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Four-Wheeled Future: All Hail the Taxi of Tomorrow

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The latest version of our city's only private form of public transportation -- the yellow cab -- will be unveiled this week at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

By Brett Berk, Vanity Fair

After exhaustive evaluation by all manner of stakeholders -- taxi drivers, fleet owners, transportation bureaucrats, the mayor, and the notoriously cranky New York City public -- the Nissan NV200 has been selected to replace the venerable Ford Crown Victoria as the Big Apple's official cab. This so-called Taxi of Tomorrow will be unveiled to skeptical residents for the first time at this week's New York Auto Show.

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Like many of Gotham's unique antediluvian artifacts -- intelligent theater, human interaction, walking -- the creaky Crown Vic is beloved. So what will the Mexican-made mini-minivan offer to win over nostalgic urbanites when it begins being phased into the city's 13,200-yellow-cab fleet next year?

Well, in addition to besting its two rivals for the job -- the wee and equilateral Ford Transit Connect micro-van and the lunky and unproven Turkish Karsan V1 rolling doorstop -- the city's first purpose-built cab will host myriad bespoke features calibrated to the distinctive needs of New York's taxi users. These include a standard driver's navigation system that will preclude ever again having to explain which numbered streets precede and follow West 17th, a panoramic glass roof for staring up at the young men on those Hollister billboards, a low-annoyance horn tuned to a frequency that's only audible to other cabbies (or so we hope), one 12-volt and two USB charging ports so all your batteries will be as fresh as the scent inside the cabin, fuel-economy numbers that double those of the neolithic Ford, and antibacterial pleather seats that provide lower rates of Ebola transmission than most other fabrics.

Also baked into the compact new cab: space. And not just inside the cabin, where a flat-floored, "no hump" rear seat and lengthy wheelbase will provide ample legroom for drivers and passengers. On the streets, too: "When all of the Crown Vics are replaced with NV200s," David Reuter, Nissan's V.P. of global communications, told us, "there will be five acres of real estate given back to the city of New York." During its 10-year reign, the Nissan will also replace the other, non-Vic models now on the road.

Later this year, when an advance-production version of the Taxi of Tomorrow is available for us to manhandle, we plan to assemble a diverse dream team of New York passenger types -- a magazine girl, a Wall Street broker, a fireman, and a clueless tourist -- and put our yellow-journalism skills to the test by taking them on a marathon ride through all five boroughs (literally: over the course of the N.Y.C. Marathon). Until then, you'll have to make do with the images herein, and our admonishment to check out this vehicle, and all the other fabulous world premieres, at the New York Auto Show this week. The show is open to the public April 6-15 at the "Convention Hall of Yesteryear" -- the newly refaced, but still underwhelming, Javits Center -- all the way over on 11th Avenue in the West 30s. Take a cab.

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