Shopping for an MPV? Follow this guide

(From left) The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Alphard and Nissan Elgrand have their individual appeal.
(From left) The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Alphard and Nissan Elgrand have their individual appeal. PHOTOS: TAN MENG CHOON
(From left) The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Alphard and Nissan Elgrand have their individual appeal. PHOTOS: TAN MENG CHOON

When big businessmen want to impress (or perhaps intimidate) their counterparts, they drive to meetings in a supersized multi-purpose vehicle (MPV).

These mobile boardrooms show that they mean business in more ways than one. And they are also roomy enough to accommodate an entourage of key associates.

The oldest and arguably most visible of the three giant MPVs gathered here is the Toyota Alphard. Its daunting dimensions ensure that it stands out in any Shenton Way driveway, while its boxy shape promises plenty of meeting room for all the executives onboard.

Looking as imposing as the Alphard is the facelifted Nissan Elgrand, whose massive chromed grille is just the ticket for towkays who love to park similarly ornate statues of tigers, lions or dragons outside their headquarters for good fortune. Apart from cosmetic tweaks, the seven-seater has also been equipped with better amenities.

The newest player in this story is the Honda Odyssey, which has grown larger and, more significantly, adopted powered sliding doors. Honda promises that its popular people mover is as convenient and driver-oriented as ever.

Indeed, the Odyssey has the easiest entry and egress, especially for the less nimble. Its cockpit is not as roomy as its two rivals here, but the car is the easiest to manoeuvre around town, thanks to standard features such as a blind spot monitor and a "bird's-eye view" camera system.

The Alphard's cockpit is the most spacious of the three and offers the best all-round visibility. It is also more practical than the others, thanks to the numerous deep-storage bins and its one-touch powered windows.

But when it comes to "limo" feel, it is the Elgrand that impresses, with details such as contrast stitching on its leather seats. The Nissan is also the only minivan of the trio with an extra pair of mirrors below the left wing mirror that helps the driver park near a curb without scratching the wheels.

However, its somewhat vertically narrow windscreen means equally narrow forward visibility.

Its branded infotainment unit is highly visible and very attractive, though.

But for sheer connectivity, neither the Elgrand nor the Alphard can beat the Odyssey, whose infotainment offers two USB ports and an HDMI point to boot.

The Alphard's infotainment is the most intuitive, but its overall look does not live up to the MPV's premium persona.

The Odyssey boasts air-con controls that are operated via a touch panel, and it is the only system here with handy demisting controls for the side mirrors. Occupants, however, will literally feel the coolest in the Alphard, for its air-conditioning is the most effective.

All three supersized MPVs are designed to allow occupants to stretch out, but the Odyssey surprises - its second-row seats have enough legroom for an NBA player - provided you slide them all the way back after folding away the third-row seats.

Meanwhile, busy businessmen will love the Elgrand's broad captain's chairs and their equally wide headrests. But anyone taller than 1.7m will be unable to stretch out fully.

The most shiok commuting experience, however, is to be found in the Alphard's cabin. It is the only contender here with footrests to complement its built-in ottomans. The Alphard even has overhead mood lighting that is especially nice at night.

The Toyota also has the roomiest third-row seats, able to accommodate passengers up to 1.8m tall. Its only shortcoming is that the occupant in the centre has to be awkwardly "parked" in the gap between the seats.

The Odyssey's third row welcomes kids with gadgets, as it is the only one of the trio with a 12-volt socket. However, adults may dislike the short backrests, whose angles are difficult to adjust.

The most occupant-friendly third-row bench is the Elgrand's, as it has retractable sunshades by the windows and a pull-down armrest in the middle.

Performance-wise, it is the Odyssey that shines. Honda's 2.4-litre engine with 172bhp and 225Nm is the most powerful and economical, and delivers the quickest century sprint time as well. Compared to the Elgrand's continuously variable transmission, the Odyssey's gearbox operates more quietly and provides a more responsive manual override.

Nissan's 2.5-litre engine with 170bhp and 245Nm produces the most torque of the trio, but seems more strained as it has to pull the most weight. Its CVT, which has a six-step override, is not as refined either.

Meanwhile, the Alphard's 2.4-litre engine with 170bhp and 224Nm is the least fuel-efficient, but it is the smoothest and quietest. Its CVT is so creamy that it actually feels like a slick torque-converter automatic.

All told, the Elgrand has great infotainment, the cushiest ride and an exterior that is grander than the Toyota Alphard's. But its comparatively weak air-conditioning and lack of legroom in the second row could make tycoons feel less relaxed.

The Odyssey is the least supersized of these MPVs and has a relatively compact third row, but it makes up for this by having the most flexible interior layout, as well as the nimblest handling. The Odyssey has the lowest sticker price, too, costing (at press time) a few thousand dollars less than the Elgrand and almost $36,000 less than the Alphard.

Although the Alphard lacks the amenities and versatility of the Honda and the cushy ride of the Nissan, it compensates by offering the most luxurious lounging experience for everyone onboard and providing a truly first-class boardroom for the discerning businessman.

If the towkay's "company van" budget is above $200,000, he should choose the Alphard. But if it is under $200,000, he should sign the purchase order for Honda's sumo limo.

The writer is with Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

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