It’s quite bizarre to hear that that the LEVC TX, aka the new London taxi, is on test as we speak in the wilds of Arizona and the Arctic. How confusing must it be for sun-baked cowboys and frozen Laplanders when a common-or-garden black cab turns up on their patch out of the blue?
An equally bizarre experience was on offer at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, when I became one of the first people ever to travel in the back of the new London cab – under most un-cab-like conditions.
In their wisdom, Geely and Volvo, who own the former LTI company making new-design hybrid cabs in a new factory outside Coventry, decided to enter a disguised prototype in the First Sight field at Goodwood, and to invite your humble servant to travel in the spacious, comfortable and airy passenger compartment.
My driver was Katie Milner, promising Ginetta racer and the youngest driver in the entire event. She’s intent on becoming a successful race professional – Le Mans participation is part of the dream – and has already beaten some good guys enough times in the past season to make it a believable idea.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the experience was entirely positive. The cab is an all-aluminium range extender design, reminiscent of black cabs past but with a 70-80 mile battery range (that can be replenished in 20 minutes on a fast charger) and with a 1.3-litre three-cylinder charging engine in the nose in case fast chargers aren’t handy. At Goodwood, over four days, the engine never needed to run.
Doing demo runs at the Festival is a lengthy process. By the time you’ve formed up, inched to the start line, done your run, parked in the top paddock, trundled down again and parked where you started, most of two hours has gone by. Both Katie and I (especially her, she did it all weekend) became weary of comedians shouting “taxi!” as we passed. It had been a weak joke to start with.
Still, the ability of the vehicle was well and truly proven. We glided powerfully off the line and were doing 60-plus by the time we reached the first double-apex right-hander. It felt a bit funny, sitting in a typical taxi passenger position at speed on what, for four days of the year, is a race circuit.
Side-support wasn’t the TX’s strongest suit. But as I clung on it was easy enough to perceive the car’s impressive balance when cornering at five times the usual effort of a taxi in a corner, and the innate smoothness and quietness of the powertrain as we scythed towards the reverse-camber Molecomb corner and then the dangerous-looking-but-easy-when-you-get-there Flint Wall.
By the time we’d negotiated the next right-hander, the car in front was in sight. A trio of cocky young blokes in a Mini Cooper can’t have expected to be caught by a blonde girl and a fat bloke in a black cab, but the combo of the TX’s electric poke and Katie’s impressive skill and commitment brought them into plainer and plainer sight. We reached the top paddock (more hailing from the crowd) more or less on the bumper of the Cooper. It was a great demonstration.
Mind you, I’m not so impressed about the cost, though. The car itself must have been one of the cheapest to get to the top of Goodwood’s hill, but we’d set the meter running back in the paddock (it lit the yellow taxi-light), and by the end of the run it was showing just over £10. Priciest single mile I’ve ever travelled...