First Drive: Toyota’s new Proace Verso blurs the MPV / Van divide

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What’s the difference between an MPV and a van that carries passengers? Up to now, that’s been a very easy question to answer. Passenger versions of vans, for all the benefits they bring with regards to space and load carrying capabilities, have always been the poor relation of car derived Multi-Purpose Vehicles. Appearance wise, and in their driving performances and equipment levels, their commercial origins have limited their appeal beyond the purely functional.

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However, maybe the time has come for a re-think. I’ve been driving the new Toyota Proace Verso in Poland this week, and came away rather impressed. For driving comfort, equipment levels, and sheer refinement, this van derived passenger car runs MPVs very close indeed.

The Proace is Toyota’s collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroen in the mid-sized van segment, but unlike the previous generation model, the Japanese manufacturer is offering a much more comprehensive line-up of products, including, for the first time, passenger models bearing the Verso badge.

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Looks wise you cannot escape the boxy silhouette, though it’s that very shape that makes it so practical. Notably though, from the front the Proace Verso is very much in line with Toyota’s current line-up of passenger cars – to the extent that from certain angles you could confuse it with models like the RAV-4. The interior too, is far more car-like than what you traditionally associate with vans, with a comfortable SUV-like driving position and excellent ergonomics. The plastics and materials used are of a high quality, and equipment wise, at least on the versions we drove at the Polish launch, it’s as well specified as any car.

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Four passenger versions will be offered ranging from a basic Combi grade to Shuttle, Family and VIP trims with seating varying from six to nine people. Of these it’s the Family model that will be of most interest to people looking at a more practical alternative to a regular MPV. It’s offered on a new Compact platform that’s just 4.6 metres long, yet offers eight full sized seats, the rear six with Isofix connections. To benchmark that against the seven seater Ford Galaxy MPV, the Ford is over 4.8 metres long, though the Proace Verso is wider at 2.2 metres versus 1.9 metres. Still, it should be quite manoeuvrable in tight car parks. Sliding side doors are always a benefit in such places too.

Despite the compact length, boot space with all seats in place is similar to the Galaxy, at 282 litres versus 300, while the 60:40 split second and third rows of seats not only tip and fold to allow easy access but can be removed entirely for those occasions when extra load capacity is needed.

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The Proace range is available with a selection of 1.6 and 2.0 litre PSA diesel engines with horsepower ranging from 95 to 177 HP. The Verso Family version gets a 150 HP 2.0 litre unit combined with a six speed manual gearbox which we found well suited to the car. Toyota Ireland has yet to finalise specifications and prices but they tell us this model will feature at a minimum 17 inch steel wheels, Auto AC / Rear AC, a 7” touchscreen and rain / dusk sensors.

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Toyota Ireland is remaining understandably cautious on sales expectations, saying it hopes to sell around 50 units in a full year. Getting people to see beyond the van underpinnings is the biggest challenge, but based on first drives, the Proace Verso, along with its Peugeot and Citroen siblings, is probably the best positioned yet of such van contenders to do just that.

Full prices and specs will be revealed by the end of September with the vehicles going on sale around the same time.

Cathal Doyle