There'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.
As for interior comforts, well the low floor means that the cab's easy to get in and though the handbrake lever's oddly situated between the driver's seat and the door, it doesn't get in the way. The gearstick might not be where you'd expect to find it either, repositioned from the floor to a protruding moulding in the centre of the dash. That makes space for the optional middle seat that most Proace models came fitted with. We'd want that for the versatility it gives you when it comes to giving mates an occasional lift - though their knees will be crammed up against the gear shifter. Kids being dropped off at school on the way to work will be fine though.
Get used to all that, get yourself comfortable and you'll appreciate a firmly upholstered seat that's positioned to suit those who've to jump in and out of their vehicle all the time and though there's limited height adjustability, you do get a rake and reach-adjustable steering wheel. Those who've to spend their working lives in a cab like this will want to see some evidence of care and attention on the part of the designers and sure enough, this Proace provides it. The usual shallow bin you get in each door has a moulding designed for a soft drinks can or a small bottle of water, plus there are pull-out cupholders at either end of the dashboard. You also get indented mouldings on the lid of the lockable glovebox - though these will of course be useless on the move. Further practicality points are gained though with 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.
You'll want some details on loadbay practicality. Heaving weighty cargo aboard is made easier by a low rear loading sill height (between 562 and 604mm) and the rear door aperture of 1245mm in width and 1272mm in height should enable you to get most loads in quite easily. But just how big can they be? Let's start with weight. There was an entry-level 126bhp 2.0-litre model offered at the foot of the range with much the same restricted payload capacity as the Crew Van derivative (in both cases, it's only just over 1,000kgs), but across the rest of the line-up, 1,200kgs can be accommodated without a problem. When it comes to load volumes, the Crew Van version's cargo bay is necessarily restricted to 3.6m3 by the provision of second row seating but otherwise, the minimum is 5.0m3 if you go for the 'L1H1' short wheelbase standard roof version. That rises to 6.0m3 if you choose the 'L2H1' long wheelbase standard roof model, before culminating at 7.0m3 for those favouring the 'L2H2' long wheelbase high roof variant. That latter figure is only 1.0m3 less than an entry-level version of an LCV from the next 'large' class up like Peugeot's Boxer.
Of course, you may not be measuring your potential loading requirements in cubic metres, in which case we'll tell you that there's a useful load length of 2254mm in the 'L1' short wheelbase model (2584mm in the 'L2' lwb version) and height that's measured at 1449mm in the standard roof 'H1' version and 1750mm if you've gone for a 'H2' high roof model. Whichever Proace you choose, the load area width is 1602mm, which narrows to 1245mm between the wheelboxes. For those occasions when it's easier to get things in at the side, there's a couple of sliding doors provided with apertures (924mm wide and 1293mm high) big enough to accept a euro pallet.
To keep stuff moving from around on the move, eight tie-down points are provided, but if you forget to use them and things slide forward, a pronounced lip at the cab end of the load bed is helpful. It should keep your packages from scraping the half-height protective panels provided on the doors and above the wheelboxes and clanging against the load restraint frame that's fitted to models lacking the optional full width fixed bulkhead that substantially improves cab refinement.
We came across plenty of satisfied owners in our 'what goes wrong' survey. Most seemed to find the diesel engines economical, though did comment that these powerplants could be a little expensive to repair. Engine management light faults seem to be fairly common but are usually fairly easily sorted. Bodywork and trim is no better or worse than any other van. The big thing that drivers apparently need to avoid with this model is driving at speed through what appears to be shallow floods. As these will almost always be deeper than you think, your Proace is likely to end up with bent con rods because its air intake is very low.
Elsewhere in our ownership survey, inevitably, there were other varied issues. We came across several owners who had had issues with anti-roll bars and bushes: apparently, signs of problems here are betrayed by knocking sounds as you drive. One owner reported an issue with the dual mass flywheel coming loose. Feel for signs of wear here as part of your test drive. We came across clutch problems too - one owner had had to replace this item twice in one year. Another had had difficulties with the starter motor and the ECU. Other problems? Well occasionally, the sliding side doors stick, front tyre wear can be high and there have been reports of clutch judder when the engine is warm.
(approx based on a 2013 1.6D - Ex Vat) An air filter is priced in the £14 to £17 bracket and an oil filter costs around £7. Brake pads sit in the £14 to £23 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £35 to £50 for a pricier brand. Wiper blades cost in the £4 to £12 bracket, and a replacement mirror glass is around £15 to £20. Try not to damage the wing mirror; a replacement manual single-mirror unit costs around £50; a replacement double-mirror electric unit could cost the best part of £100.
If you have to drive a van and it has to be reasonably large, it's always nice to find yourself at the wheel of one that still feels wieldy and manoeuvrable - as this one does. Toyota didn't have the option to make any engine-related or dynamic changes to this model - it ran down the same French production line as its Peugeot Expert and Citroen Dispatch design stablemates but got a different badge at the end. Just as well then, that major changes really weren't needed, despite the fact the basics of this design date back the best part of a decade.
To be fair, PSA updated this vehicle's basic design a fair bit over this time, principally with regard to the all-diesel engine range which sees nearly all buyers choose the 126bhp 2.0-litre powerplant. You can go further with a 161bhp version of this same unit, but the only reason for doing so would be for those in search of more pulling power, which rises only marginally from 320 to 340Nm. Or you could economise and choose the entry-level 89bhp 1.6-litre diesel starter model - but we wouldn't do that either. There's a vast drop in performance, running costs are higher, you have to have five rather than six manual gearbox speeds which makes cruising noisier and there isn't even that much of an up-front price saving. As you might expect, the 2.0-litre model also boasts a higher braked towing capacity - it rises from as little as 1,472kgs in the 1.6 to 2,000kgs.
So, the 126bhp 2.0-litre diesel Proace will probably be the one you end up trying. Will you be favourably impressed? Quite possibly. There's willing pulling power away from rest that's maintained throughout the rev range and sees the 62mph benchmark reached in 12.2s, over four seconds quicker than the 1.6-litre diesel variant and only just over a second and a half behind the top 161bhp model.
As with any van, the handling's fundamentally affected by the level of load you're carrying out back. Empty or full, it's not quite as agile as a Transit but quite up to the standards of pretty much everything else in this segment. We would say though, that if you're used to very big vans, you will have to adjust to this one's lower stance. This, combined with the big front overhang, can initially make parking a bit tricky, though rearward vision is helped hugely by these large door mirrors with their separate wide-angle reflectors. The electrohydraulically-assisted steering's light, but you appreciate that around town where the 12.6m turning circle's tighter than you might expect. On the open road, refinement depends a great deal on whether you've specified a full-height bulkhead - or at the very least, specified ply-lining for the load area. As with any van, if you've done neither, then a set of ear plugs will be a boon on a long trip.
This first generation Proace van represented a sensible first step in the re-establishment of the Toyota brand in the LCV marketplace. The choice of derivatives isn't perhaps quite as large as some rivals can offer, but what was available hit the sweet spot for most users, all the key bases having been covered when it comes to size, weight and power.
Why you should buy this medium range van rather than any other is a harder question to answer. Perhaps it's easiest to say that there aren't many reasons why you shouldn't. Other, more modern designs may look a shade smarter or be slightly more efficient or practical - but there's not a lot in it. Certainly not enough to matter if you've already a good relationship with your Toyota dealer or have a convenient one close by. Vans from this brand have a history of selling to real professionals. Don't expect that to change any time soon.