TOYOTA ALPHARD/ VELLFIRE
Price: $222,888 with COE
Engine: 2,494cc 16-valve inline-4
Transmission: Continuously variable transmission with manual override
Power: 179bhp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 235Nm at 4,100rpm
0-100kmh: 11.3 seconds
Top speed: 170kmh
Fuel consumption: 8.6 litres/100km
Agent: Borneo Motors
The Toyota Alphard/Vellfire may be built like a minibus or goods van, but the latest models pamper you better than a Mercedes-Benz S-class. And in some ways, they perform almost as competently as one.
The main proposition of the two enormous MPVs - identical but for minor cosmetic differences - is space. Lots of space. With a 3,000mm wheelbase and an overall height of 1,895mm, they offer as much usable cabin space as a Rolls- Royce Phantom.
A young child can actually walk upright along its aisle and even with the third row of seats in use, golfers can pack six golf bags (upright) into its boot area.
Recessed space will accommodate half a dozen more items of hand luggage.
The best seats in this seven-seater are the pair in the middle row. They are built like a barber's chair - with pop-up thigh/footrests, headrests with side bolsters and with backrests that recline almost all the way. In these, Kuala Lumpur is just a nap away.
I prefer the interior of the Alphard, which seems classier and a touch more luxurious. In both, you will find ambient lighting provided by a row of LEDs lining the parameter of the ceiling. They give the cabin a touch of class and you can choose from 16 colours.
Tri-zone climate control ensures everyone onboard is cool and comfy in a jiffy.
Getting in and out of them is effortless because they are so large and have barn-size sliding doors on both sides and a low floor.
You would think such a squarish and slab-sided vehicle with a cavernous cabin might be a little noisy on account of wind turbulence.
But the insulation is limousine-like and you pick up nothing but the whisper of an engine note - even at close to 100kmh and with the hi-fi turned off.
In such a quiet environment, the tiniest rattle or squeak is audible. But you won't find any, even when the car is going over rutty roads.
The only improvement Toyota could have made is to line the cup holders so that an empty Coke can has no chance of making a pip when it makes contact with the hard plastic walls.
Indeed, travelling in the Alphard/Vellfire is like flying in Business Class. It is little wonder then that these MPVs are the choice of corporate bigwigs and movie stars in Hong Kong.
In so many ways, they are superior to traditional limos. And being MPVs, they tend to be less ostentatious and noticeable, providing the privacy that VIPs crave for.
The most amazing thing about the latest model is that the driver does not get a raw deal either.
Both cars are amazingly driveable. You do not feel their bulk nor their height. Although they weigh just over 2 tonnes, their 2.5-litre normally aspirated engines feel quite adequate.
Mated with a continuously variable transmission that is smooth and relatively silent, the engine has no trouble getting the cars up to trot quickly.
Even at 5,000rpm, the drivetrain is stoic and unintrusive. In case you are wondering, there is no need to rev the engine that hard at all. But when going down a gentle slope, the cruise control attempts to maintain speed by shifting the transmission. Weird.
Despite its high centre of gravity, the Alphard/Vellfire leans readily into a corner. Body movements are also surprisingly well controlled. Hats off to the engineers because making such a vehicle so well-behaved is equivalent to making a family sedan handle like a Porsche 911 and ride like a BMW 7-series.
The only complaint I have with the cars has to do with door locks. To open the passenger doors, you not only have to put the transmission in Park, you also have to click the Door Unlock button.
One would think putting the car in Park would suffice for safety.
The motorised tailgate is also a tad strange. You can open it only via the remote control (which has a separate lock for the tailgate button) or a button on the dash. If you attempt to open it manually, the servos are inactive and you have to lift it with arm muscles. Toyota says this is a safety feature because the tailgate is so big.
These little quirks aside, the two MPVs are luxe barges that deserve a Lexus badge. They may not be anything to look at but, boy, they are fantastic to be in - whether you are behind the wheel or putting up your feet behind.