Toyota is gearing up for a renewed bid to establish itself as a mainstream player in the UK’s light commercial vehicle sector.
To signal its intent the brand returned to the Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC in April for the first time since 2008, shortly after it had installed Gareth Matthews, formerly of Renault, as a new product manager focusing exclusively on LCVs, rather than sharing duties with passenger cars, as had been the previous strategy.
The manufacturer took a prominent stand at the show, where it revealed its next-generation Hilux pick-up and Proace medium van.
Toyota has long held a prominent position in the pick-up market, with its near-legendary Hilux, but the brand has never had the same impact with its panel vans, particularly since the withdrawal of the Hiace in 2011.
Following this, Toyota entered an agreement with PSA Peugeot-Citroen, under which the two companies have agreed to collaborate in the light commercial sector until 2020.
The first manifestation of this collaboration was the Proace, launched in 2012 as a rebadged version of Citroen and Peugeot’s then rather dated respective Dispatch and Expert vans, which had fallen behind newer products such as the Ford Transit Custom, Renault Trafic, Vauxhall Vivaro and VW Transporter.
But the new PSA vans represent a step up in quality, functionality and market competitiveness, and it is these that the latest Proace, on sale since September, is based upon.
Matthews claims Toyota has had more input into the development of the new Proace.
“We’ve been involved from day one with its DNA – it’s far more Toyota,” he says.
Whereas he describes the original Proace as a “bolt-on” to the PSA vans, he claims this one comes from a shared platform.
Matthews says a restructured LCV dealer network will help to get the model established in the marketplace and offer customers the support they need going forward. The manufacturer has now set up 25 specialist LCV centres within its network of 70 business dealerships. Each of the LCV sites houses a dedicated commercial vehicle manager in addition to the business centre manager.
With the Hiace and previous-generation Proace, Toyota reckons it only competed in 70% of the medium van segment, but believes it has got all bases covered with the new van.
It is available with three body sizes, two wheelbase lengths and in panel van, crew cab, combi and platform cab guises. The panel van’s roof height of 1.9m (down from 1.97m before) means it can access the height-restrictive barriers at toll gates and underground car parks.
The Proace, and obviously its PSA donor vans, breaks new ground with the introduction of the compact version. This version is 4.6m long and has a 4.6m3 loadspace, which rises to 5.1m3 with the addition of the clever Smart Cargo system that combines an opening front bulkhead with a lifting front passenger seat base. It also increases maximum load length from 2.5m to 3.7m.
With an 11.3m turning circle, compared with 12.4m for the medium and long bodies, the Compact is well-suited for urban use.
The Compact has an overall length of 4606mm, which makes it comparable to some models in the light van sector below. The VW Caddy Maxi, for example, is 4875mm long. When it comes to loadspace, the Proace Compact has a cargo bay measuring 2162mm (excluding the Smart Cargo hatch) by 1628mm, compared with the Maxi’s 2250mm by 1558mm, and the VW van’s 4.2m3 load volume falls short of the Compact too.
On the other hand, the largest version of Fiat Professional’s light van – the Doblo Cargo XL – which is 4756mm long, combines a 5.0m3 load box with a 1.0t payload.
Peugeot Expert, Citroen Dispatch and Proace medium and long derivatives with the 2.0-litre engine boast a hefty and class-leading maximum payload of up to 1.4t.
In terms of the competition, the Vauxhall Vivaro gets nearest to this with a maximum 1281kg.
The Compact van is only available with the 1.6 powertrain with an output of 95hp from launch, although Toyota says the 115hp version PSA offers may be added later, gets a still very decent weight-carrying capacity of 1.0t.
The aforementioned Smart Cargo system, dubbed Moduwork in both PSA vans, is currently a £208 (all prices exclude VAT) option on both Base and Comfort trims. However, from October production (November delivery), the manufacturer says it will become standard on Comfort models with a corresponding increase in list price.
Under the skin, the PSA and Toyota vans may be identical and it’s hard to tell the difference between the trio once seated in the cab too.
From the outside, however, they are easy to distinguish – while Citroen has gone for a fluid, softer face with a short bonnet and high headlamps, the Expert is more assertive with a prominent and aggressive grille.
The Proace sits somewhere between PSA’s good cop, bad cop act with a frontal design reminiscent of the Toyota car family, with a slim upper grille and headlamp cluster above a wide, trapezoidal lower grille that helps to give the van a sturdy, well-balanced stance.
The engine line-up for the Proace panel van line-up in the UK is more limited than for its PSA counterparts, with Toyota reserving the most powerful 150hp and 175hp for its passenger-carrying Proace Verso derivatives, which also get the option of a six-speed auto gearbox.
So the van is up for grabs from launch with the 95hp 1.6 in Compact guise, both the 95hp and 115hp 1.6 engines, plus the 120hp 2.0-litre unit in the medium body and only the 120hp 2.0-litre in the long format, which won’t be coming to the UK until January 2017. The entry-level model is wedded to a five-speed ’box whereas all the others are six-speed manual and come with stop/start.
In Base Grade the Proace van comes with central remote locking with deadlocks, cruise control with speed limiter, fabric seat upholstery, driver and front passenger airbags, power windows and door mirrors, an audio system with DAB, USB port and Bluetooth, and a tyre pressure monitor.
Moving up to Comfort adds enhanced cabin insulation treatments for a quieter environment (including an acoustic windscreen, according to Toyota), driver’s seat height adjustment, air-conditioning, a cooled and illuminated glovebox, and additional 12V plugs in the glovebox and load area.
The Proace van range is priced from £18,660 for the entry-level Compact to £23,306 for the 2.0-litre long-bodied model in Comfort trim.
The more extensive PSA line-up starts from £17,495 and rises to £26,545, but the equivalent 2.0, 120hp derivative is priced £23,045.
The Ford Transit Custom range is priced from £19,245 to £27,895. When it comes to economy the Proace and its PSA parent have raised the bar. Toyota quotes fuel consumption of 54.3mpg and CO2 of 137g/km for the most frugal 1.6D 115hp engine.
The Ford Transit Custom Euro6 has a best official consumption of 49.6mpg with CO2 of 161g/km, the Renault Trafic delivers a best of 47.9mpg with CO2 of 155g/km, and the most frugal VW Transporter claims 47.9mpg with CO2 of 153g/km.
We tested the 120hp 2.0 medium-length Proace in Comfort trim and our van came with the £1583 Safety and Security Pack: alarm, forward collision warning, cruise control, pre-collision system, head-up display on the dash, cornering lights, rain-sensing wipers and the Pro touch seven-inch touchscreen. An alternative option is the £1041 Premium Pack with 17-inch alloys, satnav and the Pro touchscreen.
The 2.0 Proace has an impressive towing capacity of 2.5t. The Ford Transit Custom and VW Transporter can match this, but the Mercedes Vito, Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro max out at 2.0t.
Our medium-bodied van has a top load volume of 5.8m3 and the most capacious Proace can swallow 6.6m3. The Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro max out at 8.6m3 with the mid-length standard roof van offering 6.0m3.
With its 1.4t payload filled to 50%, the ride in our Proace was comfortable throughout, with little intrusion caused by bumps from uneven road surfaces and wind and road noise well suppressed. The height-adjustable seat and reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel facilitated a comfortable driving position, while the high-mounted gear stick is well-positioned for the driver – a welcome, car-like feature.
The short-throw gear change is slick, and from a handling point of view the Proace can hold its own with the best-in-class, such as Ford’s Custom.
There’s nothing flashy about the functional dashboard, but everything on it is easy to understand. Our van had two front seats, but a middle one can be specified – just don’t expect anyone to be able to sit on it. It does, however, provide under-seat stowage and folds down into a table.
In terms of sales targets, Toyota is considerably more conservative than PSA, forecasting just above 3000 units for each of its first two years, compared with the 10,000 Peugeot and Citroen have claimed they expect for their vans.
|Toyota Proace 2.0 Comfort 120hp Medium|
|Price (ex VAT) £22,931|
|Price range (ex VAT) £18,660-£23,306|
|Service intervals 25,000mls|
|Load length 3674mm|
|Load width (min/max) 1258/1628mm|
|Load bay height 1397mm|
|Gross payload 1400kg|
|Load volume 5.8m3|
|Engine size/power 1997cc/120hp|
|On sale September 2016|
|Combined fuel economy 53.5mpg|
The Proace is an impressively frugal and practical van and should establish Toyota as a competitive brand in the medium van sector.