Steve Tooze discovers the Toyota Proace is a black box with a secret soul on a family trip to Dorset
Never judge a book by its cover, they say. It’s one of those age-old aphorisms that could have been coined with the Toyota Proace in the forefront of your mind.
Looks are not this people carrier’s strong suit. Unless of course you’ve always hankered after driving around in an anonymous black brick that resembles a very posh builder’s van redesigned for a Russian oligarch.
But on a week-long trip through the Dorset countryside, my children Scarlett, 14, and Fin, 11, and I fell a little bit in love with this unprepossessingly boxy vehicle and decided that, on the inside, it has the soul of a hippy camper van.
First up was the sheer luxurious amount of space. Designed to carry up to nine people, the car felt almost ridiculously roomy in the back once all the extra seating was neatly and cleverly put away to accommodate just three of us.
Sprawled bonelessly in their plush leather seats, my two had more leg room than they knew what to do with, so they decorated it like a hippy cave, then slept, played, and, on one rather brilliant occasion, staged a guitar singalong as the sun set atmospherically through the massive and much-treasured sun roof.
All that room meant that we could easily fit Fin’s guitar – usually the first thing to get jettisoned from the travel list for taking up too much room – into the back. Along with four big suitcases, unfeasible amounts of snacks and drinks, boogies boards, several duvets, a mountain of beach towels, an impressive pillow collection, assorted drawing and painting paraphernalia, and all the dressing up gear for the Camp Bestival music festival that we attended at the end of the week. And it still felt half-empty.
Up front, I was happy too. The high-up driving position of a people carrier always makes me feel chirpy and confident behind the wheel, and this one came complete with feather-light steering, an extra comfy seat, a SatNav that didn’t require a degree in Astrophysics, and a nice turn of speed when overtaking. Lots of glass made visibility great too, and consequently manoeuvring into and out of tiny make-shift spaces in beachside car parks was a piece of cake.
By the end of the week, I’d developed a deep and meaningful relationship with our Proace. On one particularly sultry night at the height of the July heatwave – when it was too hot to sleep in the otherwise perfect little shepherd’s hut near Shaftesbury where we were staying – I camped out in the van instead.
Swivelling one of the back seats round for extra legroom and pushing it back almost horizontal, I starred up at the Milky Way through the open sun roof, luxuriating in the brilliantly chilly air conditioning. As I dropped off, I heard myself murmur ‘Night, night’ – to the car.
It had to end of course. I mean Toyota, against my protests, insisted on taking their car back. But I know she’s out there somewhere, making someone else as happy as she made me – I mean, us.
Toyota Proace Verso Compact Family 2.0A
Top speed: 106MPH
0-62MPH: 10.1 sec
Combined fuel consumption: 49.6MPG
Transmission: 6 Speed Automatic
CO2 Emissions: 151g/km
Insurance group: 27E
On the road price: £37,055