Attention US travelers: Get ready for a British taxicab invasion

Want to drive what Arnold Schwarzenegger drives? Forget the Hummer.

Soon, the movie star will be seen driving around in an authentic London taxicab.

With an efficient four-cylinder diesel from Ford, London Taxis - its official name - are coming to America. The first 125 are to arrive in Boston this month, destined for various cities across the country. (Arnold's taxi is on order.) Company owner Larry Smith hopes to have thousands of the cabs on American roads over the next few years. [Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Arnold Schwarzenegger was driving a London taxicab. The cab is still on order.]

The new taxis get more than 23 miles per gallon. That may not sound like much, but any cab driver will tell you otherwise.

"Customers deserve better" than the ride they get from most taxis, says cabbie Ahmed Raffi. While driving a Ford Crown Victoria around the streets of Boston, he says, people complain of banging their knees into the divider designed to protect cabbies from angry passengers and vice versa.

Mr. Raffi plans to start his own business, using only London Taxis. He expects delivery of his first car this month. Despite the cab's hefty $45,000 price tag, Raffi expects that its durability and diesel-fuel efficiency will make him a profit even at standard fares.

The new cabs are based on the old London cabs built from the 1950s to the 1970s by Austin, the parent company of the original Mini Cooper. But they have little in common with the original. Built in a factory in Coventry, England, where Minis and Jaguars were once built, the cabs look more like an extra large Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Utility dictates its shape. A tall, boxy roof leaves room for five passengers in back - three on the back seat and two on rear-facing jump seats. Passengers in the back of the "Civilized Taxi" (the basic model's name) have their own air-conditioning controls and an intercom so they don't have to shout at the driver.

While anyone can order one, the cars come standard with only one front seat (the right side is for baggage), and a divider between the front and rear. So, Arnold notwithstanding, most will be bought by taxi companies, airport or executive limousine services, and resorts.

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