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This all-new version of the Toyota Proace medium-duty van was launched in September 2016. If it looks vaguely familiar that's probably because it's basically the same van as the latest Peugeot Expert and Citroen Dispatch, which both launched earlier in 2016. Toyota's version features a unique face but a similar feature set, albeit with a reduced selection of engines.
Like the Peugeot and Citroen, this means the Proace van is available in two wheelbases and three body lengths - the shortest combination of these two elements producing an unusual Compact version - but only a single roof height. Every van comes with a sliding door on both sides, and rear doors that open 180 degrees.
Combi (three seating rows for up to nine passengers, similar to the Proace Verso MPV), Crew Cab (with two rows of seats for up to six) and platform cab (for conversions) variants are also offered, giving this Proace the widest range of versions Toyota has ever offered in the medium van segment. There are two trim levels: Base and Comfort.
That's the good news. The bad news is that UK engine choice for the Toyota is limited to a pair of 1.6-litre turbodiesels with 95hp/210Nm or 116hp/300Nm, plus a single 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 122hp/340Nm; both French alternatives can be bought with two more powerful 2.0-litre diesels. Toyota is hedging its bets a little here as it attempts to re-establish itself as a serious LCV player.
Tidy road manners, a tight turning circle and some clever thinking - such as the Smart Cargo system, which includes a flip-up passenger seat and removable bulkhead panel to accommodate extra-long loads - hold plenty of appeal. But the real attraction for potential Toyota Proace buyers is likely to be the aggressive pricing (although you'll find Citroen is more aggressive still) and the five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
As with the French versions of this van, the Toyota Proace doesn't have the most generous passenger cabin. It's easy to get into, since you sit quite low, but combine this feature with a low roofline, steeply angled windscreen and dashboard that seems to stretch away to the horizon, and we can understand why some people might find it claustrophobic.
We found visibility fine for manoeuvering around town, however, and the driving position has plenty of adjustability - including a steering wheel with a large amount of reach and rake - so it's an easy van to get comfortable in.
We also thought the instruments and general dashboard design were very smart, even verging on stylish, but that is of course before it's all covered in plaster dust or other working life residues. The switches and stalks are Peugeot rather than Toyota-derived, including a pair of rather oddly-shaped gearknob choices.
The gearlever is mounted high up in a pod that sprouts from the front of the dash - good news for the driver, who doesn't have to reach very far, but bad news for anyone sat in the middle seat, since they'll either have to sit turned sideways or be amputated at the knees. The racy flat-bottomed steering wheel seems entirely unnecessary here.
More critically, storage space in the cab is not especially impressive. The door bins are quite large and there's a decent area under the passenger seat (limited to the middle one if you have the Smart Cargo option), but the gloveboxes aren't overly generous and the cupholders are on top of the dash - you have to lean quite far forward to reach them and it means your bottle of water is sat right in the sun.
The backrest of the middle seat can be folded down to form a mobile desk, though, and standard equipment on the Base model includes Bluetooth, DAB radio, electric windows, cruise control and a USB port, with air-conditioning available as an option. This is standard on the Comfort spec, alongside height and lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, but touchscreen infotainment and sat-nav are only optional at this level.
There are three engine and gearbox choices for UK buyers of the Toyota Proace van:
Toyota believes the 116hp 1.6-litre with the medium-length body is likely to be the biggest seller - and driving all three engines back-to-back it's not difficult to tell why. The 116hp motor combines the refinement of the lower-powered 95hp 1.6 with almost the same punchy performance as the pricier, less fuel-efficient - and louder - 122hp 2.0-litre.
Also the only engine we have so far been able to try with a payload, the 116hp model shrugged off the 300kg demo weight away from the traffic lights. It was also useful to note that the load improved the Proace's ride comfort, settling down the otherwise slightly bouncy rear-end to become a van we could comfortably use to cover several motorway hours if needs be.
The six-speed gearbox is considerably more pleasant to use than the vague and rubbery five-speed alternative, too. Or at least it would be, if it wasn't for the horrible, square-topped gearknob, which feels very odd in your palm.
All versions are neat enough to drive, though if you principally drive around town you might be especially impressed with the short-wheelbase Compact model, which has an 11.3-metre turning circle - better than some vans in the class below, despite the extra width that boosts its storage capacity.
All of that said, we were not especially keen on the steering, which gets lighter rather than heavier the faster you go. This makes the Proace unnecessarily cumbersome-feeling at parking speeds and occasionally unstable-feeling at faster ones. Certainly we were never entirely confident we knew exactly how much grip was available to the front tyres in the wet.