Home » Toyota’s Japanese Vans Are So Much Cooler Than Our Siennas

Toyota’s Japanese Vans Are So Much Cooler Than Our Siennas

Toyota Alphard Vellfire Topshot
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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.

Toyota Alphard Vellfire Interior 2

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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.

Toyota Alphard Vellfire Overhead Console

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.

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Toyota Alphard Step

 

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.

Toyota Vellfire Interior 1

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.

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Toyota Alphard 1

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.

Toyota Vellfire 1

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.

Toyota Alphard 2

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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.

Toyota Vellfire 2

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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Uncle D
Uncle D
1 year ago

Just got back from a 2.5 week trip to Japan and I was surprised at how large minivans had gotten since the last time I was there (17 years ago). The Toyotas in this article are actually less boxy than most of the vans I saw which were also adorned with huge, spare-no-chrome grills.

Boxy vans make sense when you want to maximize interior space and keep the vehicle small enough to make it around blind corners where bubble mirrors are required to see around the buildings that stop where the road starts. Power poles are often in the street because frontage does not exist which makes for interesting driving on roads that are technically two way, but have many spots that will only let one vehicle pass.

In the US, we get one minivan choice per manufacturer. In Japan, each brand has 3 or more to choose from. Japan is the ultimate consumer country with a cornucopia of choices for nearly everything. I have a hard time understanding how any manufacturers make any money so so many unique variant of their products on offer in such a small market.

The variety goes for all other types of vehicles, as well. Saw so many cool wagons that we’ll never get…

Huja Shaw
Huja Shaw
1 year ago

When I lived in Hong Kong, the Alphard was the family car to get if you could afford it. Straight up posh ride.

Steve Lee
Steve Lee
1 year ago

Saw an Alphard in Vancouver and was so excited I forgot to take a picture of it.

FullMetalJet
FullMetalJet
1 year ago

now *that* is a swagger wagon!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 year ago

Yes please!

Frederick Tanujaya
Frederick Tanujaya
1 year ago

I have driven quite a few of them, including the LM350, both 7 and 4 seaters, an E-Four Alphard, a Executive Lounge Alphard with the V6, and a regular Vellfire! These things drive nice! Such comfy ride and quiteness, but once you throw it into the corners, hang tight!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

Staring at the side view trying to grok this thing, the glass came into focus looking like a vacuum attachment. Now all I can see in side view is a Personal Pleasure Appliance.

I like weird stuff and rather wish this was coming here so I could find out if it ever normalized itself to me. Plus, the vitriol spewed over that backwards kink would have been highly entertaining

Flashman
Flashman
1 year ago

I’m surprised nobody is talking about the Hyundai Staria? I’ve seen them all over Chile and South Africa and they are sensational

Brammachu
Brammachu
1 year ago
Reply to  Flashman

Ive seen them in Germany aswell, they look nice for a Van

Last edited 1 year ago by Brammachu
Rafael
Rafael
1 year ago
Reply to  Flashman

I saw a few where I live, and was surprised to see the so soon after reading about the here (or maybe at the other place). Gorgeous vans btw, much nicer to look at than those 🙂

Jamie Peterson
Jamie Peterson
1 year ago

These are really popular in New Zealand. I just did a search in the NZTA stats, and there are nearly 9000 of them registered here, which is pretty solid for a country of 5 million.

They really don’t look any better in person though. They often have tinted windows for privacy, but the styling makes everyone avert their eyes anyway.

Rafael
Rafael
1 year ago

They have wonderful interiors, but the moment you step outside, don’t look back. They are ugly as sin!

Mike
Mike
1 year ago
Reply to  Rafael

At EVERY angle! Jaw-droppingly ugly.

LarsVargas
LarsVargas
1 year ago
Reply to  Rafael

Toyota apparently still pays many of their designers by the unnecessary swoop, odd Z-line, protuberance, and crease. I’m guessing big grilles enable a tiered bonus when covering more than 75% of the frontal area. They nailed that, too. The team on this thing must all be millionaires.

But man are those interiors nice .

Chris D
Chris D
1 year ago
Reply to  Rafael

The “pedestrian safety” issue has been dealt with by making the grille into a cheese shredder. After the collision, there would be no one left to sue the driver.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
1 year ago

I rode in one of these when I visited India for work. We stayed at a very high end hotel and the hotel taxi pickup was one of these. It was delightful, I was given a hot towel upon getting in and some ice cold water to drink. It was a very comfortable ride. If it hadn’t been 1:00AM I would have spent more time checking it out on the 45 minute ride.

Last edited 1 year ago by pizzaman09
Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
1 year ago

Give us a plug-in sienna!!!!!

Aaron Vienot
Aaron Vienot
1 year ago

Styling by Norelco.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
1 year ago

I’m a big weird Japanese car fan and a big van fan but unfortunately I think there just isn’t a market for these here. If you tell someone to picture a luxury vehicle in their head, they’re going to picture a big sedan or a big SUV. Minivans are just seen as the uncool, out of date, kids hauler and not something executives get driven around in.

We even kind of already have an equivalent here with those companies that are still doing conversion vans but they sell to a very niche crowd and I don’t think there’s all that many people who are dieing to join the luxury van life but wouldn’t be willing to buy one of the already available conversion van options.

Harmon20
Harmon20
1 year ago
Reply to  S13 Sedan

This is exactly why there’s not a market in the US for this, in pickup truck land where a King Ranch F-150 whose bed will never haul anything more strenuous than a cooler full of beer is considered the height of luxury. Minivans are like nasty cough medicine, something you get only because you absolutely have to and that you care absolutely nothing about. In fact, it’s better that you not care about the minivan because you and the kids fully intend to abuse and trash it. “Luxury minivan” is an oxymoron impossible to grok by the typical American vehicle buyer. And that’s a shame.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

It’s nice to see a roof line that doesn’t slope two feet down and eat up rear cargo space.
(Aerodynamics, I get it but I don’t care. I’m not buying a van to win the wind tunnel Olympics.)

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
1 year ago

This is why the Kia Soul was good – the trunk was tiny, but with the rear seat folded down you could fit insanely large big boxy stuff back there, and the roofline didn’t interfere at all.

LarsVargas
LarsVargas
1 year ago

Congratulations, you found the only redeeming quality of the exterior style on this otherwise hideous bit of kit. I’m firmly in “Team Long, Flat Roof”.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
1 year ago

I want to like them, but the styling is just so… Toyota. The gaping maw, the weird kink on the belt line… It’s so close to a cab-over box, but then it’s got this chin that just juts out for no reason… I was absolutely thinking “yeah! bring that here!”, and then I saw the profile photo… No thanks.

Catdilf69
Catdilf69
1 year ago

I first rode in one of these on my inaugural trip to Singapore about a decade ago. The hotel offered me a minivan as transport, and I was a little disappointed. Of course…I had no idea what I was in store for. The Alphard was by far the most comfortable black car I’d ever taken. I was used to taking Suburbans and Escalades back stateside, and the way these vans smoothed out the bumps in the road was unlike anything I’d experienced back here.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
1 year ago
Reply to  Catdilf69

Same! I was in Singapore about a decade ago and these were all over the place. I was a bit confused by them at first, but then started to fall in love with the things. They made awesome taxis there, and would be awesome stateside…if Americans would ever consider buying them, which they won’t.

SK2807
SK2807
1 year ago

As the owner of a Nissan Elgrand Highway Star Autech I can confirm they are cool if you need a van…..until you need to find parts for it and do any sort of mechanical work to it.

Turns out that shoving a VQ35 under the dashboard doesn’t allow for room to do anything. It also drinks petrol for fun because it’s a two tonne brick.

Still cool though.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

Cooler? No! I mean minivans have zero cool factor but for looks give ne a boxy Volvo minivan, they design great boxes. Japanese have weird design tendencies. Very few designs for the home market will work in the USA, and only the weird loving few like the design and even fewer would buy them. Also they are mini minivans.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
1 year ago

I am somewhat surprised there isn’t a market for these in the livery vehicle sector considering celebrities nowadays get carted around in VIP Sprinter vans. I guess that’s a pretty small market, but I would think these would fill an unoccupied niche since they’re not minibus sized. They’d probably have to bring the Lexus version since Americans are snobs and would hate the idea of a ‘$60k+ Toyota minivan!!1!!1!’

Last edited 1 year ago by Alexander Moore
Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 year ago

We need those vans over here 😀

Even Korea and China get cooler minivans than we have. The Hyundai Staria and Buick GL8. In particular, the GL8 Avenir is really nice inside.

Hot Stuff
Hot Stuff
1 year ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

I haven’t been in a Staria, but it’s predecessor the Starex was a penalty box. The current generation Kia Carnival is pretty nice though.

OnlyFlans
OnlyFlans
1 year ago

I can’t shake the feeling that, from the side profile, it’s what the Nissan Quest would look like today had it never gone out of production. I think it’s the boxy shape, crease along the side (albeit inverted), and floating roof that does it for me.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
1 year ago
Reply to  OnlyFlans

Yeah, the Quest (particularly the last version that we got) was possibly the most JDM-looking vehicle that was ever sold here.

Man, do I envy the minivan options that are available in almost every other country.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
1 year ago
Reply to  OnlyFlans

That’s because the outgoing Quest was a federalized Elgrand, the Alphard/Vellfire’s primary competitor on the JDM. It seems Nissan might be ceding the segment, though. There hasn’t been a new Elgrand in 13 years.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/80/2013_Nissan_Elgrand_3.5_Highway_Star_E52_%2820220726%29.jpg

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