Amid all that is new about the just-unveiled 2017 London Taxi TX5 (and there's plenty), what is perhaps most newsworthy about it is what has stayed the same. It looks, despite its LED halo headlamps, like a London black cab is supposed to look — which is to say, a lot like the iconic Austin FX4 from the late 1950s. And that's very good, indeed, because the city has had some pretenders lately — Mercedes-Benz Vito vans and Nissan NV200s that looked more Frankfurt and Tokyo than London.
The TX5, presented in the rain outside Lancaster House during a four-day UK state visit by China's President Xi Jinping, is the first new London Taxi product since Chinese automaker Geely bought the company in 2013. And this is no mere revision to the current TX4, which has been plying the streets of London since 2007, the TX5 is fresh from the ground up.
The new taxi took shape at Geely's design centre in Barcelona, lead by British designers Peter Horbury and David Ancona, both formerly with Volvo Cars. It uses composite body panels over an aluminium structure, keeping weight down for improved efficiency. The rear doors are rear-hinged, as they were on the old Austin FX4, giving easy access to a six-passenger rear compartment. And the car offers to riders a raft of creature comforts and 21st-Century conveniences, including on-board Wi-Fi, USB charge points and an all-glass panoramic roof. The driver's compartment is improved as well: it's bigger, brighter and blessed with improved ergonomics.
The TX5 ditches the TX4's 2.5-litre diesel engine, instead employing a battery electric powertrain with a range-extending internal-combustion engine, allowing at least part of the cabbie's shift to be accomplished with zero emissions. Details related to power and performance — or the fuel efficiency and carbon emissions for the range-extender engine — haven't been released, but the company promises full tech specs closer to the TX5's 2017 launch. One specification is a given, however: the TX5 will have a turning circle of less than 28 feet, adhering to a London law from 1906 that ensures taxicabs are able to navigate the tight roundabout at the entrance to the Savoy Hotel in Westminster.
For certain cities, the taxicab fleet is as much a part of the urban identity as the skyline. New York has lost it; the Big Apple's taxicab scene, once a uniform wash of Checker Marathons, has become a canary-coloured free-for-all, with everything from Toyota Camry Hybrids to Ford Transit Connect vans wearing NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission medallions. But in London, the bug-eyed TX4 is still the defining taxicab (albeit often wrapped in a vinyl advertisement instead of glossy black paint). And with the debut of the smartly evolved yet historically rooted TX5, London's future is looking reassuringly black.