Inside this enormous box is a luxury car aimed at a fairly specific type of customer…
SINGAPORE — The Toyota Alphard might look like an enormous box with wheels outside, but peel a door open and you step into a world of luxury. At least, luxury as might be interpreted by someone who lives in a crowded Asian city.
That means it’s not going to be everyone’s packet of teh, but then this Toyota is strictly aimed at the Alphard male…
Alphard male? Who, or what, is that?
Someone sort of like an alpha male, if you ask us. Knows what he wants, likely to have elbowed (or worked) his way into a position of power, feels comfortable taking charge… except when it comes to driving.
The Alphard is best experienced from the back, specifically in Row Two of its sizeable cabin. There’s an enormous amount of room inside, so the middle row chairs are as plush as Osim’s finest efforts. Let someone else do the driving, and you’re in the prime seats.
Is that code for “this thing is terrible to drive”?
Actually, it isn’t. For a huge, van-like thing, the Alphard is actually fairly car-like in its behaviour. You sit up high so you can spot gaps in the traffic flow good and early, and the controls operate with typical Toyota user-friendliness. If you have a high blood pressure problem, driving an Alphard might help.
How’s the performance?
There’s a 2.5-litre engine under the bonnet, shared with the latest Camry. It’s one of those underrated engines by Toyota that car magazines love to attack for having no character, but in this application is works well.
The acceleration isn’t sprightly, but an Alphard feels gentle and cosseting when gathering speed. The transmission is smooth but responsive, and the engine doesn’t vibrate alarmingly even when you floor the throttle pedal. It even has a rorty voice. Most times, though, you don’t hear much of the engine at all.
Surely it doesn’t handle?
The best way to describe an Alphard’s character on the move is to call it a gentle giant. The steering is low-geared, and you’re never tempted to seek a twisty road to see what the Toyota can do there.
But if you’re worried about its size, then don’t. The mirrors are enormous and work well, and there’s a reverse camera to aid parking. It’s every bit as maneuverable as, say, an Audi A6 — at 11.6m, the Toyota has the tighter turning circle of the two.
But does its height mean it can’t enter some multi-storey carparks?
Well, the Alphard is 1,895mm in height. HDB carparks, we hear, have a limit of 1,900mm. So things might be tight but the Toyota should make it through most carparks. There’ll be one or two that won’t accommodate it, inevitably.
But haven’t you been paying attention? An Alphard male ought to have a chauffeur. He’ll just wait somewhere for you if the carpark’s a no-go.
Fine, so what is life like in the back?
Have we mentioned it’s spacious? All the chairs can recline and slide back-and-forth, and there’s just acres of room because the wheelbase is a solid 3m long. The upholstery is pretty soft and plush, and six people would fit in the car perfectly. Seven would make Row Three feel tight.
I thought it was a seven-seater?
It is, but it’s really optimised for half a dozen occupants. The seatbelt arrangement in the last row is a bit awkward, for one thing. In fact, the Alphard feels more limo-like than MPV (or Multi Purpose Vehicle). The rearmost seats fold up instead of down, and there’s no way to create a flat floor like you can with some MPVS.
Mind you, Toyota says that even if every seat is occupied, you can still shove six golf bags into the boot. And there’s a multitude of storage bins around the cabin, and even pockets here and there that look like they were specifically designed to take a mobile phone.
Sweet! But there’s more to comfort than space.
True, which is why there’s been plenty of emphasis on other things. The pricier Alphard Elegance we tested has a huge glass sunroof in the back, for starters, and doors slide electrically so clambering aboard is pretty much effortless.
The Ottoman chairs in the middle row recline and extend their footrests via two switches, too (though you still have to slide them with muscle power). All told, you get plenty of worthwhile kit for the $8,000 Elegance pack.
Sounds lazy. I mean luxurious!
There’s more. There’s a rear air-con system with its own blower and temp controls, and it’s as powerful as the one in front (which is very).
And there’s a drop-down screen for playing movies or what-have-you.
Importantly, the quiet drivetrain is paired with suspension that soaks up bumps well.
Any flaws, even for the people in the back?
Well, as smooth as the ride is, the body lacks rigidity, which sometimes manifests as vibrations in the middle row seats. And the entertainment system produces sound that’s a little muddy and unfocused.
Those are things you tend to notice in a luxury car, which is what the Alphard is even though it’s shaped more like a very small bus. But overall, if you travel Up North often, there’s no better way.
What else would you wish for?
Some fold up tables in the back would have been nice. The Alphard has huge mobile office potential.
The looks aren’t going to appeal to everyone, either. It’s hard enough to make a giant box look sleek, so the approach here is to make it look grand. That’s why there’s enough chrome on the grille to cover Kim Kardashian’s buttocks. Both of them, too. But some of the details, like the lamps and the B-pillar shape, actually give the eye a reason to linger. And if you really can’t abide the Alphard’s looks, well there’s always the Vellfire model, which is the exact same thing but with a different face.
Ahem, on to the most important question, then: are there curtains in the back?
Er, no, but there are pull-up window blinds. Why do you want to know?
Well it seems big enough to be a bedroom on wheels. Isn’t that something an Alphard male looks for?
Actually, I think you’re thinking of an Alphard Romeo…
NEED TO KNOW Toyota Alphard Elegance
Engine 2,494cc, 16V, in-line 4
Power 179hp at 6000rpm
Torque 235Nm at 4100rpm
Gearbox Continuously Variable Transmission
Top Speed 170km/h
0-100kmh 11.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.6L/100km
Price $229,888 with COE
Also consider: Toyota Vellfire, Volkswagen Sharan
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