ACE IN THE HOLE
The ProAce is Toyota's replacement for the HiAce, but it's a bigger and far more sophisticated thing. Andy Enright reports
Ten Second ReviewIf you can't decide whether to go for a compact city van or something more conventionally sized, whey not strike a compromise with the Toyota ProAce? It could be prove to be the right-sized and right-priced solution to many modern requirements. If you were about to sign up to that Transit, have a look here first.
BackgroundToyota is a company that loves a partnership. It commissioned Yamaha to develop many of its petrol engines, it joint-developed a sports car with Subaru, sold engines to Lotus and agreed fuel cell and electric vehicle technology with BMW. Perhaps then, it won't surprise you to learn that when the Japanese giant was looking to replace its HiAce range of vans, it decided not to strike out alone. Instead it agreed a partnership with PSA Peugeot Citroen and the ProAce was born.
Those of you who are clued into the van market won't need me to tell them that this is in fact a rebadged version of the Peugeot Expert, Citroen Dispatch and, by extension, the Fiat Scudo. You'll also know that these are some of the very best medium range panel vans around. Toyota appears to have chosen wisely.
This generation model is quite a bit bigger than the HiAce it replaced, big enough in fact to compete with a whole new army of larger rivals. Not only the Transit but also tough competitors like Volkswagen's Transporter, Vauxhall's Vivaro, Renault's Trafic and Mercedes' Vito. Now you see why Toyota thought twice about trying to break into this sector on its own. It's stuffed with talent.
Driving ExperienceThe ProAce is available with a range of diesel engines: if your requirements are mainly based around lighter loads and short distance urban work, then the entry-level 89bhp 1.6-litre with its 180Nm of torque will be quite sufficient. For heavier payloads and longer journeys however, you'll be needing the 2.0-litre model which also gives you a 6-speed gearbox in space of the 1.6's 5-speeder. The 126bhp version is quite sufficient, offering a full 300Nm of torque, quite enough to handle haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,000kg. If you do feel the need for more power, then there's also a 161bhp Euro5-compatible version of the same unit on offer packing a healthy 340Nm.
The driving position, though not as lofty as in some models, nevertheless affords a decent view up the road. If it's anything like its partner models, it'll be comfortable on the move. That relaxed approach also extends to the power steering, electrohydraulically-assisted in the more powerful versions.
You appreciate its lightness around town though, where this van is impressively manoeuvrable for its size, with a tight turning circle. The low stance and the big front overhang can initially make parking a bit tricky, though rearward vision is helped hugely by huge door mirrors with their separate wide-angle reflectors.
Design and BuildThere's more to the ProAce than meets the eye. The neat and unassuming styling leads you to believe that it's not a hugely capacious thing, but there's versatility in the model configurations and the range covers a lot of bases. The windscreen is steeply raked, creating a wedge-shaped front end with huge headlamps. You'll find chunky rubbing strips protecting the flanks, while tail lights are mounted high up to help avoid potentially costly parking knocks.
The gearstick has been taken from the floor and mounted on a protruding moulding in the centre of the dash. Other storage includes a deep, strangely-sized bin on the top of the dash on the passenger side, cubbies in each corner, a shelf beneath the steering column and a tray beneath the passenger seat. An 80-litre fuel tank capacity gives the 2.0-litre versions of ProAce a theoretical driving range of more than 770 miles before refuelling.
Market and ModelYou'll probably be paying somewhere in the £16,000 to £22,000 bracket for your ProAce, depending upon the body style you choose. Obvious rivals apart from this model's Scudo, Dispatch and Expert sister vehicles include familiar contenders like Ford's Transit, Vauxhall's Vivaro or Renault's Trafic - or, if you're prepared to pay slightly higher prices, Volkswagen's Transporter or Mercedes' Vito.
The ProAce is decently specified with convenience in mind, the kit list featuring electric windows, central remote door locking and an adjustable steering wheel. The standard safety provisions include ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control and daytime running lights.
Practicalities & CostsWith a combination of two lengths and heights, the Toyota ProAce is available in capacities from 5.0m3 (if you go for the short wheelbase standard roof version) rising to 6.0m3 if you choose the long wheelbase standard roof model, before culminating at 7.0m3 for those favouring the long wheelbase High Roof version. That latter figure is only 1.0m3 less than something like Fiat's starter Ducato model from the next class up, so you're buying some serious capability here. It also helps that a rear door aperture of 1273mm in width and 1272mm in height (or 1630mm in High Roof guise) enables you to manhandle gear in quite easily.
There's a respectable load length of 2254mm in the short wheelbase model (2584mm in the lwb version) and height that's measured at 1449mm in the standard roof version and 1750mm if you've gone for a High Roof. Whichever ProAce you choose, the load area width is 1600mm, which narrows to 1245mm between the wheelboxes. For those occasions when it's easier to get things in at the side, the sliding doors provided with apertures (924mm wide and 1293mm high) are big enough to accept a euro pallet.
To achieve the best usability and capability, two sliding side doors can be specified, and customers can choose between a top-hinged tailgate and dual side-hinged rear doors that open to 270 degrees. The ProAce can also be specified as a panel van, glass van or crew cab, so meeting a wide range of business transport needs.
What about running costs? Well, you can expect to average combined fuel consumption at between 37 and 39mpg, depending on the engine you choose and the type of journeys you're on.
SummaryBreaking into a cut-throat van market was never going to be easy and Toyota left themselves a lot to do by allowing the HiAce stagger on to its death without making serious investment in a replacement. As it stands, the company has very little creative control on how its ProAce came to market, instead surrendering huge decisions to its PSA Peugeot Citroen strategic partner. That's a situation that can work in the short term, but the Peugeot Expert and Citroen Dispatch are going to be replaced in the next few years and part of the deal was that Toyota would have a real say in the next design.
With a combination of two lengths and heights, the ProAce is available in capacities from 5.0m3 (if you go for the short wheelbase standard roof version) rising to 6.0m3 if you choose the long wheelbase standard roof model, before culminating at 7.0m3 for those favouring the long wheelbase High Roof version.
As it stands, the ProAce is still one of the best medium vans in the marketplace. True, it's not materially any better than its sister vehicles, but if you have a working relationship with your Toyota dealer, why wouldn't you?