Given the reputations of high-tech toilets and actual freaking Gundam, should it really be surprising that Japan also gets way cooler minivans than America? Meet the new Toyota Alphard and Vellfire, which you can think of as the Sienna’s far sharper cousins, with helpful and luxurious touches simply too good for Western tastes. Oh, and did I mention they’ll soon be available with PHEV power? Let’s take a quick look at the new Alphard and Vellfire to see just what makes them so awesome.
In Japan, large minivans (how’s that for an oxymoron?) are often considered luxury vehicles meant for ferrying around the wealthy. As such, Toyota’s new flagship vans get a wicked set of optional second-row chairs that look straight out of first class. Huge armrests, powered ottomans, and headrests the size of birthday cakes make the second-row look absolutely wonderful, and upper seatbelt anchors built into the chairs mean you could recline back to take a nap and still be held in place. Nice. Oh, and the seat cushions are mounted to the seat frame using rubber bushings for vibration isolation, so you can really nap in peace.
Speaking of airplane-like accommodations, a full-length overhead console sprouts from the headliner like you’re in a 737 or something. It’s a tidy way of packaging air vents, climate controls, moonroof switches, and overhead compartments into one major assembly, plus the soft lighting it emits feels very posh indeed. Oh, and the side shades are a bit frequent flier, too. Instead of rolling up from the base of the windows, these shades pull down just like blinds in your home. While easier for children to mess with due to easy reach of the releases, these sound far more comfortable for adults to use.
A more minor but still incredibly useful detail is a set of steps concealed in the sills behind the sliding doors. Revealed once the doors are opened, they claim to offer easier ingress and egress for children and the elderly, and come paired with tall hand rails on the interior C-pillars (the B-pillars are actually ahead of the driver). It’s the sort of touch that should come standard on all minivans as it involves no moving parts and seems like a huge quality of life improvement.
Moving up front, almost everything on high-trim Alphards and Vellfires seems to be upholstered, colored, or veneered. The brown interior in particular is such a rich mixture of colors and textures that it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Lexus or a Jaguar. A nice mix of physical controls should ensure intuitive interaction, and the waterfall effect from the air vents to the door cards feels positively inspired. It all makes you wonder if anyone actually needs a Lexus LM.
While Toyota’s light on details at the moment, it has announced plans to launch Vellfires and Alphards you can plug in to the mains. The incoming plug-in hybrid powertrain is actually one of four powertrain options coming to Toyota’s luxury vans. Buyers will also be able to choose from a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 275 horsepower, a 2.5-liter hybrid four-cylinder powertrain that should offer great economy, or a 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower that should move a van around a city just fine.
As for chassis stuff, extra seam sealer, redesigned sills, and a rear v-brace make the new Toyota Alphard 50 percent more rigid than the previous model, while the Vellfire Sports Van steps things up with a special front end brace tying the core support to the forward chassis legs. While not necessarily a prelude to cornering vigor, these changes should let the new double wishbone rear suspension and frequency-selective dampers do their jobs properly.
So far, the new Toyota Alphard and Vellfire seem so great that you might wonder why we don’t get these in America. Casting regulations aside for a second, it likely has something to do with appearances. The Sienna has a pulled-back greenhouse, a flatter hood, and other touches that make it appear a little bit more SUV-like than the unrepentant van-ness of the Alphard and Vellfire. Thanks to swooshy beltlines, monobox silhouettes, and enormous grilles, the Alphard and Vellfire are likely far too weird for U.S. audiences.
That’s really a shame because these vans are loaded with comfort touches and powertrain options that should appeal to American sensibilities. Maybe Toyota can do minivan buyers a solid and offer a plug-in hybrid Sienna, although given the relative scarcity of new units on the ground, I wouldn’t hold my breath. If you happen to fancy a new Toyota Alphard or Vellfire, you best set an alarm for 2048. Seems worth the wait, yeah?
(Photo credits: Toyota)
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