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Taxi Wars #8: I come away impressed in first Nissan NV200 Taxi I’ve seen

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Nissan NV200 Taxi in Showroom

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

Nissan makes much ado about the so-called “Taxi of Tomorrow,” the Nissan NV200 Taxi. I just returned from seeing my first one in the sheet metal. Color me as impressed as the NV200 Taxi is yellow.

Back before I saw this one in person, I expected not to like the Nissan NV200. It didn’t look as suave as the new Ford Transit Connect with which it will compete for fleet and small business sales once it’s more widely available. But right now, at least in my rural part of the country, the Nissan NV200 isn’t widely known because it’s not widely available. In fact, the nearest Nissan dealer to me only lists one vehicle in its “Commercial” inventory: A much larger NV1500 SV.

Funny, then, that we were immediately greeted by the loud taxi yellow of the Nissan NV200 Taxi when we walked into that dealership after dropping our cube off for its service appointment.

What first struck me is that the NV200 is taller than I figured it would be. But it’s precisely that height combined with a relatively low floor that makes the little van so well-suited to taxi duty, it turns out: Climbing in and out of the passenger area was a breeze — and if you have mobility concerns, there’s a power-deployable assist step that can be summoned by the driver at the touch of a button.

Once inside the passenger compartment, I noticed a few things:

  • Vast amounts of legroom. This seriously rivals a Checker Cab.
  • Surfaces were all made of materials that should easily come clean: Rubberized floor coating, hard plastics, and leatherette seating add up to an easily sanitized interior. Tipsy fare blow chowder in your floorboard after partying a bit too hard? Get the hose.
  • The big, square skylight window was a nice touch, as were the sliding porthole windows on each of the NV200 Taxi’s sliding doors.
  • Seat comfort was good, and the NV200 Taxi’s boxy shape offered up plenty of hip and shoulder room. I could comfortably ride three-abreast with two other dudes my size if I had to.
  • The coolest item was one not yet installed: The divider/stab plate/whatever you want to call it had a gaping hole in it awaiting a touchscreen interface and/or transaction system. I’ve heard theories that say savvy cab companies may use this to create an interactive infotainment module in this space. Mounted below the empty orifice were a couple of USB ports ready to charge your device or plug in your preferred tunes. With the right touchscreen setup, you might even be able to stream your favorite news TV station’s web feed on the screen as the cabbie drives you to work.

I sat in the front seat briefly and also liked its ergonomics. It should prove a very comfortable place to knock out a full day of driving. Admittedly, I only spent 15 minutes or so in the cockpit of the NV200 taxi, but I liked the seat’s firmness and natural height. Much like our cube that was getting serviced in the dealer’s garage, the NV200 Taxi had seats that seemed just the right height for long-term comfort — neither too low to the floor nor too high. Height adjustment provided a wide enough range I’m sure my short wife would be able to find a seating arrangement every bit as comfortable for her.

There are other cool elements — a new-age Taxi sign atop the van and a rear corner light that could indicate when the cab was vacant or on an emergency call, for instance — but the most impressive thing about the NV200 was that, despite its somewhat less-than-elegant appearance, the NV200 Taxi felt like it could take a beating. Doors shut solidly, be they the front two doors, the sliding passenger doors, or the 70/30 split doors out back. Time will tell whether the chassis solidity holds up on pockmarked roads — and whether the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder gasoline engine and CVT-driven front-wheel drive prove as tough and reliable as Nissan lets on.

My wife remarked the NV200 Taxi was very much like our cube on steroids. To some degree, that’s true. Their boxy designs help both of them seem larger inside than one might expect when viewing the car from the outside. With a little tweaking, I have little doubt Nissan would have a success on its hands if it produced a consumer version of the NV200 Taxi. Folks like us, who value a vehicle with a small footprint, awesome interior space utilization, and decent fuel economy, would heavily consider this size of van in lieu of giant “mini” vans should our family ever expand to the point of needing the extra space the NV200 could, in theory, provide.

It is not likely, however, to catch on in my area. I can count on one hand the number of taxi services I know of in the city where our Nissan dealer is located. Both run clapped-out Crown Vics, save for the odd final-gen Chevrolet Lumina trudging along with what can only be described as burblicious boat anchor engines, moaning power steering pumps, and squeaky belts. No way can I see those cheapskate taxi companies buying one of these babies. But lose the taxi roof light and the stab plate, then install a few niceties around the cabin, and maybe add an optional third row seat, and this thing would attract a lot of buyers, I bet. Like I said, I’d be tempted to check it out if we ever found out our family was growing by one more humanoid.

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