Toyota taxi fares well

Apart from having a built-in ramp for wheelchair users, the JPN Taxi has limo-like legroom and a pair of USB charging points for gadgets.
Apart from having a built-in ramp for wheelchair users, the JPN Taxi has limo-like legroom and a pair of USB charging points for gadgets.PHOTO: TOYOTA MOTOR

Japan's new-generation taxicab is far more comfortable for passengers than the old Crown Comfort

It looks like a modernised, smaller and shinier version of the classic TX4 London Cab. But the only aspect the new JPN Taxi shares with the beloved British taxicab is that it is purpose-built for the job.

The Toyota hatchback entered service last month. It is intended to replace the ubiquitous Crown Comfort - the country's most popular taxi model with more than 200,000 units on the road, of which about 50,000 operate in Tokyo.

The vehicle is a clean-sheet design, with more considerations than the typical Category A Japanese passenger car.

According to Toyota, the JPN Taxi has to be "gentler and cleaner" than the 2-litre four-speed Crown Comfort and provide double the fuel efficiency (using an LPG-fuelled 1.5-litre hybrid engine hooked up to a CVT gearbox). It also has to offer "friendliness and hospitality functions".

The cabby of the JPN Taxi I hopped into, 61-year-old Hiroaki Kaneko, was certainly friendly. And the cabin was more hospitable than any Hyundai turbo-diesel taxi I had taken in Singapore.

The rear kerbside door power-slid open to reveal a back seat with a conveniently low and flat floor, limo-like legroom and enough headroom for me to possibly wear a chef's hat, which would match the lace "tablecloth" covering most of the seat.

There were no folding tray tables though. But there was a pair of USB charging points for gadgets, big air vents in the ceiling for rear occupants and several well-placed grab handles.

If I were infirm or inebriated, I would appreciate having all those handles to help me enter or exit the taxi.

It is wheelchair-ready too. The vehicle has a built-in ramp which the driver can deploy in a few minutes. The front passenger seat can be folded out of the way and the back seat can be rejigged to accommodate both the wheelchair user and a caregiver seated alongside.

Thoughtful, just like the taxi company, Hinomaru Kotsu, which gives a 10 per cent discount on the fare for a disabled passenger.

My trip in the three-day-old JPN Taxi from Shinjuku to Yokohama would have cost approximately 13,000 to 15,000 yen (S$155 to S$180).

The ride took half an hour and covered about 40km.

The JPN Taxi was far more comfortable than the last Crown Comfort ride I took in Japan (in Hiroshima in February).

There was so much space inside that I could lounge around like I was in my own cubicle. The back seat felt like a well-padded, well-made sofa for two. The large side windows and wide-view front windscreen made the cabin feel airier.

The suspension and 185/65 R15 tyres were cushiony enough, while the insulation was better (and hence quieter) than in the Sienta, Toyota's compact MPV. I heard very little wind noise while the JPN Taxi was travelling on the expressway, despite the cab's non-aerodynamic bento-box shape.

Throughout the journey, I did not notice the hybrid drivetrain working.

Toyota's JPN Taxi fared well in this test ride, indeed.

• The writer is the editor of Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'Toyota taxi fares well'. Print Edition | Subscribe