TOYOTA is back in the ‘big boy's' league for 2017 with the launch of its first large multi-purpose vehicle for more than 10 years in the shape of the Proace Verso.
The Japanese car giant hasn't had a seven/eight seater people carrier since the loveable Previa bit the dust back in 2005 when the growth of smaller Sports Utility Vehicles, like Toyota's RAV4, changed motorists' taste away from the big MPVs.
In its day the Previa was quite revolutionary when launched here back in 1990 with its 2.4-litre 133bhp petrol engine situated in the car's midships optimising weight distribution and a flatter floor for better seat positioning.
Now this new Proace Verso will offer both families still needing those extra seats plus cabin space and also for the growing business sector market where hotels, airport chauffeurs and company executives want luxury transportation.
It's also a canny and cost-effective way for Toyota to rejoin the big MPV market because it's based on the same platform as their new big Proace vans - again returning in the commercial van sector to take on the big selling Ford Transit.
The platform is also the same as the new Peugeot Traveller and the Citroen Space Tourer MPVs so it's hardly surprising Proace Verso are being made alongside both rivals at the French car maker's factory in their homeland and so providing Toyota with an economical route back to the MPV market.
There are three Verso versions - the Shuttle aimed at self-employed workers who need both space and seating for either business or family daily use; the Family aimed at just that with the versatility of space and comfort for the more leisure family users; and the VIP which as its name implies is solely aimed at executive transport for moving top business people around in more luxury comfort, hotels to airports and the like.
There are also three body sizes - Compact, Medium and Long - all sitting on the same platform and all have a choice of only diesel engines, a 1.6-litre 114bhp with a six-speed gearbox, a two-litre 148bhp also with a six-speed gearbox and a two-litre 172bhp with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Naturally the 1.6-litre engine is the most economical returning 54.3 mpg and a CO2 of 137g/km although Toyota expect here the two-litre 148bhp will be the choice for many buyers, particularly for families with the Compact length and as an eight-seater.
It's body is only 4,606mm long but it does pack an awful lot in such a comparatively confined space with those back seats only really suitable for small children, plus this arrangement leaves only 282 litre of luggage space.
But again the big plus point here is the interior flexibility with those seats mounted on rails making it easy for the owner to shuffle the seating around quite reasonably - opt for the medium or long body version then boot space increases to 627 and 977 litres respectively.
Some families might to want to opt for just five seats in the Compact (dropping the rear third row of seats completely) then naturally the luggage space rises to 1,242 litres.
Whichever version buyers choose they will be impressed with the high quality of furnishings and fittings with a well laid out car-like dashboard with nice and clear analogue dials and well positioned stalks while the high seating position for the driver gives excellent all-round vision, all making for a decent cabin with the expected hordes of little storage cubby-holes and cupholders.
The Family versions are well equipped with a seven-inch touch screen with sat nav, Bluetooth and smartphone, all have decent lumbar supporting seats too. All the Verso have the Euro NCAP full five star safety rating making it a really big, safe people carrier.
In terms of driving characteristics this Verso is extremely car-like, its van-derived basis surprisingly well hidden, with in the two-litre at least offering a smooth enough drive and ride, decent road holding for a vehicle of its size and a quite impressive six-speed manual gearbox in my book.
Pricewise this new is by no means cheap but then like every car sector times have moved on since the Previa days of yesteryear and looking at the Verso line-up it remains good value for money when weighing up all the standard equipment on board
The cheapest Family version with the Compact body size and two-litre 148bhp engine comes in at £32,930 with the same engine in the Medium priced at £32,650 while the Shuttles are cheaper and start at £29,395 with the Medium and powered by the 1.6-litre 114bhp, while with the two-litre 148bhp engine on board the price is £31,105.
In terms of sales Toyota here are talking in terms of hundreds rather than thousands like the old Previa because the game as they say has moved on.
The Proace Verso is cheaper than the other major eight-seater MPV in the market, VW's Caravelle, but equally there are slightly cheaper alternatives with lesser standard equipment on board.
With its sister ships from Citroen and Peugeot the Proace Verso is nevertheless a welcome return of an old friend in the MPV sector which will appeal to both private and business buyers.