LEVC TX review
Y'right guv'ner, where to? Nah, not goin' saaf th'river at this time a noit. Right; got that out of my system now, so thanks for bearing with me. Putting the stereotypical (and likely non-existent) London cabbie behind us, we can now get on with the business of looking at the new LEVC TX. It's a strange car to review, since I've not been in anything since a Rolls Royce that has such a dichotomous approach to its design brief. The driver is of vital importance, after all they will be spending long hours in the car working and driving. However, the passenger is of equally high importance, with space and comfort required to keep them happy. The list of unmovable items from the brief must have been an engineer's nightmare. But LEVC has prevailed and produced the TX - a range-extended plug-in hybrid that doesn't just move on from the old TX4, but takes such a leap forward that it's barely visible in the new model's rear view mirror.
Before I hop behind the wheel though, a quick history lesson; pay attention those at the back. What is now LEVC - the London Electric Vehicle Company - has been known by many names in the past. Most recently it was The London Taxi Company (LTI Ltd), but LEVC is in a curious position of having a product known the world over, yet not being a big name in its own right. I struggle to think of a comparable situation barring another London icon - the Routemaster bus - and yet LEVC has not only brought out a new black cab, but it also has plans to both go global and expand its model line-up. Hence the decision to drop 'taxi' from the company name.
The background behind all of this is a company that has changed hands a number of times, but has always specialised in taxis. Now owned by Geely, LEVC is part of the Chinese giant's portfolio which also includes Volvo and Lynk&Co. On current form, Geely looks set to have the biggest impact on the European automotive market of any Chinese manufacturer, not least because it bought Volvo from Ford, backed it financially, and largely let the bosses get on with it. Now Volvo is picking up awards left, right, and centre, and is one of the most proactive electric vehicle manufacturers in the world. Geely is doing a similar job with what is now LEVC. Having rescued the company from administration in 2013, Geely has invested in what has the potential to be a hugely important model around the world, creating a new zero-emission capable hackney carriage, and building a new £250 million LEVC plant near Coventry that will build for all markets barring China.
Now you're quickly up to date, back to the TX. The mention of Volvo is of particular note, since its presence in the engineering of the TX cannot fail to be felt. The powertrain is largely Volvo developed, consisting of a 1.5 litre three-cylinder unit that produces 82hp. This acts only as an on-board generator though, topping up the battery which powers a 110 kW (150hp) electric motor that sits on the rear axle. The battery is a 31 kWh pack, with 23 kWh of usable charge available - good for an NEDC official range of 80 miles on a single charge. The total range available according to NEDC figures is 377 miles when using the range-extender too, and the similarly official combined fuel economy is 217.3 MPG. As always though, PHEV fuel economy figures are almost useless save for comparison purposes, and LEVC says that it will do 36.7 MPG if using the range extender only. Real world figures are quoted at about 35 MPG for the TX on range extender only, though this represents a fair improvement on the TX4's 22-25 MPG, even before you factor in the range available from recharging.
The drive of the TX in London wasn't anything like enough to test the range to its limits, but the black cab showed an indicated 55 miles of range with a full charge at the start of the test, and it dropped in proportion to the amount of distance covered. I'd say that 55 miles is a fair statement for actual range off a single charge, though apparently there are already inter-cabbie challenges to see how far they can go petrol-free.
Helping them is a clever set of electric drive systems. LEVC offers three different drive modes, which work with three levels of energy recuperation. The drive modes are Pure, Save, and Smart, while the regen levels are originally titled 0, 1, and 2. Pure keeps the TX in electric-only mode for as long as possible, holding off intervention from the engine until just about out of charge. Save activates the engine to hold the charge available in the TX, and Smart uses a combination of the two, with the car determining how best to use battery and/or engine as appropriate. The set-up works well, and Smart is weighted towards using the battery's charge where reasonably possible, making it a useful hybrid setting for drivers. The settings available will also help with LEVC's predicted regular use, with many London cabbies living outside of town and driving in. In this regard, they can charge at home for example, drive in on Save, and then have a full charge to start the shift with.
The regen levels are equally effective, though will require less shifting between the three settings I would guess. Set in 0, the TX will basically coast when off the throttle, while 1 provides a light level of recuperation. Each are useful, but in heavy traffic - as the TX will often be used - I found setting 2 best. The highest level of regen meant that not only could you drive much of the time with one pedal, but it also maximises the range available on a single charge. No doubt in less traffic the other options would be more effective, but 2 seemed to suit most of my time in the cab. Interestingly no setting will put the brake lights on by slowing down quickly enough, but the braking effect of level 2 must be right at the edge of the point where deceleration requires brake lights such is its strength.
These driving settings are slightly different to standard EVs or PHEVs - sitting as you might expect of a range-extended EV, in the middle of the plug-in spectrum. That said, anyone that has driven either type of vehicle before would quickly get used to how to best make use of the TX's driving controls. It's a very easy car to drive economically, and LEVC says that this has been one of the biggest challenges in a switch-over from diesel to electric for cab drivers. The driving styles are different, with a diesel requiring harsh acceleration before the inevitable sharp braking to make the most of the taxi in traffic. Electric vehicles are ideally suited to urban driving conditions though, and the quick pick-up of an electric motor, and regenerative braking available, mean that drivers have had to re-programme their right leg a bit. With a bit of practice though, feedback has been very positive. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 42.
Black cab traits
Leaving aside the electric elements of the TX, the driving dynamics are unlike anything else on the road. The closest model to the TX I can think of is a Smart fortwo ed, in terms of suitability for purpose in urban driving that is. However, the TX is much larger than a Smart car, yet feels just as nimble. One of those immovable elements on the design brief is the famous black cab turning circle, and as such the TX is incredibly agile. Turns and gaps that you wouldn't ordinarily think are possible open up, and the LEVC becomes enjoyable to drive in town. The TX will dart in and out of lanes, turn in the road without needing to reverse, and pivot through gaps in the traffic like the famous citycar, but with a far more practical interior than a Smart. In fact it will turn between walls only 8.5 meters apart.
The TX's power delivery helps too, never feeling fast, but always quick to pick up and make the most of any breaks in congestion. The 0-62mph time is rather sluggish, at a lackadaisical 13.2 seconds, but the key here is that getting to 62mph is likely to happen very rarely for the majority of LEVC TX drivers. Instead, the short bursts of acceleration, particularly from slow speeds or stand-still, are completed briskly. The steering is light but not overly so, with plenty of feedback available through the wheel to let you know what the tyres are doing. Combine this with the squared-off stance, and it is very easy to place the TX on the road - a valuable asset considering LEVC's stock-in-trade.
The TX is also very easy to drive. There are no gears to worry about - though the the TX was automatic anyway, so no difference in that respect. The gear selector is placed on a much higher transmission tunnel than before, so falls more easily to hand. Much of the time it won't be needed, but the lever is used to knock up and down the regen levels. The suspension is nicely balanced between holding a level line in a corner, but being supple enough to deal with poor roads too. Everything feels as though it's been designed to be comfortable even after hours of being in the driving seat.
The TX also feels as though it's been built to last. Up front, the cabin looks familiar to a Volvo's in the sense that there is a portrait touchscreen infotainment system, with software the same as found in premium Swedish vehicles. There's no hiding where the steering wheel and digital instrument binnacle come from either - though the dials displayed are different - but there are far worse parts bins to raid than Volvo's. The materials used are not those found in a Volvo though, with far more plastic and of a harder-wearing variety than usual. They feel robust rather than luxurious, but equally there is the impression that everything will last a long time. The development work specially designed for the TX see components, such as the rear doors for example, go through 10x-20x more cycles than a conventional car.
In the back
The same is true of the rear, which is simply huge. It feels easy to maintain and long-lasting, but the main impression given is of airiness. The amount of space found by the designers in a car that is only a bit wider and longer than the outgoing model is amazing, and a testament to their understanding of ergonomics. In the passenger area there is seating for six, and comfortably at that. The old TX sat five, and only really if you were friendly with all on board; cosy would be a kind way of putting it. The TX on the other hand has none of these issues, and also benefits from large expanses of glass to make the cabin light and airy.
There is a panoramic glass roof, which has been hailed (excuse the pun) by cabbies as being handy for tourists when driving past landmarks. Heating controls are available on the rear-hinged doors, which make for easy access for all, including those in wheelchairs. The flat floor is also a benefit here, and there are USB chargers and WiFi is available for passengers too. There isn't really a boot available after it is used for things like the charging cables and spare wheel. Instead luggage goes up front next to the driver - though partitioned off with the high transmission tunnel. It's spacious enough for a few large suitcases easily, with anything else put in the rear with the passengers.
For the cabbie
Interestingly, the TX has a few trim levels, but everything in the passenger space is standard. It is only up front with the driver where anything changes. Much of the equipment list comes as standard no matter the specification, but items such as front parking sensors and reversing camera, heated and electric driver's seat, heated windscreen, and sat-nav are either optional across the range, or standard features in higher trim levels. Sat-nav might seem odd for a London cabbie to specify, though it must be remembered that the TX will be available in a number of markets, including the rest of the UK. Equally, live traffic updates are something that The Knowledge can't provide, even if experience gives a helping hand.
LEVC says that most drivers are picking the higher Comfort Plus trim level, which shouldn't be too surprising considering the amount of time they will spend in the car. Equally, potentially the most important option of the lot is often added - an additional CHAdeMO rapid charging socket. The TX uses the CCS standard for Type 2 charging up to 20kW AC, or CCS 50kW DC charging. The ability to have CHAdeMO available too means that more rapid charge points are available for drivers, offering a 0-80% charge that will take around 20 minutes.
Further thought has been given to the driver with a number of practical elements. Volvo's expertise in safety has been brought in with elements such as forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, cruise control, and speed assistance included as standard. However, features such as blind-spot warning are not included, since in the course of a TX driver's normal working day, they would be activated so often as to irritate anyone behind the wheel. Likewise, the TX is made largely from lightweight materials, but bonded together for high strength. Those panels that are most likely to be dinked though are pop-off and pop-on to make repairs easier and faster, keeping the TX on the road for longer.
In short, the TX looks to be an example of designers and engineers really considering their target audience, listening to feedback, and producing a vehicle not just fit for purpose, but that excels in its field. The TX has a high initial cost - starting at more than £55,000 - but it is expected that running costs will be reduced by £100 per week over the TX4, and other ownership elements will be less too. Service intervals for example are now at 25,000 miles, rather than 12,000. Some will question why a pure-battery electric vehicle wasn't created instead, and the simple answer is cost. To fit a battery capable of more than 300 miles on a single charge would have made the TX unfeasible as a business proposition for most drivers. Also, charging times would be much longer, and there would have been long distance trips drivers would have had to turn down. As such, using a range-extender seems like the best compromise for many, with a usable electric range and fast recharging times, but the back-up of conventional refuelling.
It's not a car many will drive, but it is a huge step forward for passengers and drivers alike. It's a surprisingly refined drive, and even though the petrol engine is audible when running, it's still far less intrusive than a traditional diesel. It's a comment on how quietly the TX runs most of the time that the engine becomes a noticeable element - and even then it's more something that the driver notices than the passengers. They sit right at the back of the TX in any case.
The new TX currently gets a fair few second-glances and photos taken of it, but it won't be long at all until the LEVC is the norm in a city like London. And that can only be a good thing for those up front, sitting in the rear - or even walking on the pavement - thanks to the zero-emission capabilities the TX offers.
Model tested: LEVC TX
Engine / CO2: 1.5 litre petrol engine and electric motor / 29 g/km
Trim grades: Vista, Vista Comfort, Vista Comfort Plus
On-road price: From £55,599 (inc OLEV grant)
Warranty: Three years / 120,000 miles - battery: five years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars