December 14, 2016 @ 07:08 PM

Review: Toyota Alphard - Classic luxury personified

For when you’ve missed your flight for that hostile corporate takeover, the Alphard brings Business Class to your doorstep. You’ll just have to get your own in-flight dining though

While the Germans and English continue to champion the SUV as the luxury people mover body style of choice, the Japanese have shrewdly elected the MPV to deliver something that the SUVs will never be able to catch up on; space, and gobs of it.

Luxury can be defined in many manners but what’s an opulent interior if you can’t stretch out your Berluti-clad feet all the way or recline the seat until you’re practically lying down? Space is what it’s all about and the Japanese know this all too well.

Hence the popularity of grey-market luxury Japanese MPVs, the majority of which carry a Toyota badge. The Estima, Vellfire and Aphard; and to a certain extent, the smaller Wish, are the darlings of grey importers and Malaysians can’t seem to get enough of them for their practicality, roominess and luxury.

The lack of manufacturer support however was a glaringly obvious one for a segment that seemed glaringly obvious ripe for the picking. Nonetheless, the fact that the previous Alphard and Vellfire weren’t designed with export in mind meant that UMW Toyota couldn’t capitalise on its success just yet.

Enter the current generation of Alphard and Vellfire that were acclimatised to the requirements of export markets and UMW Toyota could now take on the parallel importers.

Both the Vellfire and Alphard are essentially the same model, down to the body panels and interior even. Slight cosmetic variations on the exterior are the only distinction between them while the interiors are split by colour schemes.

The Alphard is positioned as the flagship luxury model while the Vellfire sits a rung below as the sportier option. As the last name in luxury at Toyota in Malaysia, the Alphard has a decidedly more pared down front end with a colossal trapezoidal chromed grille taking precedence.

At the rear, the LED taillights possess a pronounced kink upwards towards the end as it wraps around the corner with a thick chrome garnish sitting in the centre.

Rich in detail it might not be, but this mammoth of the road resembles a freight train in your rear view mirror as it shoots up on you oozing presence out of every orifice in that grille.

With a list price of RM419,000 and an upgrade to the Executive Lounge variant leaving your bank account an additional RM100,000 lighter, the Alphard has to undoubtedly earn its keep.

The cabin, or perhaps cockpit would be more befitting, is where the magic is.

A dual-tone black and beige interior scheme sets the tone for pure luxury the only way the Japanese know how; woodgrain inserts.

A staple of Japanese luxury for generations, the Alphard’s interior is generously littered with woodgrain trim complemented by matte chrome and black piano wood inserts for variety. It’s every bit grandeur and special yet still manages to feel homely and underwhelming.

The middle row seats justify the Business Class designation. A pair of captain chairs with powered reclining modes and Ottoman function sets the tone for a premium flying experience on wheels.

Dual powered sunroofs means the lucky occupant of the second row gets access to fresh air as well and a slip-down screen provides visual entertainment. Setting the luxurious ambience, according to Toyota at least, is LED roof illumination that bathes the entire roof in light with a choice of 16 colours and variable brightness.

As a seven seater, the third row is where the final three will park their asses and each get their own three-point seatbelt. However, the bench can be detached into two separate seats by folding down the centre section that forms armrests. For additional storage space, the third row can be split folded up.

Powered sliding doors are a given and the spacing is near-perfect for access to the third row seats. Sure it’s a little of a squeeze but if you’re sitting in the third row, chances are you’re not in a position to gripe about it anyways.

A walkthrough cabin is something that none of the luxury SUVs bring to the table and the convenience is something that you simply can’t put a price on, especially for the wealthy.

With a cabin that resembles the Business Class section of a flight, the ride should ideally match the riding on a carpet of air feeling as well.

A switch to the markedly more sophisticated and pliant double-wishbone setup over the torsion beam at the rear is just one of the many refining features of the new platform.

Soft and supple, the suspension setup is every bit a magic carpet ride and cossets the occupants from the poor road surfaces here, something that was part of the acclimatisation process to officially export the Alphard into overseas markets.

Being overly plaint however has resulted in a ride that amplifies the excessive bodyroll even at the most sedate of paces. It will swallow a million miles of highway at a hasty rate; effortlessly cruising around the 160kph mark, but a slight turn of the steering makes an excellent alert of its towering centre of gravity.

Nonetheless, the Alphard was designed with urban use in mind and is hardly a handful to manoeuvre. A tight turning circle and light steering makes it a breeze to navigate in the city and easier yet when making those out of town business trips.

Powering this behemoth is a 3.5-litre V6 with 267bhp and 340Nm of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. The combination is the stuff silky smooth sweet dreams are concocted from. Shifts are unperceivable in any condition and could have fooled us into thinking it was a CVT. Torque kicks in early enough and pulls effortlessly all the way up to get the MPV moving at a pretty quick pace. Refinement is the key word here and the engineers certainly got that memo when it came to getting the powertrain spot on.

In the luxury segment, choices are aplenty and acquiring a German sedan is certainly a cheaper proposition. On the equipment count, it hardly causes the continental contenders to break into a sweat either with their barrage of doohickeys and gizmos.

Nonetheless, for that sterling sense of opulence and luxury with acres of real estate to move about and stretch out, the Alphard is unchallenged. The Germans might still have the sophistication and badge value but as the property market has distinctively made clear today, real estate is a precious commodity and none else in the luxury segment can even hold a candle to the Alphard’s vast cabin and straightforward splendour.

Toyota Alphard
Engine: 3456cc, DOHC 24V, V6, variable valve timing, 267bhp @ 6200rpm, 340Nm @ 4700rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4915mm, 1850mm, 1895mm
Weight: 2070kg
Price: RM419,000

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