sense of se­cu­rity.

I’ve only driven for half an hour, but I’d like to do a lot more. This car feels snug and long-hours com­fort­able, as it must. Cab­bies are likely to spend eight hours be­hind the wheel amass­ing 120-150 miles of pas­sen­ger-tot­ing in a day, split by an hour’s break for lunch and (un­der the new elec­tric scheme of things) a half-hour tickle worth around 70% of bat­tery charge from one of the grow­ing banks of taxi-ded­i­cated 50kw rapid charg­ers. I’ve just un­plugged our test car from one of the new Charge­mas­ter ‘pumps’ in front of LEVC’S im­pos­ing build­ing in the An­sty in­dus­trial park, just off the M69 in outer Coven­try.

It’s 20 years since I’ve driven a black cab, but the mem­o­ries aren’t pos­i­tive. The cramped seat and sur­round­ings and the bod­ily shud­der­ings will al­ways be mem­o­rable, but worst of all was the heavy, wooden steer­ing; any change of di­rec­tion was a chore. That’s all changed now. This new TX’S hy­draulic, power-as­sisted, rack and pin­ion set-up is su­per­smooth and ac­cu­rate in your hands and re­quires just the right amount of heft to ac­cu­rately po­si­tion the straight-sided TX in busy city traf­fic. The fairly small steer­ing wheel and quick ra­tio – sim­i­lar in gear­ing to a Lo­tus Elise – pro­vides easy ac­cess to the su­per-tight (8.5 me­tre) turn­ing cir­cle the Lon­don taxi au­thor­i­ties have al­ways de­manded, which al­lows the car to re­verse di­rec­tion in tight city back streets.

Ac­cord­ing to LEVC’S dy­nam­ics ex­pert Steve Swift (who I last en­coun­tered de­vel­op­ing Elises and Ex­iges at Lo­tus’s Hethel head­quar­ters), there was ini­tial con­cern that the quick steer­ing might in­tro­duce “sharp­ness” at speed, but ev­ery­thing I’ve en­coun­tered to­day points to the fact that this car (gov­erned at 80mph) sim­ply doesn’t need any speed re­stric­tion – be­yond the fact that sus­tained high speeds blow dras­tic holes in the cruis­ing ranges of elec­tric cars.

A par­tic­u­lar fea­ture is the lack of pitch in this car’s ride, some­thing I find es­pe­cially im­pres­sive be­cause the TX has seat­ing for three adults right over the rear axle, and needs spring/damper rates that can still cope when it’s car­ry­ing six rugby play­ers to a game.

In or­di­nary cars, the gross weight dif­fer­ence be­tween lightly and fully laden would force big com­pro­mises in sus­pen­sion rates, but the TX al­ready car­ries a 330kg bat­tery

un­der its cabin floor, so the chang­ing pas­sen­ger loads have less than their usual ef­fects.

The con­ver­sa­tion of my pas­sen­gers, in this case com­pany of­fi­cials along for my first drive, is plainly au­di­ble in the driver’s seat, such is the lack of me­chan­i­cal noise. When I try the rear seat, the ef­fect is the same. You can have ef­fort­less con­ver­sa­tions be­tween back and front: try that in your TX4. Or, for that mat­ter, in your tax­i­fied Mercedes Vito van, the best of the TX’S op­po­si­tion. In fu­ture, cab-borne pas­sen­gers seek­ing per­fect pri­vacy while they pro­pose mar­riage, plan mil­i­tary coups or plot fi­nan­cial takeovers will need to do more than merely mute the mi­cro­phone…

When you get into the gen­er­ous pas­sen­ger cabin (which has space for one more 95th per­centile pas­sen­ger than the out­go­ing TX4) you can’t help notic­ing the ease of ingress through the vast door, not­ing that there’s space not only for a full-size wheel­chair to be loaded but for it to be ma­noeu­vred eas­ily in­side to face the front, by far the pas­sen­gers’ pre­ferred di­rec­tion of travel.

The cabin is durably trimmed with qual­ity bash-proof plas­tics and yel­low grab-han­dles, but there’s an all-new and im­pres­sively de­tailed con­trol panel (for in­ter­com, win­dow lifts, tem­per­a­ture and more) plus power out­lets, USB ports and on-board wi-fi. It’s all of a qual­ity I’ve not seen be­fore. The dy­nam­ics are good here in the back too: very lit­tle pitch­ing or rolling or noise.

Why, I’m won­der­ing, is this car quite so ca­pa­ble? The an­swer, I soon learn from LEVC’S chief ex­ec­u­tive, Chris Gubbey, who re­cently re­turned from a suc­cess­ful stint with GM in China, is that the de­sign team was tasked not merely with mak­ing a good taxi, but a good car.

It shows. The TX’S con­struc­tion method – a struc­ture com­pris­ing an­odised alu­minium ex­tru­sions, press­ings and cast­ings, fin­ished with cold-cured, im­pact-re­sist­ing com­pos­ite pan­els – is shared with the likes of Lo­tus and As­ton Martin, while the tor­sional rigid­ity of 20 kilo­new­tons per de­gree ri­vals some of the mar­ket’s most so­phis­ti­cated road cars.

The new manufacturing plant, on which a large slice of this project’s £330 mil­lion has been spent, cer­tainly gives noth­ing away to Lo­tus or As­ton Martin. The fac­tory is al­most cathe­dral-like at present while pro­duc­tion is still ramp­ing up, but it’ll be a lot busier in a week or two as pro­duc­tion moves to­wards its pre­dicted ini­tial ca­pac­ity of 150-300 cars per week.

Why so many cars when Lon­don’s taxi pop­u­la­tion is only 21,000 – many of which sur­vived for Trans­port for Lon­don’s full, leg­is­lated 15 years – with as many again dis­trib­uted across the coun­try? Be­cause this cab is be­ing built for sale and use glob­ally – as far afield as par­ent com­pany Geely’s na­tive China, where manufacturing is planned. Gubbey says that with more peo­ple and shifts, the An­sty pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity could even­tu­ally make 24,000 cars a year, to in­clude a whis­pered-about range of elec­tric light com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles that would use the same pow­er­train and un­der­pin­nings as the TX.

That’s sev­eral years away, though. For now, it’s taxis, and mostly in Lon­don at first. Plus – pos­si­bly – a new era of squab­bling in taxi queues, as cus­tomers jockey to be in the new, quiet, com­fort­able TX. One thing I know from my drive and ride: the vic­tors will en­joy the spoils.

Cro­p­ley is happy to go south of the river LEVC boss Gubbey (left) and Cro­p­ley en­joy the TX’S hush

The new cab will be able to cover al­most 80 miles on a charge

A 330kg bat­tery pack lies un­der the cabin floor of the TX

Ad­he­sive is used to bond the chas­sis parts An­sty is the first fac­tory in the UK to be ded­i­cated to EVS

TX’S body is made from an­odised alu­minium

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