I heard the screen door slam.
And a big yellow taxi
Come and took away my old man”
“Big Yellow Taxi” Joni Mitchell © Siquomb Publishing Co.
Forty years after Joni Mitchell sang about big yellow taxis their days are ending. The big Chevrolets and Fords are out of production, closing the era of the traditional big, V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive sedans with seating for six.
Cab companies are exploring new options. While there are still passenger car offerings like the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus and Dodge Charger, fleet operators and independents are looking at smaller cars, hybrids and minivans, many of which can’t offer the seating and luggage capacities of the big Ford.
New York City has the nation’s largest concentration of cabs, including more than 13,000 of the familiar yellow medallion cab. Seven years ago, the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission embarked on a project to replace the more than three dozen different vehicles approved for medallion cab use with a 10-year contract for a single vehicle.
After a competition that came down to two credible finalists, the Nissan NV200 and the Ford Transit Connect, the NV200 was selected as “New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow.” While the program was put on hold following a court decision that NYC’s Taxi and Limousine Commission had overstepped its bounds by requiring the purchase of a specific vehicle, an appeals court overturned that decision, putting the Taxi of Tomorrow program back on track, at least for now.
After driving the NV200 commercial van at last year’s Texas Truck Rodeo and brief spin in the cab version at the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Spring Car Roundup in Fort Worth, Acarplace had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the “Taxi of Tomorrow.”
The NV200 Taxi is based on the new-to-us NV200 passenger van that was named International Van of the Year in 2010. Built on the same platform as the Nissan Versa and Cube, the NV200 is a compact, multipurpose vehicle.
Compared to the Transit Connect, the NV200 is taller and narrower, giving the driver a higher viewing position and the capability to squeeze into tight spaces, a plus in the Big Apple’s crowded traffic.
Compared to the Ford P72 Crown Victoria, which is the commercial fleet version of the big Ford, the NV200’s footprint is 27 square feet smaller. The Nissan is more than two feet shorter and ten inches narrowed than the Crown Vic. It was calculated that once the changeover to the new van was complete, five acres would have opened up on New York City’s streets.
|TAXICABS BY THE NUMBERS|
|Specification||Nissan NV200||Ford P72 Crown Victoria|
|Width w/o mirrors (in.)||68.1||78.2|
|Height w/o roof lighting (in.)||73.7||58.3|
|Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft)||36.7||40.3|
|Footprint L x W (ft2)||88||115|
|Curb Weight (lb)||3,258||4,144|
|Engine||2.0L DOHC I4||4.6L SEFI V8|
|Transmission||CVT||Auto 4-speed w/OD|
|Horsepower, SAE Net||131||224|
|Torque, SAE Net (lb-ft)||139 @ 4,800 rpm||275 @ 4,000 rpm|
|Acceleration 0-30 (sec.)||N/A||3.16*|
|Acceleration 0-60 (sec.)||11.0||8.9*|
|EPA City (mpg)||24||16|
|EPA Highway (mpg)||25||24|
|EPA Combined (mpg)||24||19|
|*Michigan State Police instrumented test for Ford P70 Crown Victoria CVPI with 4.6L V8 and 3.55 rear axle ratio|
Since this is a purpose-built taxicab, there aren’t a whole lot of extras, but everything that’s needed is there, including a very legible navigation screen. In order to deal with would-be robbers, belligerent passengers and such, New York City mandated that all cabs be equipped with a flashing amber light to discretely alert police of a problem. The NV200 has the system integrated into its lighting and electronics and pressing a conveniently located switch turns on a flashing amber LED display concealed in the grille and flashes “Call 911″ signs in the rear lighting array. There aren’t any internal indications that the system has been activated so the action shouldn’t escalate a bad situation.
New York City also requires a partition between the driver and passenger compartment. It’s not just a divider: there’s a space for the driver’s cab license, a screen that can be used for entertainment, or maps and a credit card reader. An intercom allows communication between driver and passenger and it works quite well. The driver’s microphone is located in the roof liner just above the visor.
The passenger compartment is functional but comfortable with acres of legroom and the hump in the middle of the Crown Victoria’s floor is just an unpleasant memory.
While it looks fairly Spartan, the bench seat is comfortable and can accommodate three passengers.
Passengers have their own controls for heating or air-conditioning and there’s another switch in the driver’s compartment to reset the climate control to a standard setting, ready for the next passenger.
Incidentally, when it comes to air-conditioning, the NV200 is first-rate. The system had no trouble cooling the cab and passenger area quickly and keeping them comfortable, even in Houston’s summer heat.
The flooring is a heavy-duty black rubbery material, which may sound uninviting, but it allows the passenger area to be hosed out, a real plus when a passenger who is “under the weather,” shall we say, has a messy problem. It happens more often than you think.
In the same vein, the NV200 has anti-microbial seat coverings and an active carbon headliner to minimize lingering odors.
Behind the passenger seat is a cargo space that is more than enough to handle luggage for a full load of passengers. The asymmetrical rear doors mean that, for most fares, only one door need be opened.
The NV200 is certainly competent in traffic. The 2.0-liter engine has sufficient power for a vehicle that will spend the majority of its life operating at speeds under 40 mph. The continuously variable transmission keeps engine speed down, improving fuel efficiency.
While the chart shows comparable 0-60 times, that’s not the whole story: zero-to-30 is a more critical parameter and, to be honest, the NV200 needs a bit more low-end oomph. Forget how they are supposed to drive and watch how New York City cabbies really drive: a lot of those Fords are retired police cars designed for quick acceleration that the cabbies like to be able to get to fares and dodge through traffic. My suspicion is that the culprit here is the NV200’s transmission. The Nissan CVT is swell in many ways, but rabbit starts isn’t one of them.
For cabbies outside of New York, the NV200 does quite well. It has no trouble keeping up with traffic on city streets and is even good at cruising on freeways. It’s not thrilling, but it’s not supposed to be: it’s a cab and most passengers don’t want an exciting ride.
The NV200’s front disc/rear drum brakes provided consistent stops and there was good pedal feel for modulation. Smooth stopping is a big plus when you’re hoping for a good tip.
Considering the height and width of the NV200, I thought there might be some issues with body lean but that turned out not to be the case. The Nissan handled curves and swerves just fine.
At highway speeds, there is a fair amount of wind noise and the NV200 is slightly prone to being buffeted by crosswinds and big trucks. Nothing major: my “passenger” never noticed it; but at times it took a steady hand on the wheel. In fairness, every van I have ever driven, big or small, has been the same.
The only real criticisms I had dealt with the accommodations for the driver. First was a lack of space for the driver’s stuff. The front passenger seat folds flat for use as a table, but it also needs to be available for a fourth passenger. The binnacle atop the center stack looked handy but that would be filled by a meter in real-world use, so it’s out, too. The cup-holders and the pocket in the door are handy but a driver spending eight hours a day behind the wheel might want to have a few other items.
Second, I wished for an armrest for my right arm. While I didn’t do a nine-hour stint, which is the rule in New York, I did spend several hours driving continuously and an armrest would have been nice. Unfortunately, space for an armrest has been taken by the switches for the intercom and rear-compartment A/C resets.
Overall, however, if I drove a hack for a living, the Nissan NV200 would be a pretty nice place to work. It was fun to drive around, drawing stares and questions, and it was really quite comfortable; even after four hours behind the wheel, I wasn’t creaky or tired.
Fleet owners will make their own deals, but any owner-operators looking for a good, economical workhorse should give the Nissan’s NV200 Taxi a very close look.
|2013 Nissan NV200 New York City Taxi|
|Assembly Plant||CIVAC, Cuernavaca, Mexico|
|Why we’d buy it||Well thought-out, comfortable, easy to drive and park|
|Why we wouldn’t||Acceleration, armrest.|