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Will this Toyota ‘samurai’ take the MPV battle to the rivals?

S Muralidhar | Updated on March 03, 2020 Published on February 27, 2020

Toyota’s Vellfire has all the makings of a winner, but can it be a blockbuster like the Innova?

Say hello to the Toyota Vellfire, a vehicle that has been rumoured to be headed to our shores for many years now. And it will finally be imported and unwrapped off its plastic protection at a showroom near you from this week. This is Toyota’s answer to customers who want a luxury people mover, for celebrities wanting a mobile private sanctuary to take them far from the maddening crowd and for current Innova customers looking for an upgrade.

The Vellfire joins a string of new multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) that have been launched in India over the last two years. Vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz V-Class and the more recent Kia Carnival have either tracked the rising interest in this category or are going to be the expansion of choice that will bring in new buyers for what has traditionally been a vehicle class that is viewed as “unaspirational”.

Design

The first design aspect about the Vellfire that hits you is the amount of blingy chrome that it has on the exterior. The front bonnet grille is nearly all chrome. With the over upright front part being almost completely clad in what looks like stainless steel. It is quite distracting, and looks like armour-plating for the front. In fact, Toyota says that it is inspired by a Japanese samurai warrior’s shield. There is more chrome on the side with grab handles, roof garnish and the B-pillar cladding also sporting the shiny stuff. I suppose Toyota thinks that Indian buyers are still in love with bling, because the choice for the rims is also 17-inch hyper chrome alloy wheels. The Vellfire’s huge tailgate has more with a thick chrome garnish that runs across the width of the vehicle connecting the two tail-lamps.

The Vellfire is also called ‘Alphard’ in other markets   -  S Muralidhar

 

This new luxury MPV from Toyota sports a design that is quite close to the Innova. It’s fairly ‘boxy’ body style is saved from seeming slab-sided only by some of the subtle curves that define the wheel arches, waistline and door profiles. The Vellfire’s bonnet is stubby and compact compared to the Innova’s longer bonnet. But the windscreen rake and the thin A-pillar reminded me of Toyota’s best selling MPV. The greenhouse is large with a number of big glass panels including the twin sunroofs, the large windscreen and even the big windows. Unlike the Kia Carnival’s rear power doors and their open sliding tracks, the Vellfire features a track that’s hidden under the floorboard, and the top hinge is covered by the door itself. This helps give it a clean side profile, though I wonder what might happen if the track would fill up with a lot of dust and grime thrown up from the roads. This is also a fairly large vehicle with its length at nearly five metres and width of 1.85 metres. There is parking assistance including a 360-degree view, but I wonder if the large stalked door mirrors may be prone to damage on our crowded roads. Split LED headlamps, fog lamps with cornering function and sequential side turn indicators give the Vellfire’s exterior a few more interesting bits.

Cabin

 

Toyota is hoping that this new MPV will be the choice amongst customers like celebrities and CEOs. Well, if all that chrome doesn’t work, the Vellfire’s cabin will certainly help snare a few business magnates and Bollywood Badshahs. This is not the biggest MPV out there — the Kia Carnival and Mercedes-Benz V-Class are longer. But with a wheelbase of three metres, the Vellfire manages to deliver considerable cabin space. And all that space is best utilised by the second row captain seats. Endowed with easychair-style, long armrests, which feature a flip open top that then reveal controls for a multitude of electrical adjustments, the two middle row seats and front passenger seat can nearly be converted into business class flat beds. Clad in leather, the seats can also be heated or cooled and the other armrest hides a foldaway table and cup holder. There is also a small storage slot for the remote control that operates a 13-inch screen that drops down from the roof on demand. The display positioned on the roof just behind the driver and front passenger can be used to view content from multiple sources. Sumptuous bolstering and broad squabs including for the shoulders make the seats feel like your favourite recliner. Add to that the ottoman style footrests which can be raised and extended to put your feet up after a hard day’s work and the Vellfire comes across as the perfect vehicle to be chauffeured around in.

The centre console features a simplistic 10-inch touchscreen for the infotainment and other controls S Muralidhar   -  S Muralidhar

The front two seats are equally great to sit in and feature similar electrical adjustments. It also includes one-touch forward adjustment if the middle row passenger so desires. There is 3-zone automatic climate control and simple ways by which the seats can be moved fore and aft. Yet, access to the third row of seats is not exactly wide, and stepping into the Vellfire and crossing between the two second row seats is inevitable. The two sliding rear doors and the tailgate are all powered and can be controlled even by the driver using roof-mounted buttons. The dashboard has signature Toyota elements like the chunky three-spoke steering wheel. The centre console features a simplistic 10-inch touchscreen for the infotainment and other controls. The 17-speaker JBL audio system is impressive and some smaller details like the door mirrors being heated and capable of storing memory presets makes this even more appealing. Beige and black interior colour themes are the two options, while there are four body colour options.

Performance

The Vellfire is offered only with one powertrain option and that is a strong, self-charging hybrid paired with a petrol engine. The 2.4-litre, inline 4-cylinder petrol engine generates 117PS of peak power and 198Nm of peak torque. The vehicle also features two synchronous motors one at the front and one for the rear axle. The front permanent magnet motor acts as the primary motor and produces 105kW of power. The rear motor can deliver 50kW of power and only kicks in if wheel slippage is detected or any other traction needs or all-wheel drive situations arise. The electronic all-wheel drive tech enables the Vellfire to be offered with a host of safety features. The battery is made of Nickel-Metal Hydride and is self-charging; essentially uses brake energy regen. The Vellfire’s hybrid powertrain’s electric motor offers both series and parallel assists. And since it is a strong hybrid with a 1.4kwh battery pack, it offers a decent EV only range also. The petrol engine takes over seamlessly after the vehicle crosses 60kmph speeds. Toyota claims that in the Indian driving cycle more than 60 per cent of the time the vehicle can operate on hybrid mode.

The Vellfire is offered at a lower output level for the India-spec. I test drove the vehicle at the restricted speed track in Toyota’s Bidadi plant just outside Bengaluru. The clean black tarmac and sub-highway speeds means that it is not possible to conclusively talk about the dynamics or the ride quality of the vehicle. The 2.3-tonne Vellfire neither feels underpowered nor does it feel like it can burn rubber. The ride is neither over pliant nor too stiff. Rated fuel efficiency is 16.35kmpl and with the SHEV advantage, the Vellfire’s emissions are said to be one-tenth the BS6 regulation stipulation.

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Bottom Line

The Vellfire is an import and that can be a disadvantage for a vehicle that takes on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz V-Class. That explains its pricing set at about ₹80 lakh. The Toyota MPV feels premium and is incredibly comfortable to lounge in. Yet, while it is clearly above the average in the segment, material quality is still a notch lower than the Merc’s. But the Vellfire’s trump card could be the fact that it is a strong hybrid, that then delivers both a higher mileage and eco-cred.

Published on February 27, 2020
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