The versatile Nissan NV200 van has been transformed into a New York City cab
Maxi Taxi CHEERY RIDE - When the Nissan NV200 was introduced here two years ago with a 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine and five-speed manual gearbox, it was the first Japanese small van to meet Euro IV emission standards

Nissan may no longer be among the top passenger car brands here but it is still the market leader in one segment - light commercial vehicles. Japan's second-largest carmaker dominates the Singapore scene with its Cabstar 10-footer truck, its NV350 full-sized van and its most important commercial vehicle model to date, the NV200 compact van.

When the Nissan NV200 was introduced here two years ago with a 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine and five-speed manual gearbox, it was the first Japanese small van to meet Euro IV emission standards. With its good utility and driveability, it became an immediate success.

It was followed by a goods-cum-passenger variant - the Nissan NV200+6 with two rows of seats for six passengers - to expand its appeal among small business operators. But the NV200's biggest coup so far has been its transformation as a taxi. It is the exclusive taxi for New York City and is set to enter service this month, replacing a hodge podge of various cab models, while in England, the NV200 is also being considered as a possible replacement for London's iconic black cab.

According to Ron Lim, general manager of authorised Nissan distributor Tan Chong Motor Sales, Nissan is looking to "strategically develop" the NV200 into a taxi that can be used in more countries, including Singapore.

"So far, local taxi operators have expressed interest in the NV200," reveals Mr Lim, adding that he expects them to make a decision when the NV200's diesel engine is available with an automatic transmission in the next year or so.

In New York, however, the NV200 taxi uses a two-litre petrol engine to drive the front wheels. Based on the cargo version but with its wheelbase extended by 200mm to 2,926mm, New York's "Taxi of Tomorrow" will cater to the city's more than 600,000 cab passengers daily.

Assembled in Mexico, its suspension was strengthened to take on NYC's tough streets and its front track widened for a modified steering system to improve the turning circle. Passengers open one of the two dual rear sliding doors and use the retractable entry step to enter a spacious, flat "no hump" floor with a bench seat for three persons. Other features Nissan has tailored specifically to the unique needs of the city are the antimicrobial, durable and easy-to-clean seat fabric; an active carbon-lined headliner to help neutralise interior odours; a full taxi partition that is bulletproof; and a driver and passenger intercom system.

A "low-annoyance" horn with exterior lights indicate when the vehicle is honking, so that the horn can be used less frequently. And there are lights to alert other road users when the taxi doors open.

From the back, the ride is made more pleasant with the large transparent roof panel for nicer views of the city. To make fare payment easy, a backseat cash port lets passengers swipe their credit card. Plus there is a mobile charging station, including a 12-volt electrical outlet and two USB ports. There are even reading lights, floor lighting and drink holders in the sliding doors. The taxi's safety equipment includes curtain airbags for front and rear seat occupants, while there are also seat-mounted airbags for the front row.

At the recent Nissan 360 global showcase of the Japanese carmaker's products in southern California, the NV200 Taxi proved to be easy to drive too, thanks to a light steering wheel and a smooth Xtronic CVT continuously variable transmission. The six-way adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment is comfortable, while traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control are standard.

The NV200 Taxi shows that this Nissan model is modern, spacious and extremely versatile. And in the familiar canary yellow paintwork, it might also become an icon one day.

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Nissan NV200 Taxi

Engine 1,997cc inline-4

Transmission Continuously variable

Max power 135 hp @ 5,200 rpm

Max torque 197 Nm @ 4,800 rpm

Distributor Tan Chong Motor Sales

Tel 6466 7711