The new Toyota Vellfire will finally be available here as an official import
Van heaven CATCHING THE EYE: The Vellfire is a full-sized multi-purpose van and it shares the same mechanicals as the Alphard, but with sportier aesthetics

TYCOONS and tai-tais alike rejoice - the Toyota Vellfire will soon be available from authorised distributor Borneo Motors Singapore (BMS).

The Vellfire is a full-sized multi-purpose van and it shares the same mechanicals as the Alphard, but with sportier aesthetics. BMS already offers the Alphard but because it looks plain compared with the Vellfire, the latter's sales have been stronger here.

These two MPVs are especially popular as chauffeur-driven vehicles because of their spacious interior and airplane-like captain's seat with ottoman. In fact, depending on their destination, many local businessmen or their wives prefer to travel in the back of their Vellfire or Alphard instead of their full-size luxury sedans.

But until now, the Vellfire has been available only from parallel importers (PIs). While bigger PIs are reputable enough to provide proper after-sales, smaller ones have closed shop.

But all that will be water under the bridge come May. Both the latest Alphard and Vellfire models are currently undergoing homologation and will find their way to a BMS showroom once that is complete.

The all-new Alphard is longer by 45 mm at 4,915 mm with the wheelbase extended by 50 mm to 3,000 mm. But kerb weight also rises, and depending on the trim level, by at least 45 kg to a minimum of 2,025 kg. In general, the Vellfire is about 45 kg heavier than the base Alphard.

The most important change to the new platform is that the rear suspension has been upgraded from a torsion beam to double wishbones and, together with wider and bigger 18-inch tyres, this will improve high-speed driveability. The old 1,905 mm tall Alphard needed sensitive handling in fast corners, and the new car, which is 10 mm lower at 1,895, should be more confidence-inspiring.

In front, the old 2.4-litre VVT-i variable valve timing with intelligence engine is replaced with a new 2.5-litre unit with dual VVT-I to drive the front wheels through the usual CVT. Power and torque are up - 12 hp and 11 Nm respectively - but the unit is more fuel-efficient at 11.6 km per litre (a one km improvement) with a bigger 75-litre fuel tank (up 10 litres). The 3.5-litre all-wheel-drive hybrid model is not being offered.

Another big change is the Alphard's styling overhaul. It gets a very prominent front grille to make it look more aggressive than the Vellfire, which was previously the more distinctive of the two.

Inside, the Alphard gets additional black trim for a more luxurious feel. This is a big improvement considering the old interior was a bit plasticky compared to the Vellfire's. The equipment level is also higher, with LED head lights, and cornering and fog lamps, plus an electric parking brake and power back door. A TFT monitor also replaces the instrument cluster and the aircon buttons have been replaced with a capacitive touch panel.

Ergonomically (ie, if you're no longer a spring chicken), the step height is lowered by 50 mm to allow a more graceful and perhaps less-difficult entry. In fact, it may be significant enough so you can stop yearning for the swing-out step found in the Tokyo limo taxi version.

No pricing details are available yet but looking at the higher equipment level, it should cost more than the old Alphard's sticker price of S$206,888.