Toyota boxes clever.
If as it seems, Toyota wears the production crown, at least it’s modest and fits snugly. Naturally, there’s the occasional slip, leaving the odd jaunty angle but on the whole their kingdom is based upon more prosaic, unpretentious values, listening to their customer’s needs.
Much of the decadent West (and Japan) demands vehicles adorned with creature comforts and stratified social markers that depending on nameplate can cause snob levels to rise or fall accordingly. Add in design, a language those interested can weave akin to a boxer’s feet. Today’s subject however contains almost none of these qualities. If the Transit van and its ilk are the trade’s workhorse, then Toyota’s Probox is its beast of burden.
Imaginatively named using the combination of the words, Professional and er, box, this most versatile of vehicles has been a Aichi mainstay for practically twenty years. Simple reliable transport, unadorned by trinkets or jewels – besides it’s not technically a car – one can have a Van (ostensibly goods) or Wagon (more seats for passengers) but with very car-like manners.
Built in the Daihatsu Kyoto plant, many of these automotive donkeys remain in Japan plying trades as taxis or compact class delivery vans with windows. Many more are exported to far-flung worldly corners with the same remits but vastly different environments.
Let us deal with the exterior first. Western eyes unaccustomed to the Probox will utter adjectives circling the bland or vapid. Look past these (un) conscious biases and you will find this vehicle owns everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t. Plentiful glass area, a barely rising belt line, bumpers expecting to see action, with smooth, professionally plain body sides and rear. Rectangular headlamps, black grille.
Inside we find a spacious area and, for the driver, the essentials; steering wheel, a form of transmission selector, a singular half moon gauge containing speedometer and idiot lights, ventilation controls and a wee nod to modernity in the form of a digital radio. Plastics used are hard but enduring to withstand likely extremes of temperature and abuse. Even the ignition/ door key consists of nothing more than grooves and a shoulder stop. Instead of basic, try fundamental. Scrub utilitarian for serviceableness.
The above description is for the 2002 launch model as the successor to the Corolla van. The XP50 Probox at 4,195mm long being a soupçon shorter than the identical Succeed van, both based on Toyota’s NBC (New Basic Compact) platform. A wheelbase of 2,550mm and the scales just tipping the tonne offered a not inconsiderable official payload of 400Kgs. Many users would severely test that; what weight a typical cow or a dozen (or more) humans?
The Probox’s power supply amounts to four cylinder petrol engines of 1.3 and 1.5 litres displacement mated to a five speed manual or four speed automatic gearbox. A 1.4 litre diesel was discontinued just three years into production. The 1.5 litre engine could be blessed with four wheel drive and in certain markets, the fuel was CNG.
Consider for a moment that popular choice of engine – the 1NR-FE (NSP 160V). Those thirteen hundred cubic centimetres developed around 95bhp and 90 foot pounds (depending on fuel quality), red lined at 6,200 rpm. Once entering the wilds, eschewing service bays for dusty roadside repairs, and thrashed mercilessly whilst burdened with precious cargo, that load-bearing mule delivered the goods, time and again.
Therein lies Probox’s strength; mechanically robust, limited electronics, easily repairable with an excellent spares supply, no matter how remote. From Bolivia to Peru, Kenya to Myanmar, local conditions dictate the frequency and seriousness of repairs. Entire suspension systems may need complete replacement within three years. Engines with poor servicing maintain progress, parts prices are cheap.
The rear suspension consists of rearward angled shock absorbers with specially developed 4-links with barrel shaped, non-linear coil springs. From 2005, all models featured a manual headlight levelling system. Some models had the drivers window only electrically operated, the rest requiring human efforts.
And after twelve years unalterable, the XP50 became the XP160 in 2014, garnering a full re-design. Full represented a reshaped bonnet, rear lights, front slatted grille and headlights – well how do you alter a box on wheels? Over time, such extravagances as cup holders, mats, trays and stowaway cubbies have appeared; ideal for paperwork, not hay bales.
Trim levels are limited to GL, DX or DX-J but since your author’s Japanese is as fluent as his mule whispering, it’s difficult to establish the differences. Exterior hues can be had in white, silver, black, champagne or navy blue. The 2014 upgrades also went as far as offering metallic magenta or brown, uprated brakes with ABS and air bags for the front. Interiors glide from charcoal to black. Driver and passenger comfort remain relegated to the principle of a seat being better than none – a rear bench seat is just that – harsh.
For a vehicle resembling a loaf of bread but offering far better handling than your average four-legged donkey, Probox has become something of a cool, cult car. The scope such a blank canvas presents seemingly irresistible to the customisation brigade, intent on altering almost everything but the shape.
Limited only by resources and imagination, the inner donkey is freed by its worldwide aficionados (who have Facebook pages devoted to such whims) transforming Probox from coriander courier to city centre cruiser. Round-the-clock taxi to weekend washes and waxing. A far cry from their unequivocally humble origins.
Demand for this box on wheels remains high and why fix something that ain’t broken? Fifteen year old versions containing precious little of their original pieces still change hands, for both seller and purchaser understand the logic of it’ll work. Newer, more colourful versions will filter down the chain eventually. The Probox will never be a contender in beauty pageants but that’s missing the point entirely.
This is all the car you could ever need, and provides the rationale for the Probox’s antediluvian stance. Just not seen this side of the divide.