Fantastic, actually... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Toyota Alphard is not the first minivan in Toyota Motors Philippines' line-up, as for the past 10 years, the Previa has been a mainstay in Toyota showrooms as well as in the garages of the numerous high end gated communities around the metro. The Alphard is a definite leg up on all fronts, boasting more size, more space, more comfort and better features.
Visually, the Alphard is quite striking. For a van, it's got some great exterior features with that stylish front end, clean lines and interesting design details. The grille is properly prominent, flanked by tapered headlamps and capped off with a deeply raked windshield. The whole car's design feels premium and luxurious as it should without being ostentatious... Toyota's values indeed.
At the heart of the Alphard is the same range of engines that Toyota uses in the Camry, though when the it was first launched, the thought of driving the with a 170 PS 2.4 liter inline 4 seemed quite underwhelming. What I had not realized is that Toyota just came out with a model that comes equipped with their 275 PS 3.5 liter V6 with a 6-speed automatic, which, upon doing a bit of computation, yields a power-to-weight ratio of roughly 135 PS/tonne for the V6 version compared to just 90 PS/tonne for the 2.4 liter. This translates to much better acceleration, lower cruising RPMs and better efficiency with the 3.5 V6 out-misering the 2.4 Inline-4 at 11.9 km/l and 10.8 km/l, respectively. However, as this is a van, I do hope they come up with a D-4D diesel engine for the Alphard, as it should work wonders to handle the weight and improve efficiency even further.
Taking it for a spin, the Alphard feels very light for such a big, heavy vehicle. The acceleration is smooth, while the cornering manners are definitely there, as it stays quite composed and never too leery. I never took it to its top speed, as the Alphard makes for a great boulevard cruiser, with 100 - 120 km/h being the best setting for the cruise control system.
However, with the Alphard, it's never really going to be the drive that matters. In fact, this is one of those few cars that I've tried that I really, really don't want to get behind the wheel of because the Alphard is all about comfort... business class comfort.
The interior fittings and appointments feel very premium indeed. The dashboard seems to be lifted straight from a Lexus, along with the switchgear, steering wheel, and other details like the fonts and gauges. The front passenger gets a motorized seat with an ottoman to bring up the legs, as you would expect in the finest business (or even first) class seats. The 2nd row passengers get the same systems, but at a notch higher with side headrest cushions and a folding center table for drinks and other things. The 3rd row passengers get supple seating too, though minus the confortable ottomans of the other passengers. And of course to top it off, all seats and door inserts are wrapped in premium, supple leather.
And then there are the other cool features that come standard with the Alphard. It's one of the first locally offered Toyota vehicles to come with a DVD entertainment system, though it does need a rear seat entertainment screen for the rear passengers to get in on the movie. Look up and you'll see two sunroofs, with a front glass roof that tilts up for some fresh air while the extra-large rear glass roof being able to open up fully to let the sky in. The 3rd row has one of the easiest and most convenient fold and stowing systems I've ever used, a surprising feature for such heavy seats. I particularly like the center floor box up front, as it presents some capacious storage options, along with the other pockets and cubby holes strategically placed all throughout the cabin.
The Toyota Alphard comes at a price of PhP 2,995,000 (White Pearl option), an SRP justified by the premium features, the space, the high levels of sophistication and comfort. It should really have an "L" instead of a "T" on the grille, though I imagine the guys at Lexus would (or will) take the Alphard to a new level (of OC-ness) altogether.
As it stands, the Alphard does justice to its name, and is indeed the brigtest star in Toyota's line up.