When the Toyota Hiace originally arrived in the UK in 1983, fleet buyers were wowed by its space-age looks and sophistication compared with many of its rivals.
Over the years, that cutting edge gradually eroded as the other manufacturers caught up and eventually overtook the Japanese company.
The Hiace was discontinued in 2012 and Toyota was left with no panel van in its range.
Now the manufacturer is back in the LCV arena with a new offering – the Proace.
Sadly, there isn’t a lot of fresh innovation here as it is, in fact, a rebadged Peugeot Expert, which also appears as the Fiat Scudo and Citroën Dispatch. These models have been around since 2007.
Not that there is anything wrong with this vehicle, but it’s a shame that a manufacturer the size of Toyota could not have managed to come up with something equally as dazzling as its original Hiace.
But, rebadging or not, the move now allows Toyota to pitch for any solus deals that involve both cars and commercial vehicles. Also, the Hilux 4x4 pick-up is still very much alive if you need off-roaders on your fleet.
Both long and short wheelbase models are available, along with standard and high roof variants.
Under the bonnet is either a 1.6-litre turbodiesel powerplant offering 90bhp or a 2.0-litre version with either 126bhp or 163bhp, in line with the Expert et al. There will also be a crew-van version on the long wheelbase chassis.
Crucially in the Fleet Van view, Toyota has decided to make electronic stability control (ESC), which helps avoid sideways skids, a standard fitment, unlike many manufacturers which charge for it as an optional extra.
Our test vehicle was the long wheelbase standard roof model offering the middle-powered 126bhp engine and with a load capacity of six cubic metres.
Standard specification is high and includes, in addition to the aforementioned ESC, air-conditioning, bulkhead, twin side sliding doors, Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows, deadlocks, a vehicle alarm and a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Behind the wheel
Having driven many of these models in the past, it was like greeting an old friend when I first climbed aboard the Proace, albeit one with a new badge.
The seats are big and comfortable, and the steering column adjusts for height and rake, which means most drivers will find a comfortable position.
However, there isn’t a huge amount of space for the middle passenger and the whole cab is pretty cramped, so it’s a good job the Proace has an overhead parcel shelf to accommodate every van driver’s needs.
Rather annoyingly, the space where some of these models have a coffee cup holder on either side had been blanked off.
In the back, there are eight load-lashing eyes and our test model was fully ply-lined.
It costs around £200 to have done but is well worth it as that money will be recouped at selling time if the rear end remains undamaged.
On the road, there’s plenty of power from the engine, so we wouldn’t really recommend the higher-powered 163bhp model, as the 126bhp is enough for any van fleet driver.
The Proace corners nicely and all gear changes are achieved slickly. It offers a combined fuel economy of 44.1mpg, which is pretty reasonable for a vehicle of this size.
For any van fleet which buys cars too, the Proace makes a lot of sense as you can do a total deal with one person. However, if you opt for the near-identical Citroën Dispatch, you get a Trafficmaster sat-nav and tracking unit thrown in for free.