Home » What It Was Like Riding In The Ultimate Taxi Cab Co-Developed By The Japanese Government And Toyota

What It Was Like Riding In The Ultimate Taxi Cab Co-Developed By The Japanese Government And Toyota

The Ultimate Taxi Ts
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The Ford Crown Victoria was a legend. It was a V8-powered, body-on-frame sedan with a huge hood, a huge trunk, and a huge heart that just wanted to serve — whether in the police force, in a taxi fleet, or in your grandma’s driveway.

The yellow cab variants defined the look of New York City for decades, but if you’ve visited New York in the past eight or nine years, you’ve likely noticed: The streets look totally different now. That’s because the mighty Crown Vic died and was replaced by the rather hideous Nissan NV200 minivan — referred to by the city of New York and by Nissan as the “Taxi of Tomorrow.”

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I’m visiting Hong Kong right now, and I’m seeing the exact same thing happening to the Special Administrative Region of China’s version of the Crown Victoria — the legendary Toyota Crown Comfort. It’s getting replaced by a rather ugly but excellent van with a fascinating backstory.

The Ford Crown Victoria and Toyota Crown Comfort: Legends, But Not The Ideal Tools For The Job

Let me be clear here: If I had to choose between riding in/owning a Ford Crown Victoria (shown below) or a Nissan NV200 van, I’d pick the Crown Victoria. It’s a badass-looking, V8, rear-wheel drive bruiser that never dies. You could do smoky burnouts in it while listening to a V8 roar — what more do you want out of life? As for the Nissan NV200: it’s front-drive, has a little 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood, and mates that engine with a soul-sucking continuously variable transmission. From an enthusiast’s standpoint, it’s extremely uncool.

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But coolness isn’t what matters in a taxi. What matters is how well a vehicle gets the job done, and “the job” is comfortably schlepping humans and stuff around. Objectively, the Ford Crown Victoria — with its sedan shape that limits cargo capacity and its front engine-rear-wheel drive layout that jeopardizes interior volume – isn’t the ideal tool for the job. The Nissan NV200 is, even if it’s ugly:

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Some may think the new(ish) Toyota Comfort Hybrid minivan is ugly, too, though as I’ve found over the past few days that it’s the better tool than even the legendary Toyota Crown Comfort sedan that has faithfully transported folks all around Hong Kong (and many other parts of Southeast Asia) for decades. I’m talking about these sedans:

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Look at how cool those boxy machines are. They appear to be from the mid 1990s (I mean, that is when they debuted), and yet they were built all the way up through around 2017! They drip with soul, and I hope they never go away entirely. But they are getting replaced by the aforementioned Toyota Comfort Hybrid minivan, and after riding in it, I have to say: I dig it. It is the better taxi, just as the Nissan NV200 is the better taxi than the mighty Ford Crown Victoria.

It’s Called The Toyota JPN Taxi, And It’s A Huge Deal

The Toyota Crown Comfort has dominated taxi fleets in Japan and Hong Kong for many years, but about a decade ago, the Japanese government sought to commission something better: The ultimate taxi cab. A cab that was better for the environment, better for people with varying levels of physical mobility, and safer for pedestrians. Here’s how Toyota described it when the Taxi finally debuted in late 2017:

The JPN Taxi embodies the spirit of Japanese hospitality. It was developed to provide usability and comfort to a wide range of people, including children, seniors, wheelchair users, and visitors to Japan from abroad. Toyota aims to change Japan’s landscape, develop barrier-free cities, and transform Japan into a tourist-oriented country by promoting the widespread use of its JPN Taxis.

The new model showcases a people-friendly, universal design that provides usability and comfort to a wide range of people through continual innovations and improvements, from grab handles to the overall vehicle structure. Design features include a low, flat floor, making it easy for customers to ingress and egress from the taxi, a wide-opening, power rear sliding door (left side only) and space to accommodate wheelchair users.

In addition, the taxi is designed to beautifully complement the cityscape while at the same time being easily recognizable as a taxi. This is achieved in part due to the car’s styling, which aims to transcend trends and serve as a timeless classic model, as well as the body’s deep indigo (koiai) tone, a traditional color that has long been a symbol of Japan.

Furthermore, this model offers the driver an optimal range of vision, in part through innovations to the position and shape of the pillars and the use of fender mirrors. As a design priority for this taxi model, functionality was improved by positioning the dashboard instruments and other devices in the taxi to allow easy access, including the placement of the GPS system and taxi meter in a spot that is easy for customers to see.

Environmental performance and power performance were both taken to new levels. By employing a newly developed liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) hybrid system, the new model offers 19.4 km/L4 fuel economy and sharply reduced CO2 emissions. Enhancements were made to safety equipment, including adding the Toyota Safety Sense C package and six SRS airbags as standard features.

You can see in the video above that the launch just ahead of the Winter Olympics in Japan didn’t go perfectly, in part because the vehicle was a bit expensive and complex, though the version I rode in Hong Kong seemed simple and, honestly, fantastic.

The Crown Victoria And Crown Comfort Just Don’t Have The Right Shape/Drivetrain Layout To Be Ideal Cabs

The truth is that this short, front-wheel drive van configuration is ideal for taxi service.

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Just look at how perfect that geometry is. You might think that a cab-forward van like a Toyota Hiace might be better, but the low and short hood of the Comfort Hybrid makes tons of sense: It’s better for pedestrian protection than a cab-forward design, and it’s a small space that houses the vehicle’s entire powertrain and drivetrain (it’s a hybrid with a 61 horsepower electric motor in the CVT and a 73 hp LPG 1.5-liter four cylinder). Everything from the base of the windshield back is pure storage space for people and cargo! There’s no driveshaft tunnel, there’s no rear differential, there’s no transmission — the floor inside is flat and the interior volume is humongous.

Here are a few photos I took while riding in a Comfort Hybrid, along with a few press photos:

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Look at how perfectly flat that second-row floor is! No more center tunnel. Also: Note all that legroom!

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Now look at how tall, open, and airy that cabin is! To be sure, the Toyota Crown Comfort offers a good amount of legroom, too:

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But headroom is down:

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And more importantly, the rear-drive layout means there’s a huge center tunnel that makes riding in the middle of the rear bench a pain in the arse:

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But beyond the lower roof and big tunnel-protrusion in the floor, the Crown Comfort sedan just wastes space. If it’s going to be that long, why doesn’t it use the volume above the trunk? The result of the sedan shape is that many Crown Comforts drive around with ajar trunk lids often held down against the too-large cargo via bungee cords:

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The Comfort Hybrid minivan doesn’t have this problem. It just swallows huge volumes of luggage:

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The Perfect Size, A Sliding Door

What I especially love is just how perfectly-sized the Toyota Comfort Hybrid van is. At 4.4 meters (173 inches), it’s over a foot shorter than the Nissan NV200 (though actually the same size as the London version of the NV200), though like that NV, it focuses on maximizing interior volume not just by shoving the whole drivetrain to the front, but also by building up. The Comfort Hybrid is tall and short, and yet it still somehow manages to fit a sliding door, which is a huge help when it comes to alighting from vehicles in tight spaces:

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You’ll notice in the picture before the pair above that the right (driver’s) side rear door is a conventional one. It’s not clear why the Comfort Hybrid only has one sliding door, though my top guesses are: 1. Cost and 2. Safety concerns associated with opening a door into traffic when pulled over (a swinging door is easier to see than a sliding one).

You also might notice that the front and rear bumpers are black — a great way to keep costs down when there’s a fender bender that takes the original one out.

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I  snapped a couple of shots from inside. There are these two big spring-loaded handles that hang from the roof. I dig them:

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Here’s a look out the windows:

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There are USB charging ports on the backs of the front seats, the side windows go up and down via a power switch, and overall just a pleasant interior.

A Better Cab Today, Maybe An Icon Tomorrow

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The Crown Comfort sedan is the truly legendary taxi that has defined Hong Kong for decades, but it’s worth noting that the little Comfort Hybrid is starting to make its way into popular culture; check out this lego display I saw today:

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And look at the left sign here mentioning where taxis are found:

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And look at the toy I found in a gift shop!:

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Maybe there’s still time for this thing to become an icon, yet.

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Of course, it all depends on how the things hold up. New York City’s Nissan NV200 “Taxi of Tomorrow” will go down in history as a flop, as The New York Times wrote in its June, 2018 article titled “It Was Billed as the ‘Taxi of Tomorrow.’ Tomorrow Didn’t Last Long.” From the story:

…it turns out that tomorrow lasted only seven years.

Last week, the Taxi and Limousine Commission reversed the requirement, expanding the option for drivers beyond the Nissan NV200 to a smorgasbord of over 30 vehicles, including popular, fuel efficient models like the Toyota Camry.

The decision was praised by many drivers and their advocates who never grew enamored of the Nissan, complaining about bumpy rides, frequent mechanical problems, gas-guzzling engines and the vehicle’s small interior that only fits a maximum of four passengers.

The truth is that it’s 3 AM here in Hong Kong, and I’m ridiculously tired. I’m not sure how coherent this blog was, but I just wanted to show you this little taxi-van, because as boring as it may seem, it is not only hugely important given how it will change how people see and also travel in Hong Kong and much of Japan for decades to come, but it’s also really excellent at what it was designed to do. More so than even one of the most legendary cabs of all time, the mighty and beloved Crown Comfort.

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Ben Chia
Ben Chia
4 months ago

And here in Singapore we use Priuses (Prii?). Very efficient but really terrible for interior and boot space.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
4 months ago

The worst taxicab I have ever ridden was in Perú where many taxicabs are Daewoo Tico, the most cramped, most uncomfortable, most claustrophobic, most irritating, and most everything that’s wrong with them. Of course, many Peruvians are shorter and smaller than the Europeans and Americans so Tico is fine for them, but nightmare for the tourists like m.

Six
Six
4 months ago

If toyota was remotely brave, it would be a full EV. The taxi of the future is electric.

Six
Six
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Eh, plenty of Uber/Lyft drivers in NYC are Tesla Model 3s right now. A Model Y would do just fine for a bit more space. The future is already here, climate is already getting messed up.

Gee See
Gee See
4 months ago

David if possible take a Minibus ride while the road is clear eg the route from Kowloon City to Castle Peak Road. The dedication of the drivers trying to squeeze every unit of performance out of the chassis and the ballast known as passengers is something to behold eg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtE8mR1FF5A Just imagine riding your postal jeep at 80kph going through tons of twists and turns with minimal braking.

Last edited 4 months ago by Gee See
Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
4 months ago

I’m surprised that some company, here, isn’t taking SWB, full-size, chassis-cab, crew-cab trucks and adding a literal trunk (instead of an open pickup bed), along the lines of an old Checker cab. I’m guessing that the biggest hurdle is the absurdly high ride height of modern trucks.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Zavist
Last edited 4 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Zavist

To me, the Checker Marathon will always be THE taxi cab.

EXL500
EXL500
4 months ago

Absolutely. I’m old enough to remember NYC full of them. I distinctly remember the last time I was in one that belonged to a holdout driver.

Cuzn Ed
Cuzn Ed
4 months ago

So much so that when David referenced the Crown Vic as an iconic taxi, i was like, “What are you talkin’ about??” (L.O.L., as tha kidzz say.)

Maymar
Maymar
4 months ago

I don’t like that a Japanese taxi has a scowling face. Why are even the taxis angry now?

Also, your daily reminder that Giugiaro knows what’s up.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfa_Romeo_New_York_Taxi

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
4 months ago
Reply to  Maymar

The answer is always Giugiaro, it would seem… 

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
4 months ago

Pretty neat and interesting, and just have to comment that I would like the Checker cabs to come back

Goblin
Goblin
4 months ago

Everybody has forgotten the NV200’s taxicab’s story…

  • NYC launched some sort of open competition for NYC’s taxi of tomorrow.
  • The three finalists were Ford (with the Transit Connect), Nissan with plenty of promises, and the best and most finished prototype – the Concept V1 from Karsan Otomotiv, a Turkish company. A thing thought for a cab from the ground up, and quite interesting. Not the least because it allowed wheelchair access right of the bat, the away a dedicated Bauer transformation would.
  • Eventually Nissan won on promises (Karsan was passed on for some arkane reasons),
  • Nissan forgot all about the promises (there was that quite amazing prototype at one of the NY autos shows that never saw the light of day in any shape or form. And they came up with the vastly underwhelming NV200.

This thing is so amazingly inadequate, it must be the only car still in production that comes stock on 13 or is it 14 inch rims.

On NYC’s potholes…

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