First Drive: Toyota Proace

Date: Thursday, July 25, 2013

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. Production of the Proace started at PSA’s plant in Sevelnord, northern France in April.
Toyota’s European boss Didier Leroy explains the thinking behind the deal: “By joining forces with PSA Peugeot Citroen we have found a good solution for our loyal customers following the discontinuation of our own Hiace model.”

Three engines

In line with the PSA vans, the Proace is offered with a choice of three Euro5-compliant diesel engines: an 89hp 1.6-litre unit and a couple of 2.0-litre drivetrains with power outputs of 128hp, driven here, and 163hp.
The 1.6 version produces peak torque of 180Nm and is matched to a five-speed manual transmission whereas the 2.0-litre vans produce torque of 320Nm and 340Nm respectively and get a six-speed manual gearbox.
Toyota claims that with an 80-litre fuel tank and official combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 44.1mpg (best-in-class with the PSA vans) 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 emissions are 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, according to the manufacturer, customers get to choose from nine variations of panel vans as well as a crew van version, which seats six people and comes in a single configuration of L2H1 along with the 128hp 2.0-litre engine.
Unlike the PSA vans, Toyota’s version will not be available from launch as a window van or as an all-terrain vehicle with enhanced traction control. Neither is one offered with an automatic gearbox.
A spokesman for the brand told What Van? that the manufacturer is likely to add more choice to the Proace range in the future but that the initial aim is to regain a foothold in the medium van sector.
“We want to hit the biggest segment. As future product is introduced we will have more derivatives,” he says.

Measuring up

As for the panel vans, standard wheelbase (L1) models measure 4805mm overall, with a 3000mm wheelbase; the longer versions are 5135mm long with a 3122mm wheelbase. The standard height (H1) is 1942mm, with a higher roof (2276mm) available with the L2 wheelbase. In L1H1 specification total load space is 5.0m3; in the L2H1 vans this increases to 6.0m3, with the L2H2 offering 7.0m3.
Payload capacities on the panel vans range from just over 1.0 tonne to a little over 1.2 tonnes. These are broadly on a par with the Proace’s donor models from PSA and offer more weight than another competitor, the Mercedes Vito. Both the Ford Transit Custom and the VW Transporter, however, make a  wider range of weight capacities available, and the current Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro models also include slightly higher maximum payload capacities.
Proace prices, excluding VAT, start from £17,840 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 163hp 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 Transporter, Vito or Ford Transit Custom.


Kitted out

According to Toyota the choice is “simple” when it comes to interior kit. To put it another way, the Proace is offered in just the one trim level. All Proace cabins come with air-conditioning, and other features include Bluetooth, electric windows, which are surprisingly still not always a given, and the choice of a single front passenger seat or two-seat bench as a same-cost option.
The standard exterior design provides sliding doors on both sides of the load box, 16-inch alloy wheels with wheel caps, fog lamps, daytime running lights and heated electric door mirrors. Customers can, however, specify plain-panelled or glazed steel rear doors. Where fitted, the rear windows are heated and have a wash-wipe system.
Customers get more choice when it comes to the bulkhead between the cabin and loadspace. A ladder-type bulkhead is fitted as standard, with a steel ladder bulkhead featured in the crew van. A steel bulkhead with or without a glazed window section can be specified as an option on the panel van.


On the road

With highly regarded models such as the VW Transporter and Mercedes Vito already well established in the mid-sized van sector and with What Van’s 2013 Van of the Year, the Ford Transit Custom, attracting scores of plaudits when it entered the market this year, not to mention
a new UK-built Vauxhall Vivaro hitting showrooms in 2014 as well as the next-generation Renault Trafic arriving from France, the Proace faces stiff competition.
So how does it fare on the road? We tested the 128hp 2.0-litre L2H1 panel van with a 1.2-tonne payload. It came with a full steel bulkhead and twin rear doors. To its price tag of £20,379 could be added £120 for the steel bulkhead (both prices exclude VAT). The model was hot off the assembly line and arrived with only about 50 miles on the odometer. Consequently, its roomy-looking load bay was still awaiting the ply-lining to protect it from the scrapes and scratches that can be incurred when load-carrying.
Unburdened by humping a weight in the rear, the 128hp powertrain is surprisingly lively, providing a considerable amount of zip from the off. This is maintained throughout the ratio, 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. There is a very subtle gear-shift indicator on the dash in front of the steering wheel. 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 generally are well laid out but a little on the small side. The sound system has FM and AM frequencies, a CD player and a USB socket. The latter is always welcome in an LCV but when attaching an iPod the connecter wire has a tendency to move into the vicinity of the gear stick if not carefully secured out of the way. The driver can operate the sound system with a steering wheel-mounted lever. Curiously, the Toyota Touch & Go satnav system, offered on the Hilux pick-up, is not available in the UK.
There is lots of storage space in the cab, including deep bins on
the top of the dash and handy overhead shelves. The doors contain adequate space for small water bottles and a narrower section for paperwork and other oddments. It’s good to see a lockable glove compartment and there is an array of nooks and crannies for stashing smaller items. On the downside there is no proper holder for a cup of tea or coffee – only a couple of mouldings on the inside of the glove box door that would not be usable when in motion. Vanity mirrors are installed in the back of both windscreen sun visors.
The driver’s seat is firm and supportive and adjustable enough for most body shapes. Commendably, the steering wheel is also adjustable for rake and reach. It is on the large size but imparts responsive and predictable handling.
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.
Other gripes are that the Proace does not come with cruise control, which helps relieve fatigue on long journeys as well as conserving fuel, and nor does it have a rear parking sensor. This is a regrettable oversight, particularly for models with no rear windows and full steel bulkheads. Although the wing mirrors are excellent, with wide view sections included, it makes reversing into tight spaces more hazardous than necessary. If you want sensors on your van 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.


A competitively priced and competent van with enough derivatives to make its mark in the medium-van segment.



Replacing the ace in Toyota’s pack

Toyota withdrew its Hiace medium van, which had originally been developed with the needs of European customers in mind, in late 2011 because it was not willing to update it to bring it into line with the latest Euro5 exhaust emission regulations.
The decision raised eyebrows at the time because the brand had seemed to possess the wherewithal to come up with a credible rival to models such as VW’s Transporter and Mercedes- Benz’s Vito - but then appeared to lose interest in doing so. By the end of 2011 Toyota’s light commercial vehicle operation in the UK was almost entirely reliant on the Hilux pick-up, with sales of the Hiace having dwindled to well under 1000 units.
A collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroen now sees Toyota moving to re-establish its presence in the mid-sized van sector.
Under the plan, PSA is to supply Toyota with LCVs for sale in Europe under the Japanese brand’s name. The Proace, a re-badged version of Citroen’s Dispatch and Peugeot’s Expert, is the first product to emerge from the deal, which is set to extend beyond 2020 to include next generation LCVs produced by PSA.
Toyota Motor Europe is to contribute to the development and investment costs of new models but there are no plans for the companies to enter into capital tie-ups or joint production.
The company already collaborates with PSA in the small car market on the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107 models.


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