London tax
CNN  — 

Cabs, like the Grim Reaper, are one of the world’s great constants; wherever you go they’re always there – unless it’s raining.

But times are tough for these ubiquitous people carriers. Spiraling fuel costs are pushing up fares, and pesky governments are intent on driving classic – if environmentally disastrous – models off the road. Not to mention the ever-growing Uber.

So before it’s too late, we’ve taken a look at the world’s greatest taxis. This lot don’t just turn your A into B, they turn your cash into experiences. All hail.

10. Mexico City’s VW Beetles

Herbie's ozone-destroying, chain-smoking twin.

Everyone likes VW Beetles, so we’ve stuck Mexico’s iconic vochos in at No. 10. There isn’t much to love about these pollution-belching bugs though. Not unless you enjoy being squeezed into a tiny seat and – if you risk an unlicensed cab – being robbed at knife-point.

Tip factor: If the driver has removed the front passenger seat for extra legroom.

9. Shanghai’s VW Jettas

With Shanghai's cabs you need to wipe your feet ... after you get out.

There’s nothing iconic about Shanghai’s humdrum fleet of Volkswagen Jettas and it’s never clear if the Perspex screen around the driver is to keep phlegm in or out.

But to zip in a cab over the city’s elevated neon expressways is to truly experience modern Shanghai: cheap, fast and just a little bit dirty.

Tip factor: If the driver gets there without mounting the sidewalk.

8. Moscow’s Porsches

If you drive a Porsche for a living you can paint it any color you want, OK?

Most major cities have novelty boats, helicopters or luxury car taxis, but somehow being picked up by a Porsche makes more sense in Moscow where oligarchs have money to burn and are apparently willing to pay a $95 flag-fall. Cheaper options are available, but this is Moscow, so not much cheaper.

Tip factor: What the hell, just round it up to the nearest $100.

7. Hong Kong’s Toyota Crown Comforts

How many damp Hong Kongers can you fit inside a Toyota?

Color-coded in primary reds, greens and blues, Hong Kong’s boxy Toyota Crown Comfort taxis have a reassuring Toy Town feel, with prices to match. Drivers in Hong Kong will go anywhere for a quick dollar, even in a typhoon. They won’t go to the expat enclave of Discovery Bay though, but who can blame them?

Tip factor: If the cab isn’t air-conditioned to below freezing point.

6. Nürburgring’s BMWs

A taxi ride like no other.

If Germany’s speed unlimited autobahns aren’t fast enough, you can hire a souped-up BMW taxi to rocket you around the country’s Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit. You’ll be charged a small fortune for this and you’ll end up almost exactly where you started, but there the similarity to other taxis ends.

Tip factor: If you manage to keep your lunch down.

5. Bangkok’s tuk-tuks

The cheapest way to get airborne in Bangkok.

Auto-rickshaws aren’t unique to Bangkok and weren’t invented here, but like smiles, noxious energy drinks and Ping-Pong tricks, Thailand claims them as its own.

Rivalry from safer four-wheel cabs has threatened their trade, but like cockroaches, tuk-tuks would probably survive a nuclear Armageddon.

Tip factor: If the driver gets you there without detouring to a temple, fake gem store or tailors.

4. Kolkata’s Ambassadors

Another one bites the rust.

Another survivor, the Ambassador has been rolling off production lines and into taxi ranks since 1948.

Resistant to streamlining, the Amby’s vintage curves, turban-friendly headroom and radio permanently tuned to atrocious Hindi pop have endeared it to generations of passengers in Kolkata and other Indian cities.

Tip factor: If you tipped someone to hail the cab and someone else to load in your luggage, you’ll be relieved to hear Indian taxi drivers don’t expect tips.

3. Havana’s jalopies

Paint it bright and polish it up -- no one will notice when the spin cycle kicks in.

Starved of car imports, resourceful Cubans have cannibalized washing machines to keep their vintage Buicks and Cadillacs living. Most of these taxis are unofficial and liable to overcharge, but unless you’re a fan of cola, rum and lime, ain’t nothing libre in Cuba these days.

Tip factor: If nothing falls off.

2. New York’s Yellow Cabs

Less a gas-guzzler than a petroleum binge drinker.

With a mighty V8 engine under the hood, it’s no wonder that cabbies in New York drive their Crown Vics like they’re being pursued by tax collectors. Not for much longer though.

The Yellow Cabs don’t so much guzzle gas as binge-drink it, so they’re being replaced by eco-friendly Nissans. They’ll still be as yellow as the cheese on a Manhattan deli’s ham and Swiss, but will they keep that strange New York cab smell?

Tip factor: If you can find a cab to pick you up north of Central Park, tip big.

1. London’s Hackney carriages

The only time a cabbie with a big head is a good thing.

Officially dubbed Hackney carriages, London’s black cabs are piloted by a sterling breed of polymaths. In fact, scientists say cabbies’ knowledge of London’s tangled web of 25,000 streets gives them bigger brains.

Luckily there’s room in these nippy black leviathans – as much a part of London as fish and chips, Buckingham Palace and Australian bar staff – to accommodate five passengers and their suitcases, with enough space left over for the driver’s enlarged hippocampus.

Tip factor: If you get from A to B without hearing your driver’s views on life, the universe and the roadworks on Regent Street.

Barry Neild is Editor at CNN Travel.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.