Canadian version of London taxicab

For 2012, Ford is offering a taxi cab version of its innovative, city-friendly Transit Connect commercial cargo truck. Suitably modified, this vehicle is the North American equivalent of the legendary London taxicab.

The new Transit Connect Taxi has a small footprint, with similar length/ width dimensions as a Ford Edge but is much taller – roughly two metres in overall height. It uses the same 2.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine mated to a low-tech four-speed electronic automatic transmission. Ford’s proven 2.0L engine performs yeoman’s duty, and its 136 horsepower rating has sufficient power and is quite economic for a vehicle that will spend most of its life crawling at low speed through congested city streets.

For its new taxi cab mission, Ford has carried over the strengths of its Transit Connect van: sliding side doors open easily and allow passenger entry/exit in very tight spaces; the dual rear doors swing open 180-degrees; and the leading edge of the front door window glass is cut down to give the driver an increased line of view down toward the curb when negotiating tight turns.

The Taxi Prep. Package is a $2,600 option that provides an all-vinyl upholstery interior, vinyl flooring, a hole in the roof with wiring and a dash-mounted switch for a taxi light, and a three passenger second row bench that has been moved rearward 7.6 centimetres to increase legroom.

My 2011 Transit Connect XLT Premium Wagon with taxi package demo unit came decked out in full taxi cab livery – school bus yellow with black checkers and “Taxi” emblazoned on it. Driving the Transit Connect Taxi is a stark reminder this is a commercial vehicle, stripped of any luxuries. In short, if a feature costs extra and doesn’t help pay the rent, it’s excluded. The Taxi comes standard with manual AC, rear-passenger HVAC controls, power windows, power door locks and a basic AM/FM single CD player. That’s it. The steering wheel is naked (there is no cruise control, no audio controls), no backup camera or parking sensors, and no blind-spot indicators – electronic fripperies that cost to buy and potentially to repair later.

But Ford hasn’t entirely neglected the driver, fitting items that help the cabbie do his or her job. Wide-angle convex mirrors are built into the side mirrors, the driver’s seat has a fold-down, adjustable arm rest, and there’s a convenient one-touch lanechange turn indicator that blinks three times just like on pricey German vehicles. A convenient overhead shelf above the windshield spans the width of the vehicle for holding a multitude of items.

On the road, the Transit Connect Taxi shows its commercial van heritage. The driver sits in a high, commanding position that gives a great view of the road. Acceleration is sufficient for taxi duty and the four-speed automatic transmission seems well suited to the (relatively) torquey four-cylinder engine. But the van rides quite hard, reminding one that this vehicle started life hauling cargo, not people.

I pulled the yellow taxi demo into a crowded downtown taxi stand to get the reaction of professional cabbies. Hans Besuyen, who has been driving cabs for 23 years and operates one of the taxi industry’s workhorses, a Ford Crown Victoria, said that unless it’s priced under $30,000, the Transit Connect would be too expensive. While he recognizes the Transit Connect would use a lot less fuel than his V-8 Crown Vic, Besuyen says only about 12 per cent of his operating costs are for fuel.

Another driver, Jay Rae, who drives a Chevrolet Malibu, says the Transit Connect doesn’t have enough seats. “We get lots of calls for six seaters. This (Transit Connect) needs two more fold-down seats in the back.” However, both drivers agreed that the Mobility version of the Transit Connect – designed to transport a person in a wheelchair – would be an excellent variant. (The Mobility and Taxi packages are separate and not combinable.)

While our two pro cabbies weren’t enamoured with the Ford Transit Connect Taxi, I’d expect it to be popular among fleet operators. Ford has ceased production of the Crown Victoria sedan, leaving a hole in the taxi fleet market, and the Transit Connect looks to be a worthy vehicle for many taxi companies.

The Specs

2011 Ford Transit Connect XLT Premium Wagon Taxi Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive commercial taxi

Engine: 2.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder Power: 136 horsepower at 6,300 r.p.m,; 128 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 r.p.m.

Transmission: Four-speed electronic automatic

Brakes: 4-wheel ABS with front disc/rear drum with AdvanceTrac/ roll Stability Control

Tires: All-season P205/65R15, full-sized spare

Price: $28,699 (Plus: $100 excise tax, $330 CNG/LPG engine prep pkg., $100 floor mats, $475 Crew Chief, $2,600 taxi prep pkg., $100 splash guards). Vehicle plus options: $32,404

Destination charge: $1,450

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 10.1 city, 7.7 highway (regular unleaded) Standard features (Taxi Prep.

Package): Manual AC, day/night mirror, AM/FM single CD audio, power door locks, repositioned second row seat, full vinyl flooring, swing-out 3rd row manual windows, fixed rear windows, heavy duty battery, black grill, vinyl front/ rear seating, B-pillar grab handles, auxiliary rear heat/AC, hole in roof/ wiring/dash switch, fixed side door windows, flip-out rear windows, fixed rear door windows with wipers, tinted glass