The new Toyota Vellfire is now available as an official import
Surefire Vellfire THE SAME, YET DIFFERENT: The Alphard (above) and Vellfire are full-sized multi-purpose vehicles which look different but otherwise share the same platform and mechanical parts. PHOTO: TOYOTA

So it's official, as in the new Toyota Vellfire has become an official import from Borneo Motors Singapore (BMS). But now that those who have been yearning for the sportier version of the Alphard can get one from the authorised distributor, the Vellfire suddenly doesn't seem so sporty anymore.


Or does that have something to do with the latest Alphard's more dramatic re-style?


The Alphard and Vellfire are full-sized multi-purpose vehicles which look different but otherwise share the same platform and mechanical parts.

In recent years, these Japanese vans have become the quintessential "luxury" MPV, chauffeur-driven for its well-heeled following stretching from Hong Kong and Macau, to Bangkok and Singapore.


The second-generation Alphard, which was offered by BMS here in late 2009, used to have plainer looks, while the parallel-imported Vellfire stood out for its racier body parts and interior.


But with the third-generation models, the opposite seems to have happened.


The Alphard with its bold and elaborate grille could pass for something out of a Transformers movie, while the Vellfire gets a trio of wide chrome bands on its front end. But the head and tail lamps do indicate their respective positioning, with big front clusters and brightly coloured rear lamps for the former, and tiered headlights and clear tail lenses for the latter.


Inside, however, the distinction is clear - BMS has specified a more classic cabin for the Alphard in beige and brown tones, while the Vellfire's dark colours are much sportier.


One thing that is common for both, though, is the noticeable improvements in luxury and refinement.


The all-new Alphard and Vellfire are bigger but lower. Overall length has gone up by 45 mm to 4,915 mm (add another 15 mm for the Vellfire because of its front bumper) with the wheelbase extended by 50 mm to 3,000 mm. But it is shorter by 10 mm at 1,895 mm in order to allow entry into 1.9-metre high car parks.


More importantly, the step height is lowered by 50 mm to allow easier ingress and egress into the spacious rear with its second row of aircraft-like captain's seats with electrically operated ottoman. The front passenger also enjoys this same ottoman feature, which is rather relaxing on long drives.


The more upscale cabin with its leather-lined dashtop and softer leather is also noticeably quieter. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a seven-step continuously variable transmission replaces the 2.4-litre unit with more power (up nine hp to 179 hp) and torque (up 11 Nm to 235 Nm).


When the accelerator is floored, the engine roar of old is gone, banished by a more refined drivetrain and better insulation. Even the hushed turn signal is Lexus-like. The cabin ambience has also benefitted from the new double-wishbone suspension, an upgrade from the old torsion beam which also improves ride comfort and handling.


The suspension is still softly sprung for maximum cushioning, but while the old Alphard had a tendency to wallow in sweeping curves, this new car inspires more confidence. And if you happen to be behind the wheel, you will also notice that the steering is also less over-assisted although not much more accurate.


Still, it handles and performs better than before, in a cabin which looks and feels less plasticky. The cleverly concealed cupholders in the dash and arms are very neat.


Also aesthetically pleasing is the full-colour TFT monitor in the instrument binnacle, with a multi-function display that offers an extensive list of information and settings, including an eye-popping 16-colour palette for the LED ceiling light to choose from.


By raising the luxury and performance standards a little higher, the new Alphard and Vellfire will continue to re-define limousine travel.

CAR INFORMATION

Toyota Vellfire 2.5 Elegance (A)

Price

:$216,888

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve DOHC chain drive with Dual VVT-i

Engine Cap

:

2,494 cc

Horsepower

:

180 bhp / 6,000 rpm

Torque

:

235 Nm / 4,100 rpm

Transmission

:

CVT (A)

Acceleration

:

11.3 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

170 km/h