What Car? says...
The phrase “Keep it simple, stupid” is thought to have been first used by American spy planes engineer Kelly Johnson – but we reckon it's equally applicable to this Toyota Proace Matino campervan.
You see, for decades, buying a camper has been a daunting task for those new to the world of lifestyle vans because the whole process of converting a regular van then bringing it to market usually involves three companies – the van manufacturer, the converter and the dealer. So what happens if a problem arises? Who do you turn to?
Thankfully, in recent years, an increasing number of vehicle manufacturers – including Toyota – have decided to take on the responsibility of warrantying and supporting these vehicles in-house. That makes life much simpler for buyers, who can go straight back to the car maker if their camper goes wrong.
Not surprisingly, the approach has proved massively popular with first-time campervan buyers. For proof, look at the success of the Ford Nugget, Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo and Volkswagen California. It’s little wonder, then, that Toyota wants to get in on the action with its Proace Matino.
The Matino Campervan Wellhouse Leisure Conversion – to give its full (anything but simple) name – is based on the Toyota Proace Verso MPV, and comes with a 2.0-litre diesel engine that offers a choice of two power outputs.
The least powerful engine comes with a manual gearbox, while the range-topper gets an eight-speed automatic. If you like to go camping on challenging terrain, note that the Matino isn't available with four-wheel drive – you'll need one of the rival campervans if you're dead set on having that.
The conversion is carried out by specialists Wellhouse and is available through selected Toyota dealers with a full manufacturer’s warranty. Just one ‘trim’ is available, but that's no bad thing because it includes everything you need for a good few days away, including a double bed and a kitchen.
Over the next few pages of this review, we'll take you through the Proace Matino’s capabilities. We'll tell you what the performance is like as you drive to your favoured camping spot, what it’s like once you’ve set it up, what it’ll cost to run and more.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Toyota Proace Matino campervan's performance depends on which version of the 2.0-litre diesel engine you've picked. Opening the range is the 120bhp version, which comes with a six-speed manual gearbox that has a long but accurate shift action. Toyota doesn’t provide a 0-62mph time, but let’s just say you’ll be changing down from sixth to fifth to get up steep hills on faster stretches of road.
That’s why we recommend stepping up to the 180bhp version. For a relatively small extra outlay, you get access to a considerably gruntier machine with a slick-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The official 0-62mph time is 8.5sec, so it’s just as quick as the Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo 300d (8.6sec) and makes the range-topping Ford Transit Nugget feel a little sluggish. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to risk your crockery by going everywhere flat out, but at least you'll have enough performance to avoid holding up car drivers.
That said, on twisty roads, it's all too clear that the Proace Matino is a van underneath. The steering is quite slow and there’s a lot of body roll if you corner with even moderate enthusiasm.
There's less grip than you’ll find in both the Volkswagen California and Marco Polo, and the front end gently washes wide if you’re going too quickly. If you try to carve through an S bend at pace, it feels downright ponderous – at least compared with a regular car or MPV.
But let’s face it, unless you’re always running late for your ferry, handling is low down on your list of priorities when it comes to buying a campervan. Of far greater importance is how comfortable it is on a long journey, and that's where the Proace Matino claws back some ground.
For example, it's noticeably softer when you're ambling along than the California and Nugget, and it waft overs undulating roads in a way that suits the relaxed nature of the campervan driving experience. Larger abrasions such as expansion joints and potholes occasionally generate a bit of a thump and thud, but it’s never uncomfortable.
Refinement is good whichever version you choose, with engine noise fading away at a cruise. Our only real gripe is that the pop-up rooftop generates quite a bit of wind noise above 60mph – a problem that also afflicts the California and the Nugget. If you want the quietest campervan, we recommend having a look at the Marco Polo.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The first thing you notice when you get behind the wheel of the Toyota Proace Matino is just how high up you sit. Even with the height-adjustable seat in its lowest position, you tower over SUVs and have a commanding view of the road. The elevated driving position, combined with the relatively thin pillars, gives you great visibility at junctions.
When it comes to parking, the Proace Matino is more of a challenge. The blunt shape of its nose means that you’re never quite sure where the front bumper is, while visibility out of the back window is partly blocked by a rear seat backrest that is too tall. You get front and rear parking sensors as standard, which helps, but a rear-view camera is a costly option.
We were impressed with the seats because they remain comfortable after a few hours behind the wheel, and can be rotated to face the living area when you're not driving. The process of spinning the chairs 180 degrees is a bit of a faff at first (as it is in rival campervans), but it should be easier when you get the hang of turning them round without hitting other interior furnishings.
Talking of interior furnishings, the dashboard of the Proace Matino feels pretty utilitarian. A smattering of chrome trim pieces and a leather steering wheel help to lift the interior and make it feel plusher than a the Ford Transit Nugget but it lacks the car-based controls and soft-touch plastics that you’ll find in the Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo and Volkswagen California.
All versions get a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, a DAB radio, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, and a USB socket. It’s a fairly easy system to navigate but some of the icons are small and it can be a bit sluggish to respond to commands. A California in Coast or Ocean trim has a touchscreen that is just as easy to use, but benefits from a higher definition screen and faster response times.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Up front in the Toyota Proace Matino, you get two massive door pockets, two gloveboxes, a cubby on the top of the dash and a handy shelf by the USB port that’s the perfect size for a smartphone. In other words, there are loads of places to put your camping bits and bobs.
Like the driver’s seat, the front passenger seat can be rotated 180 degrees to face the living area. It's not the slickest process and requires you to disengage the handbrake and put the seatback in an upright position (otherwise it catches on the dashboard). The front chairs in the Ford Transit Nugget and Mercedes Marco Polo are tricky to turn too, but at least they don’t have handbrakes that get in the way.
More positively, when both front seats have been swivelled around you’ll find that the living area is spacious. Four adults can sit quite comfortably in the four-seater lounge and there are plenty of cupboards and cubby holes dotted around for food and essentials. Only a couple of the cupboards have been designed for a specific task (the cubby on the rear of the cooking cabinet, for example, has been designed to hold your cooking utensils snugly) so it's up to you to decide how best to organise your living quarters.
When it comes to the business of sleeping, the two-seater rear bench, which slides back and forth on runners, can be folded flat to become a double bed. It's all done manually, unlike in the Marco Polo where it reclines electrically, and we found the whole process relatively straightforward. You can even slide the bed towards the open rear tailgate so you can watch the sunrise while snuggled under your duvet.
You get a second (optional) bed by raising the roof. Unlike in the California and Marco Polo, it's done manually not electronically, but in reality, it doesn’t take too much effort. As long as the side door is open, all you have to do is unfasten a couple of latches and give the roof a little push upwards – a pair of gas struts do the hard lifting.
To get into the top bed, you clip a ladder to the raised roof and clamber up. If you have limited mobility, you’ll want to stay on the ground floor.
The only real disappointment is the size of the beds. The lower bed is narrower than the units in the California, Marco Polo and Nugget, so it can be a little cosy when sharing with someone, while the top bed is quite short for those over six feet tall. We’d recommend seeing a Matino in the metal and trying out the beds for yourself before committing to a purchase. If you’re planning to use it as a two-person camper, you shouldn’t have a problem, but if want to use it for a four-person family holiday, it could be a squeeze.
When cooking, we’d advise raising the roof just to give yourself a little more head room. You get a full kitchen with twin gas hobs, a sink with fresh and waste water tanks, a fridge and an additional leisure battery for extended stays away (this can be charged using an external 230v electric socket or the 100W solar panel on the roof).
There is also a toilet cassette that's stored within one of the largest cupboards, but it takes up quite a bit of space, so unless you’re planning to camp somewhere without facilities, we’d be tempted to leave it at home.
In terms of boot space, once you’ve pushed the rear bench forwards on its runners, there's lots of room for your bags, camping equipment and other kit.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
This is where the Toyota Proace Matino scores some serious points over its rivals. It's not only cheaper than the base versions of the Ford Transit Nugget, Mercedes Marco Polo and Volkswagen California but it's also better equipped. The base California doesn’t even get a kitchen.
It's worth noting, though, that the California has impressively slow depreciation and the Marco Polo is almost as good in this respect. In theory, if you buy one of the German campervans you should get back a significant proportion of what you’ve put in when you come to sell it on. The Proace and the Nugget are likely to lose value quite a bit quicker.
CO2 emissions are on the high side compared with a typical 2.0-litre diesel car – this is basically a big, heavy van, after all – with emissions comparable with the Nugget and California. Fuel economy shouldn’t be too ruinous – we saw 33mpg on our test route, which is not quite as frugal as the California TDI 150, but it’s better than we saw from the Marco Polo and Nugget.
Standard equipment includes 17in alloy wheels, cruise control, a head-up display, tinted windows, keyless entry and the 100W solar panel on the roof, which can – weather permitting – keep the leisure battery topped up to give you the freedom to camp off grid. That’s on top of the visibility aids, infotainment system and camping kit.
In terms of options, we would recommend adding the optional rearview camera and the reasonably priced upper roof bed.
The Toyota Proace Verso that the Proace Matino is based on received a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating in 2015. It was found to provide better protection from injuries in the event of a crash than the Ford Transit (the basis of the Nugget) and the Volkswagen Transporter van (the basis of the California), but not the V-Class. The Proace Matino also gets automatic emergency braking (AEB) and blind-spot monitoring as standard.
We don’t have any reliability data on the Proace Matino itself, but Toyota came in fifth place out of 30 manufacturers in our 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey. That’s well above Volkswagen in 20th, Mercedes in 22nd and Ford in 27th. The Proace Matino also comes with a manufacturer warranty that lasts 10 years if you service your vehicle annually at a Toyota dealership.
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