In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Welcome back to In Plain Sight, where we’re doing something a little different this week – celebrating the taxis of New York. We’ve already taken a drive through the history of these yellow people movers and highlighted the Fords and Toyotas that make up the majority of the official fleet. Today we’re talking about everyone else, from Nissan to Mercedes.

Mercedes ML 350 BlueTEC

Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you – that is a Mercedes ML taxi. And according to the TLC website, it’s a BlueTEC diesel! Awesome. As of January, there were only two in service in the city, and given that only the 2011 model year is allowed, it’s unlikely there will be more. Since I’ve never had the pleasure of riding in it I can’t tell you how the partition is handled, but I can’t imagine they managed to ruin the feeling of being chauffeured around Manhattan in a Mercedes SUV for the same price as a Camry. It must be amazing. I know some people in Europe, especially Germany, will yawn at this. But remember it’s a domestic car there, and thus much more economical to turn into a taxi. Don’t rain on our parade – we like shiny things over here, and few things on a car shine brighter than Mercedes’ three-pointed star.

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: @TuncAy_Q

Some might think it wasteful to turn one of these, even a base model, into a taxi, and doesn’t really make much economic sense – unless the owner is some taxi baron who wants his fleet to have a flagship because of his small penis. When you need a taxi, you don’t think “Golly, it would be just grand if we could take the Benz today” and go hunting for a unicorn. You stick your arm out and hold your breath as you get into the first yellow thing that stops. But then again, it makes people stop and stare and probably attracts a fair amount of joyrides. If I wasn’t on my lunch break when I saw it, I would’ve hailed it on the spot and taken it wherever I felt like just for the experience. Maybe through Times Square, where tourists would point and take pictures of me as I hang out the window. WHY YES, I AM A BALLER, THANKS FOR NOTICING ME.

Taxi Rating: 9/10, but come on

Mercedes E350 BlueTEC

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Dekatyou

As a rule, ballers (and trophy wives) are also fond of the other taxi offering from MB – the E350. Unlike its stablemate, it is 1 of 1 currently in service in the city, so your chances of ever riding in this are slim to none, with a little extra dash of none. Again, its existence begs the question why. Yes, the TLC approved it for some reason, but they also thought that Taxi TV was a grand old plan, so you can never really tell where the fuck their head is at. The car starts at above $50,000, so it’s not exactly… practical. And while simpler sedans usually have their suspension systems ripped apart and strengthened for cab duty, I find it hard to believe the same was done to this finely tuned German machine. So not only are you placing a stock car that’s expensive to maintain, repair, and insure into a rough-and-tumble environment, you don’t even get to sell it for a decent amount when it’s retired because who wants a newish Benz that’s been beat to hell?

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: @projjal

But I digress. We’re supposed to talking about what makes a great cab, and despite the arguments above the E350 actually looks pretty good in that respect. Let’s not forget that Mercedes has been the brand of choice for millions of cabbies over the last 50 years, and despite the price tag, this one checks all the important boxes – it’s a massive sedan, it’s got decent fuel economy thanks to the BlueTEC diesel, and it’s quite comfortable. It’s also not the first Mercedes sedan to ply the roads around here – a pilot program in the late 1990s tested a few 300D’s – but it’s simply not the bulletproof W115 that your Uncle Christos used to hack all around Athens in the 1970s (yes, you’re Greek). So far, it seems ze Germans are just not destined to conquer our streets.

Taxi Rating: 9/10 until the suspension collapses

Volkswagen Jetta TDI/Wagon/Hybrid

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Adam E. Moreira

But then again, you gotta hand it to ze Germans – when at first they don’t succeed at something, they try again. And so despite the impracticality of the Benzes, we’ve seen a secondary invasion by a small platoon of Jettas, which are likewise destined to fail. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been a fan of the clean and simple (and boring?) design ethos that Volkswagen often embodies, but these cars are simply too small to hack it as cabs in New York. Yeah, they’re decently comfortable and attractive in a ubiquitous sort of way, but if you have legs there probably isn’t enough room for them. You can keep your data-stealing USB chargers and stupid touchscreens – I think most New Yorkers have leg room at the top of their wish list for an ideal cab. Anyway, apart from having tiny backseats, small cars are more vulnerable to road damage here thanks to a DOT that just does not give a shit. It’s possible your Jetta could lose a wheel five minutes out from the taxi stand at La Guardia. Do you want to chance it? Well, tough shit, it’s the first car in the line and the people behind you are getting pissed and the driver has already grabbed your bags. You’re in for a treat.

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: nyctaxiphoto

THAT SAID, let’s get real, the diesel wagon is a thing of beauty.

Taxi Rating: 6/10, 7/10 (wagon)

Lexus RX Hybrid

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Ray Wert!

But say you don’t need something so ostentatious, something quite so upper crust. You want to travel in luxury, but you’re just a middle manager at Ernst & Young with a tract house on Long Island who appreciates consistent execution. Well, have I got a cab for you. There are six Lexus RX Hybrids roaming the streets around here, all offering to take you to your destination on a wave of Japanese reliability. It basically offers the same advantages as the Highlander (although slightly less cargo space and legroom), but like I said, there’s a certain feeling one gets when riding in a Lexus taxi that makes it worth it.

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Lexuspedia.org

It’s so captivating that the New York Times saw fit to eulogize them in an article couple years ago, in which we learn that passengers sometimes tip 50-100% just for the hell of it after a ride in one of these. They are supremely comfortable, and the lack of an ugly partition completes the experience. You shouldn’t be able to afford it, but here you are, being chauffeured.

Taxi Rating: 9/10 (-1 for impracticality)

Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Triborough

Even though the Impala is currently approved by the TLC, the only yellow Chevy currently ferrying people around the city is the seventh-generation Malibu, which according to Wikipedia was built on the same platform as the Pontiac G6. Hear that? Like a G6! Plus, it shares a name with one of the best/worst party spirits around. The kids should love it! Except, it’s definitely not like either G6, and it’s not even as cool as your grandfather’s Malibu. It’s really just another front-wheel-drive people mover with a stiff back seat where young children, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly are at risk of dying of boredom. Not even five-spoke alloys can save you.

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: So Cal Metro

On a practical note, because this is essential learning right here, the Malibu performs its taxi duties like the Camry, Altima, and Sonata. That is, it is a perfectly average sedan that stands out in absolutely zero categories. It gets points for having wheels, a trunk, and a backseat – the rest is really up to the man (or woman!) behind the wheel. Will he bless you with a completely forgettable ride, giving you an opportunity to read this article without vomiting? Or will he coax every ounce of vigor from those 160-odd horses and get you home faster than you thought possible? You can never tell.

Taxi Rating: 5/10

Nissan Altima/Altima Hybrid

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

The Nissan Altima, the only offering currently in the works by our future taxi overlord, has both hybrids and non-hybrids approved, although like the Camry I’ve never seen a non-hybrid one in service. And in fact, it’s almost exactly like the Camry on the inside, save a neat trick of using the partition to eliminate EVEN MORE legroom. Additionally, since Nissan never intended bitches in the back seat of an Altima to need their own air conditioning vents, the Mickey Mouse workaround NEVER does its job. And while my opinion of the Camry has been influenced by the energetic drivers I’ve had, I’ve never had a fun experience in the back of one of these (go ahead, make the jokes). They are simply devoid of character and comfort. So I’m going to stop writing about this now, because in a couple years these will be off the streets and no one will even remember the fact that the Altima ever donned the noble yellow cloak.

Taxi Rating: 5/10

Hyundai Sonata

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: nyctaxiphoto

Late to the New York taxi game is the 2012 Hyundai Sonata, which is basically a Toyota Camry. I kid, I kid, you crazy Koreans (but seriously, they are the exact same length and height). Obviously the Sonata has come a long way in the last decade and is a very capable car for moving people and things, but if we’ve learned one thing here today (unlikely), it’s that it takes more than respectable mediocrity to make it as a taxi in the Big Apple. The minute differences in legroom, head room, cargo space, and comfort are going to be imperceptible to the tourist clinging to his fanny pack as he rockets down Fifth Ave or the drunken frat bros coming back from a night of ruining Williamsburg for the rest of us. With no standout capabilities to recommend, we must turn to its looks, and then we must turn away before it starts to hurt. I’m not a fan. I know everything is getting all curvy these days, but I think New York’s taxi should retain some straight lines; it just fits the city and its grid better. I guess it’s not too ugly, but it has always reminded me of a face that has been lifted one too many times. My eighth grade math teacher was like that – her eyes were on the side of her head, I shit you not.

Taxi Rating: 5/10

Toyota Avalon Hybrid (forgot about this one yesterday)

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: nyctaxiphoto

I spent my senior year of high school tootling around in an Avalon, and while I do have fond memories related to the occasional Scandinavian Flick (you would not believe the body roll) and friends piling in the couch-like back seat, let’s be real, it’s a boring car. It’s gotten better, and the latest generation is a far cry from my old ’98 in terms of handling and shiny bits, but it still looks and acts like the forgettable spawn of a Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata. That said, it’s certainly a capable cab – I sat in the back of one at an auto show last year and the back seat is nice and expansive, offering great legroom, seats with something at least approaching lumbar support, and air-conditioning vents that were actually designed by the manufacturer to be there. On top of that, it’s classified as a full-size sedan, so we have to give it props for carrying that banner as the Crown Victoria continues to fade away.

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Jeff Jablansky

So it checks the important boxes, but is it good enough to make it as a yellow taxi here? Basically, but it’s just not special enough! All it has is physical size – no gravitas, no pedigree as a global taxi, no V8 – and nothing to distinguish it from any other full-size sedan that could potentially get conscripted into service. Except, that is, the hybrid motor. Since the lack of a hybrid NV (so far) is one of the main sticking points with opponents, I’m hoping the next mayor sees fit to let this one serve alongside the Highlander and Prius as an eco-friendly alternative. Keep the sedan game alive!

Taxi Rating: 7/10

MV1 Accessible

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Mr.chopper

I don’t have anything snarky to say about the MV1. It’s a purpose-built handicap cab, and given how awful the transportation options for the disabled are in this city it’s a crying shame that there are only two of these in service and the manufacturer is out of business. I’ve never been in one, but it apparently does its job quite well. The side-mounted wheelchair ramp needs a clear path to the sidewalk or empty parking space, but it doesn’t require sending a disabled person out into traffic like the Sienna’s trunk ramp. Hopefully a few MV1s are still waiting in the wings, as the Nissan NV will only have a handful of handicap accessible versions for the first few years. I mentioned earlier that some opponents are trying to block its introduction by saying that any mandated Taxi of Tomorrow legally needs to be 100% handicap accessible. In the meantime, these two will soldier on, hopelessly outnumbered, fighting the good fight.

Taxi Rating: 10/10 to those who need it and can somehow magically find it

Dodge Caravan Accessible

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Triborough

Here we have another small team of taxis that are solely handicap accessible, and that should be a great thing – except that all of the ones currently on the road entered service in 2007, which means they have been abused for six solid years. Seriously, these things are jaaaanky. They’re generally dirty as hell, the wheels are always mismatched, and it is one rattling sonofabitch on the inside. Steer clear, although you won’t have to much longer – they’ll all be off the road next year. Of course, that’s also a bad thing unless more handicap cabs replace them, which is unlikely in the short term. In the meantime, surely we can do better for our disabled population than six-year-old Caravans where the wheelchair ramp assembly is worth more than the van itself.

Taxi Rating: 3/10

The One-Offs: Lincoln MKZ and Ford Taurus

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: nyctaxiphoto

Technically the Mercedes E350 is a one-off too, but it’s special enough that it gets its own section – this lonely duo, sadly, is not. We’ll start with the Lincoln – first of all, in a city that has more Town Cars per capita than anywhere else (scientific estimate), you can’t rely solely on the novelty of seeing a Lincoln dressed in yellow to make a great taxi. The 2012 MKZ is just so… pointless. Yeah, the back seat is decently comfortable, if a little small. Sure, the fit and finish on the inside is kind of surprising. But it has no identity, no pedigree to make it interesting. It’s a tarted up first-gen Ford Fusion, an exercise in semi-luxury badge engineering that betrayed the brand’s history of carrying people in a cloud-like tank. If you want a Lincoln to get from A to B, do yourself a favor and find a Town Car.

In Plain Sight: A Guide to New York City's Taxis, Part II

Photo credit: Jeff Jablansky

The Ford Taurus is similarly unremarkable, but at least it’s kind of handsome and larger than the MKZ. And slower – I assume the one currently in service is rocking a four cylinder EcoBoost engine, meaning it has 240 horses to drag around two tons of metal. But despite the fact that these will never catch on, it seems the most able to pick up where the Crown Vic left off. It’s roughly the same size, it’s from the same manufacturer, and it has a distinctive look that New York could own if they were to flood the streets here (although wow, that belt line is SO high). Regardless of what happens with the Taxi of Tomorrow, concerns over accessibility will likely squeeze sedans out of the taxi industry over the next decade, but this one could’ve been a contender.

Taxi Rating: 6/10 (MKZ), 7/10 (Taurus)

Believe it or not, the VW Golf and Touareg and Audi Q7 are all approved for service as well, but there are none on the streets and likely never will be. So that's it! I hope you enjoyed this little guide, but remember, time may be running out to enjoy this remarkable diversity in person. Catch them while you can!