Once in a while, a rare opportunity presents itself to taste the forbidden fruit firsthand, like driving the Toyota Alphard. I have come across the Toyota Alphard and its counterpart, the Toyota Vellfire, with registrations from Botswana, Lesotho, or Nigeria in the past. I never imagined I would have the chance to experience this stunning vehicle in person. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to test drive one, as these vehicles have not been given space in our country’s showrooms and dealerships.

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By Dumi Xaba

The Toyota Alphard, also known as the Arufado, was first introduced in 2002 as a practical and spacious 7- or 8-seater minivan. It has always been a flagship model for Toyota in various markets. The Toyota Crown Vellfire, introduced in 2008 in the Asian market, is considered a slightly less luxurious version of the Alphard.

The Alphard closely follows the Toyota Grand HiAce, its predecessor, which was also not sold in the local market. The automotive industry in our region is known for strong market protection measures that aim to preserve vehicle value over time, sometimes at the expense of consumers. Access to low-mileage used cars from Japan is limited to individuals with non-South African resident passports, restricting consumer choices.

Alternatively, consumers from neighbouring countries can purchase high-quality used vehicles at lower prices and decide whether to register them locally or in their own country. This difference in access is due to strict regulations that limit the introduction of certain models to protect the market for existing products, with the Alphard being a prime example.

A friend from Otse in Botswana unexpectedly gave me the chance to enjoy driving the Alphard while travelling to Mpumalanga. Thrilled at the prospect of navigating this formidable MPV through rugged terrain, I eagerly accepted. The specific model provided was a 2016 Alphard with a 2.4L engine and front-wheel drive, making for an exhilarating adventure ahead.

The Alphard bears a resemblance to the Ford Tourneau and classic Mercedes Viano models, sporting large lights that are reminiscent of these vehicles. The 2.4 model has a slightly lower power output compared to the 3.5 V6 version.

One notable feature is that the Alphard’s front doors open very wide, which could lead to potential collisions with nearby parked cars. Fortunately, I noticed this flaw before parking close to other vehicles.

Inside, the Alphard stands out for its high quality compared to other lower-quality products. The gear lever placement on the dashboard is reminiscent of the Toyota Verso model. The dashboard design combines elements from the Verso and Fortuner models, and the interior features a luxurious soft material similar to the Toyota Crown.

I recently had the chance to try out the luxurious Qantum VX 9-seater vehicle. Despite the VX Quantum being a newer model compared to the Alphard, I discovered that the driving experience and seating position of the Alphard is unmatched. As a tall driver, I could adjust the seat to provide enough space for a passenger sitting behind me.

While the 2.4 model has manual sliding doors, they are surprisingly easy to use and give the impression of being power-assisted. Additionally, there are subtle lights for passengers that can be dimmed according to their preferences. The climate control system is strong and can maintain a comfortable atmosphere for all seven passengers. Moreover, the seats can rotate and swivel in different directions.

Upon discovering that the vehicle is equipped with front-wheel drive and a 2.4 engine, I initially had reservations. I typically prefer front-wheel-drive cars in smaller, more agile models rather than larger ones. However, upon starting the vehicle, I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet the engine was. The acceleration was smooth, and the gear shifts were well-matched to the engine. The steering felt on the softer side, and the interior rear-view mirror with dimming technology provided a clear view of traffic behind me.

Unfortunately, the side mirrors were a letdown as they didn’t offer a good sense of the distance of vehicles on the sides. While overtaking was seamless, visibility could be an issue. Despite these drawbacks, I drove over 200 kilometres without hearing the engine, almost forgetting that I was driving a front-wheel-drive car with a smaller engine. Notably, I successfully overtook another vehicle on a steep incline without the need for the vehicle to change gears.

The unexpected aspect was the efficiency of fuel consumption. I travelled from Johannesburg to Middleburg, and the fuel gauge still showed a full tank. The Alphard is incredibly easy to manoeuvre, making you almost forget it’s an MPV and more like a mid-size SUV. The only time I noticed the engine’s small output was when I quickly accelerated to avoid a large coal truck merging lanes from a standstill. After driving the Alphard for over 500 kilometres,

My strongest wish was to confront whoever decided to deny us the Alphard on charges of treason. The fact that it has less than 60,000 kilometres on it and the owner paid only R72,000 for such a luxury made me incredibly jealous.

Unfortunately, despite my efforts to persuade the Toyota representatives, I was only offered the Qantum VX as an alternative. Even after crying and complaining, I couldn’t change their minds. It seems that we will never see the Lexus LM, the Lexus version of the Alphard, in our country. What did we do to Mr. Koji Sato to deserve such a harsh punishment? It’s not his fault, but rather our marketing strategy that is to blame.

Specifications of the Toyota Alphard include a 2.4L engine with a displacement of 2,362 cc, running on petrol with a consumption rate of 10 litres per 100 kilometres. The vehicle has four cylinders, generates 125 kW of power and 224 Nm of torque, and has a top speed of 180 kilometres per hour. It has a tank capacity of 70 litres, allowing for approximately 700 kilometres per tank on a combined cycle.

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