GoAuto drives the first Chinese-built London Taxi to touch down on the east coast
THIS Geely TX4 is the first of its kind anywhere on the east coast of Australia, but with approval to operate commercially now finalised by the Victorian Taxi Services Commission, its numbers could be about to multiply.
As a purpose-built fare-paying people-mover, its importer – the London Taxi Co Australia – says it has enough unique features to lure passengers and operators away from the traditional yellow cabs, and that a successful Western Australia trial is repeatable in Melbourne.
We scrubbed up on our 'knowledge' and jumped behind the wheel of what could be the first of many of the iconic vehicles to hit Victorian roads in the coming months.
Distinguishing the uniquely styled Geely apart from any other car on the road is possible from a distance, and although it is significantly different to the original Hackney Carriage, the family resemblance is still obvious.
So unmistakable is the design that operational versions will not have to be coloured yellow on Victorian roads. Black, white and the pearlescent silver of our test car are all standard colours.
We began our day as a passenger and upon climbing aboard, the differences between the TX4 and all other taxis became immediately obvious.
Large 90-degree opening doors and a high roof creates a voluminous passenger space with room for five, while wheelchair and disabled passengers have the option of either a ramp or swiveling seat to board.
The folding ramp is stored in the small boot along with a full-sized spare-wheel and takes about a minute to install. With a wheelchair aboard there is still room for two further able-bodied passengers.
Unlike a Maxi-Taxi, the Geely allows all rear occupants to face one another, with the three-seat rear-bench facing two independent rear-facing folding seats. Isofix child-seat anchors are also fitted.
The generous passenger area is isolated from the driver's section by a full-width and height high-strength glass panel, but communication with the driver is still possible via an intercom system, which can be switched off for privacy.
Small bags can be carried by the passengers in the seating area but larger cases have their own 437-litre storage area up-front where a second front seat would be located in a normal car.
The high roof-line and tall windows offer passengers a good view of the surroundings and feels spacious, but thanks to a 2000kg kerb-weight and suspension specially tuned for Australia, we found the ride most surprising.
Over poorly maintained roads, the London Taxi let very few jolts and vibrations in and the seats provided a comfortable position for any typical taxi journey.
All TX4s also have alloy-wheels and special taxi tyres as standard, which The London Taxi Co says improves the ride quality further still.
Another development for Australia is the on-board WiFi connection, which as part of a deal with a major Australian internet provider, costs nothing to the passenger or driver.
USB phone and laptop charging points are also fitted for the use of passengers and driver alike.
Passengers can control interior lighting, electric windows and air-conditioning independently of the driver and a flat-sealed floor makes boarding, alighting and cleaning simpler than conventional cars.
After leaving a particularly generous tip we moved up to the business end and took the London Taxi on a few laps of Melbourne's CBD.
As part of the development process from a nine-month ongoing Western Australian trial, the variants coming to the east coast have undergone a few design changes which effect the driver too.
The single front seat is now more supportive and has a very commercial vehicle upright position, which promotes good posture and a very clear view of the road and surroundings.
A large amount of dash space has been left free to accommodate any necessary equipment in addition to the ceiling-mounted meter, which avoids the frequent cluttering of regular car interiors with electronics when converted for taxi use.
A 2.4-litre VM Motori diesel engine powers the Geely with an automatic transmission, and has more than enough grunt to make good progress even when loaded up, but delivers power progressively to maintain a smooth ride for occupants.
The diesel engine is smooth and unobtrusive, and The London Taxi Co says the TX4 will return a working fuel consumption of about 8.0 litres per 100km.
Despite its capacious interior, the Geely TX4 is surprisingly compact on the outside and negotiating traffic and tricky maneuvers was simple, aided by the good all-round visibility and well-positioned mirrors.
Test drivers in Perth requested a boost to braking performance and the Series II system is 30 per cent more efficient. The pedal requires a good prod to slow down quickly, but this encourages a very smooth and more comfortable driving style.
Used as an operational taxi, regular sedan models converted for paying passengers have an approved life of 6.5 years, but because the Geely is a purpose-built model with adaptions especially for Australia, it will be able to keep taking passengers for up to 10 years.
Despite being a bespoke machine, operators of the new cabs will not charge a premium over existing yellow taxis, although when all five seats are occupied a charge similar to larger Maxi-cab fares may be applied.
One of the features London cabs have always been famous for is the ability to turn around in the London Savoy Hotel's small entrance roundabout and the Chinese cab is able to complete the turn with ease.
Its turning circle is just 7.5-meters, which is tight enough to turn inside two lane widths and about three meters smaller than a Ford Fiesta can manage.
But the most surprising feature of the London Taxi is the response it provokes from passers by.
One onlooker asked to take pictures, a handful excitedly hailed us and one pedestrian even shouted [we want more" as we passed, indicating the likeable vehicles will be well received in the southern state.
We enjoyed both driving and being driven in Geely's TX4 London Taxi, but with the first fare-taking examples expected on Melbourne's streets before Christmas, don't just take our word for it. Hail one and see for yourself.