You may be wondering why we're coming out with the review of the Alphard now especially since the market's focus is now on the newer and larger Hiace Super Grandia.
In all honesty, this 2019 Alphard review was supposed to come out about 6 months ago, but due to a technical issue with a dodgy SD card, we had to reschedule and reshoot this new version of Toyota's OG luxury minivan which came out in mid-2018. But don't worry about the year too much, as this Alphard is still going to be the one that will be in showrooms for the next few years. So here goes.
There is no doubt that the Alphard is one of Toyota's most successful Philippine models in a line-up of already very successful best-selling models. That's not to take away from how the Alphard performs or suits a particular lifestyle. While there are many who believe that Toyota is the industry's default steamroller, able to flatten competitors handily due to the ironclad reputation of the brand, the Alphard stands out as one that built its name on pure merit.
When this nameplate was first introduced in 2010, we were skeptical. Toyota was already selling the smaller Previa minivan, as well as the previous generation Hiace Super Grandia. We didn't really see how a premium minivan model in the middle could fare, especially at a time when the market wasn't doing anywhere near as well as it is now, and the world was reeling from a financial crisis just a few years before.
But the Alphard won customers over. It's far more refined than the truck-based Hiace Super Grandia variants, and was larger and taller than the Previa. So good were the sales that it cannibalized sales from the Previa that Toyota Motor Philippines stopped importing it quite a while ago, and Toyota in Japan ceased production of it in October of last year.
And that brings us to the current Alphard model. This is the third generation model, though in the Philippines it's our second; Toyota never offered the first generation Alphard that was produced from 2002 to 2008. This new one is the updated model with a different look from the Alphard they launched in 2015.
In terms of aesthetics, the first thing we really notice is the reshaped front grill flanked by LED projector headlamps and triangular housings for the foglamps. The Alphard actually lost the spindle-like shape of the pre-facelift 2015-2018 model, but what's truly odd is the absence of a Toyota T emblem on that massive front grille. Instead Toyota fitted the grill with an unusual emblem; basically, it's a stylized version of the Greek letter alpha (α). The reason is because the Alphard name comes from the brightest star in the Hydra constellation.
In terms of the overall profile, not much has changed from the previous generation. The nose of the 2010-2014 Alphard was more steeply raked, but the current model is a bit more bulbous, more SUV-like or more van-like. In the back, the taillights migrated a bit further up to the rear windshield and even have cut-outs for the rails of the sliding doors. The wheels are quite nice for this model, and the overall impression is that you're riding in a vehicle that denotes a higher status, but really the styling on the outside doesn't matter as much as what's on the inside.
This Alphard in the optional pearl white paint costs PhP 3.755 million (about USD 73,500) so expectations of the interior are high. On that front, the Alphard has never disappointed, especially with lots of leather, premium materials, and other upscale bits and pieces all around. The color combination mandates cream leather for the seating and other panels, with contrasting black or gray all around. The major difference I can notice off the bat is the change in the wood panels; they're still faux, but the tone has been subdued a bit as they're not as profoundly reddish brown as before.
Looking around, there are plenty of features for your driving or riding comfort. The driver has an electronic parking brake, a push-button ignition system, cruise control and a buttons for the sliding rear doors. The side windows in the back have sunshades. There are also two separate moonroofs; one for the front and a bigger sliding motorized one for the main cabin.
But what leaves me baffled is the 2-DIN touchscreen audio unit from AVT (I think). The unit just feels old in something that's intended to be premium and luxurious. It's not bad if it was in an Innova, but this is an Alphard that costs three times as much, and it deserves a far more sophisticated and higher quality audio unit with much better speakers. Toyota has a partnership with JBL in other countries; they should have leveraged that partnership for the Alphard.
The Alphard is a minivan, and it has three rows of seats with two people in front, another two in the middle and a further 3 in the very back. The driver's seat is nice with its power adjustments, and the third row is also nice and comfortable. The third row is also nice and comfortable, all things considered.
But the Alphard is not a vehicle where the owners drive; they'll hire someone to do that. As such, the front passenger seat is very unique as it comes with a power ottoman, but really the business end of this business class ride is in the middle.
They're power captain's seats with powered ottomans, a folding table, headrests with side cushions for maximum comfort. These sliding seats can slide backward to allow extra clearance for the ottoman, so whether you're in traffic or on a long roadtrip, you can really relax and chill. Those seats are actually so comfortable that Toyota lend a version of the same power captain's seats to the Super Grandia Elite.
This Toyota may be a luxury minivan, but it drives more like an SUV. The driver's seat, while not the premium seat, is a nice place to be in. The steering is light, the visibility is excellent, and quite frankly it's comfortable. Driving the Alphard around the city proved to be much more pleasant than I thought; it's maneuverable around town because the 1850mm width is actually ideal for our roads. Japan's roads aren't that wide, so that's probably why.
This may be a heavy vehicle (it weighs about 2.2 metric tons, or 2200 kilos), but it doesn't feel like it. The reason is what's at the heart of the Alphard is a 3.5-liter V6. The engine may sound familiar as pre-facelift Alphards also had the 3.5L V6, but this new one has been improved and makes 300 PS, not 275. It also has more torque at 361 Nm; the old one had 340 Nm. That explains the extra sprightliness of the Alphard. More power and torque also warranted an upgraded gearbox: the Alphard now has an 8-speed automatic as opposed to a 6-speed auto.
What differentiates the Alphard from the Hiace Super Grandia is the platform. The Hiace is more of a classic utility vehicle in terms of construction, meaning it has a ladder frame or chassis underneath, and the body is bolted onto it. The Alphard is a monocoque or a unibody, and that means it should be more refined in terms of ride. And it is, despite the fact that the Super Grandia has coil springs on the rear suspension.
Where the Alphard doesn't really shine is in the fuel economy. With just me in the vehicle, the Alphard was getting 5.4 km/l at an average speed of 20 km/h in the city; expect that number to go down significantly with a loaded cabin. On the highway, fuel economy goes up quite a bit as you won't have to keep reaccelerating, therefore wasting precious fuel. As it stands, I was getting 11.2 km/l (average speed: 88 km/h). Not bad, but this vehicle could have done well with either a hybrid (which Toyota doesn't offer here), or a refined turbodiesel though that's reserved for the Hiace. The fuel economy won't win the green conscious amongst us over, but the customer base can easily afford it.
During highway cruising, this Toyota is smooth as... well, silk. The manners are indeed great, and there are barely any vibrations or noise from the engine. The long 3000mm wheelbase means there's extra time for the front suspension to settle down from a bump before it encounters the rear suspension; that means better comfort. Overtaking on provincial roads is easy given the extra power and extra speeds from the gearbox. Don't expect great handling from this heavy minivan as it drives a bit like a yacht. The front does dive a bit when you hit the brakes hard at speed; that's expected, but it doesn't get easily unsettled, which is good.
The trouble with the Toyota Alphard is finding something to compare it to because, arguably, it's one of those rare vehicle that are peerless. The current model Honda Odyssey and Kia Grand Carnival are more comparable to the now-discontinued Previa rather than the Alphard. We don't have the Serena either, and even then it's not comparable. We can't really directly compare it to frame-based luxury versions of vans like the Hiace Super Grandia, the Hyundai Grand Starex, or even customized versions of the Nissan Urvan Premium S. There's the V-Class from Mercedes, but that's not as comfortable as this and is priced nearly a million more.
That's our problem with the Alphard. We have nothing in our market we can directly compare it to, apples to apples. And that's an indicator already. Toyota has been producing the Alphard model (and it's not so upscale brother which we don't get, the Vellfire) for a while, and I find it odd that none of the other Japanese manufacturers have tried to really directly compete.
Are they wary to try and challenge Toyota, or could an Alphard-competitor not be a part of their overall plans? And before other carmakers can properly react and compete, Toyota has already handed over the Alphard to Lexus, and they're going to be rolling out their even more upscale version called the LM in the future. Honestly, the only thing we're wondering is what took Lexus so long.
Whichever the case may be, the Alphard really does live up to its name; the brightest star in what is essentially a constellation of 1. And even though the Alphard's SRP has risen by nearly half a million since this generation debuted in 2015, sales are still very strong.