North or South, the Zen like calm of the Toyota Previa also calms fuel range anxiety with a parsimonious 12.33kms/liter of unleaded stringing the NLEx and SCTEx on one extended foodie trip, involving a detour to Clark, then Subic ending whimsically up North at the John Hay Manor.
Five years ago, an '06 Previa was my mode of family transport up the Japanese funded Marcos Highway, carrying a lot of cargo in the back. This proved to be no hindrance to the 2.4-liter VVTi engine powering the front wheels, carving into corners with the traction control taking over as downhill flowing rivulets and sand sneaks between rubber and pavement. Barreling through banked switchbacks, it felt like driving a good compact sedan. The latest refreshed 2011 model is no stranger to this mountain climb routine.
The Previa's ride comfort, a must in a CV of any vehicle selling in this market segment, was more than up to the task of dealing with the 17kms of crumbling pavement on the Binalonan-Sison segment of Highway 3. The typical Toyota made-of-a-piece feel, muffles unwanted external noises, making the Previa a pleasant cloister to pursue deep meditation. It's like being ensconced at home, a Toyota home. Turning the steering wheel, flicking any switch is as natural as domesticity.
New to the 2011 Previa is the integration of an active Whiplash Injury Lessening (WIL) System into the headrests. Predictable upgrades are a chrome radiator grille that looks like the Prius's, a trendier color keyed front bumper, a redesigned rear garnish, rear combi lamp with light-emitting diodes (LED) and remodeled alloy wheels with 17" tires. Toyota has not missed a single item on the tech maven's must-have list like push-button starter, 4-corner sonar, Optitron illuminated gauges, elbow-high shift lever, armchairs gliding on adjuster rails with business class like retractable foot rests and High Intensity Discharge headlights that follow bends. The rail mounted 2nd row of captain's chairs and 3rd row seats are as easy to use as ever. "Push-button" actuation of sliding doors and tail gate never cease to draw amused crowds in all the three ex-US Bases we visited.
Toyota's drive to advance in all fronts - quality, finance, production, technology, marketing, - practically guarantees that it will find a way to make improvements, no matter how incremental. This latest Previa has already drawn level to Chrysler's luxurious "designer kitchen" Town and Country. The question on some probing minds now is how will the Previa stack up against the luxurious Alphard, which, for half a mil more comes with a Camry V-6? Though there are detail difference on the degree of the luxury of the seats, sky roofs, a millimeter here or there, electronic toys, etc., they seem to appeal to the same general buyer. The only answer we can proffer is that it is a question of style. Do you want your Zen cocoon in aerodynamic tube or in monobloc form? Take note though that a Super Grandia will more than beat both Previa and Alphard in sheer volumetric efficiency and number of pax. But then the Grandia is a practical commercial van.
Nevertheless, the Toyota feeling of reliability is undeniably its most comforting asset. To many, nothing else will do. It's Zen calm is apropos. With a Previa, the draw to make more long journeys prove irresistible if only to enjoy its calming prowess at the price of Php2.479M in white pearl.