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Toyota's new medium-sized panel van, the Proace, arrives in showrooms this month as a belated successor to the rear-wheel drive Hiace, which the brand withdrew in late 2011.
The newcomer represents the first fruit of a European market collaboration with French conglomerate PSA that is expected to continue until 2020, and is based on the Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert models.
In line with the PSA vans, the Proace comes with a choice of three Euro5 diesel engines: an 89hp 1.6-litre unit and two 2.0-litre drivetrains with power outputs of 126hp, driven here, and 161hp. The 1.6 is matched to a five-speed manual transmission, whereas the 2.0-litre vans get a six-speed manual.
Toyota claims that with an 80-litre fuel tank and official fuel figure of 44.1mpg, which was best-in-class with the PSA vans until Ford launched the Transit Custom Econetic that just beats it, the 2.0-litre Proace models can travel 770 miles between fill-ups. The larger-engined derivatives are not only the most frugal but the greenest too - CO2 is 168g/km, 9g/km fewer than the 1.6-litre version, which has an official combined cycle figure of 42.2mpg.
The Proace is up for grabs with two wheelbases (L1, L2) and two roof heights (H1, H2) and customers can choose from a range of nine panel van models, as well as a crew van version.
Standard wheelbase (L1) models measure 4805mm overall, with a 3000mm wheelbase; the longer versions are 5135mm long with a with an extra 150mm in the wheelbase. The standard height (H1) is 1942mm, with a higher roof (2276mm) available with the L2 wheelbase. In L1H1 spec total load space is 5.0m3; in the L2H1 vans this increases to 6.0m3, with the L2H2 offering 7.0m3. Payload capacities range from just over 1.0t to a little over 1.2t.
Prices, excluding VAT, start from £17,550 for the 89hp 1.6D L1H1 panel van and rise to £22,240 for the crew cab. The top-priced panel van is the L2H2 161hp 2.0D at £21,200. These prices are slightly dearer than the PSA equivalents; the top-priced Peugeot Expert panel van, for example, is £20,605. On the other hand, the Proace will not set you back as much as a comparable VW?Transporter, Mercedes Vito or Ford Transit Custom.
The Proace is offered in just the one trim level. All cabins come with aircon, and other features include Bluetooth, electric windows and the choice of a single front passenger seat or two-seat bench as a same-cost option, although we would advise choosing the individual passenger seat over the bench. The centre seat is close up against the gear-shift unit and severely restricts cross-cab movement, let alone leaving enough room for a third occupant's legs.
The standard exterior design provides sliding doors on both sides of the load box, 16-inch alloys with wheel caps, fog lamps, daytime running lights and heated electric door mirrors.
We tested the 126hp 2.0-litre L2H1 panel van with a 1.2-tonne payload.
It came with a full steel bulkhead (a £120 option plus VAT) and twin rear doors. Without a weight in the rear, the 126hp powertrain is surprisingly lively, providing a considerable amount of zip from the off. This is maintained throughout the ratios, with the engine offering sufficient
pull in fifth gear from about 40mph and then happy enough in sixth from about 50mph. The six-speed 'box itself delivers precise gear changes but felt a little stiff on our van, although this may well improve once it beds in, as our vehicle was very low mileage. There is a very subtle gear-shift indicator on the dash in front of the steering wheel, and a small orange arrow lights up when it would be economically prudent to change up. This is pleasantly unobtrusive but also quite easy to ignore.
The instruments on the dashboard are generally well laid out but a little small, as is the case with the Peugeot and Citroen models the Toyota is a rebadged version of. The sound system includes a USB socket, which is welcome, but when attaching an iPod, the connecter wire has a tendency to move into the vicinity of the gear stick if it's not carefully secured out of the way. The driver can operate the sound system with a steering wheel-mounted lever.
There is lots of storage space in the cab, including deep bins on the top of the dash and handy overhead shelves. Meanwhile, the driver's seat is firm and supportive and adjustable enough for most body shapes, while the steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach. It is on the large side but imparts responsive and predictable handling.
Other gripes are that the Proace does not come with cruise control, nor is it available with a rear parking sensor; if you want sensors you'll have to get an aftermarket fit. On the other hand, Toyota should be applauded for including its electronic stability control system VSC (vehicle stability control) as standard, and overall the Proace demonstrates sufficient quality, thanks to its French parentage, to re-establish Toyota in the sector.
Toyota Proace 2.0 L2H1 128
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A competent van that gives Toyota a way back into LCVs.