Singapore taxicabs are some of the most unpleasant cars I have ever encountered. They're loud, smelly, dirty, hideous to look at, and freaking everywhere. You can't go two steps without seeing or hearing one of these cars rumbling around the street, shuttling a sweaty Singaporean from one end of the island to... well... the other end. It's not a very big place, you see. The point is, my first impression of this, as a typical North American gearhead, is that it's unforgivably ugly and am appalled that this relic from the 80s is alive, and kicking wildly, today.
But after a few months here, I also think they're one of the best cars ever made. After reading an article in Top Gear magazine about Japanese taxicabs, I started to wonder: why aren't more modern cars like this?
Yes, I know I just called them ugly, but they're really quite brilliant. The first thing that strikes me is the clarity of the design. There's no frilly bullshit on them. They don't have spoilers on the back. There aren't any creases in the bodywork to make it look fast. They don't even have hubcaps. What else is (or rather, isn't) here? Supercharger? No. Flamethrowing exhausts? No. Machine-guns tucked under the headlights? Probably not. It's just a very simple car. It has four wheels. It can turn left and right. It carries people and their stuff. The end.
So the car's ugly, but it's not ugly for style's sake. It has an elegant sort of ugliness founded in logic, and that's the best kind. Stay with me on this one. The roof is squared off, but only so the interior space is maximized. The rear window is vertical to increase the size of the trunk, which has a flat lid so you can pack more stuff in (especially important for taxis that have to service the airport). The front is flat so that, if the lights become damaged, it'll be easy and cheap to replace. The windows are big and square so you can see out more. The interior is spartan, but then again what's the point of all those lights and ashtrays and the climate control with the GPS and the built-in cell phone and 180 billion TV channels anyway?
The engines on these things are pretty much anemic: 79 hp, or as Hugh Grant would say, "the power of four harnessed children." Then again, it works in a city, where it'll be stuck in traffic most of the time. On the highway, it keeps up just fine, although the driver must keep his foot on the gas pedal for the entire journey. Comfy sedans with this much interior space and trunk space often have 200+ hp. My dad's Accord does only 140hp and has a top speed of 125 mph.
125?! Since when has anyone ever regularly done 125mph? Unless you live in Germany and/or are currently in jail, that's probably never. Why put in all that extra power in an engine and make it use up more fuel than it should when it'll never be used? And besides, these cars aren't supposed to plaster your head into the headrest until your neck shatters. You're supposed to travel in comfort.
And the size. It does look very big and bulky due to its proportions and the way it's styled, but it's no bigger than a modern Toyota Corolla. Cars nowadays get bigger and bigger. A Honda Accord from back in the day is smaller than your current Civic, and the new BMW 3-Series is the same size as a 5-Series from the early 80s.
There's only two words that can describe "small" cars that aren't really small: Utterly. Pointless. Sure they have enough space for the passengers, the motor, and the trunk, and maybe some filler space between the crumple zones and the passenger's face, but even then, that shouldn't increase the car to Titanicesque proportions. What gives?
And since people will on average weigh more or less the same (unless everyone worldwide decides to go on a cheeseburger and fizzy soda binge), increasing the size means that there's more car to be lugged around, and thus more fuel must be used. Whenever a car company releases a new car that claims to be more efficient than the last one, it's complete crap. It may be more efficient than the previous car of that size, but to tell me that a new Camry, which is twice as long, twice as wide, and twice as powerful than a Camry from the 80s, is more efficient? Hmm... consider it a reality check that these relics from the 80s outnumber the new Hyundai Sonatas by the thousands here.
Anyway, this is why the Singapore taxicab is brilliant: because it's never more than it needs to be. I think the reason why I like it so much is because I see some parallels between myself and this car. It does its job at a satisfactory level (kind of like me). It's understated, underrated, and, I think, underappreciated (what I like to think about me).
Granted, they're not perfect. The engine noise on the highway is so loud it makes your head shake and your ears bleed (again, like me), and the springs are so soft that you'd be bouncing from hitting a pothole that may have occurred a mile back (not so much like me, but go on). Even still, I think that these cars should be used more often, because just because it's ugly doesn't mean it's not sensible.
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