Black cabs are woven into the fabric of London life. From Brixton to Belgravia, these traditional taxis—officially known as hackney carriages—are as ubiquitous as the city’s red double-decker buses or elegant Georgian townhouses. And this ability to travel incognito, especially through the streets of London, is perhaps the greatest strength of the Clive Sutton VIP Class taxi.
“Plenty of people like being driven in comfort without attracting lots of attention,” says Luke Sutton, whose father Clive Sutton established his eponymous car dealership in 1985. “And nobody looks twice at a black cab.” After taking on franchises for Jeep and Cadillac, Clive Sutton quickly built a reputation as a leading importer of high-end American cars, such as the Corvette and Cadillac Escalade. At the time of writing, Clive Sutton’s boutique showroom in St. John’s Wood, central London, had just taken delivery of the UK’s first new Ford Bronco.
The company also has a “Sutton Bespoke” division dedicated to modifying cars. On one side, this includes vehicles such as the Mustang CS850R—a “British answer to the Shelby GT500”, with track-focused suspension, carbon-fiber aero, and an 850 hp supercharged V-8. On the other, there’s the VIP Class taxi, which has . . . none of those things.
What the taxi does offer is genuine coachbuilt luxury. For around $150,000, it comes close to presenting a Rolls-Royce experience for half the price. Indeed, its push-button mechanism for closing the doors is the same as used in the Rolls-Royce Ghost, while leather trim is sourced from Bentley, and the fold-out tray tables come from Mercedes-Maybach. Options include a drinks fridge, a 20-inch Apple TV screen, and a built-in PS4 gaming console.
The rear compartment is offered in various configurations, with anywhere from two to five seats. My cab had a pair of airline-style recliners separated by a deep center console for ultimate comfort. No, this really isn’t your typical taxi. Luke says VIP Class customers invariably have a chauffeur, but I can’t resist jumping into the driver’s seat first. Built by the Geely-owned London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), the taxi features a dashboard and controls—including its large, portrait-style touchscreen—that will feel familiar to anyone who has driven a modern Volvo. There’s a Perspex screen behind your head, but you can talk to your passengers via the intercom.
Beneath the glitz and garnish, the Clive Sutton cab features a power train that comprises a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine paired with a 110 kw electric motor. (“This car isn’t about performance,” says Luke.) The engine acts solely as a generator, kicking in once the 80 miles of range from the 31 kwh battery has run out. For city use, most of your miles will be in smooth, electric silence.
To gain their license, London taxi drivers must take a test known as “the Knowledge”, which covers 25,000 of the city’s streets, plus the locations of theaters and other landmarks, and typically takes three years to pass. Without such thorough groundwork, I’m simply following my nose, and am soon lost in the labyrinth of one-way streets around Camden.
Thankfully, the vehicle is easy to drive, with light steering, excellent visibility, a well-cushioned ride, and plenty of instant electric torque. It also has the tightest turning circle this side of a scooter: just 25 feet. Where any normal car would need a three-point turn (down yet another dead-end Camden side street, for instance), the taxi simply spins around and goes. It’s a stress-free way to navigate around the London maze.
Still, the VIP Class taxi is meant to be experienced from the back, so I swap seats and let a member of Luke’s team take the wheel. What’s immediately apparent is how spacious the rear compartment feels; the requirement to accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair results in more headroom than any SUV. And this particular two-seat setup affords legroom that feels on par with a stretched limousine.
The taxi’s lofty ride height means you look down upon other traffic, while its panoramic sunroof offers a great view of the city’s skyscrapers—particularly with the electric seat fully reclined. My driver hasn’t taken the Knowledge test and the VIP Class taxi isn’t officially licensed by Transport for London, so we can’t use the bus lanes like other black cabs. Of course, that means sitting in traffic, but I’m in no rush. Stretched out on heated, pillowy leather, sealed off from the ceaseless buzz outside, I wonder whether it’s acceptable to have a snooze.
Forty minutes and one power nap later, we’re back at Clive Sutton’s headquarters. Luke gives me a sneak peek at the new augmented-reality configurator (launching soon), which allows buyers to visualize their dream taxi. Each car is built to order, so you can choose any paint color you like, but every customer so far has opted for black—and quite right, too. After all, nobody looks twice at a black cab.
Click here for more photos of the Clive Sutton VIP Class taxi.