Toyota’s Luxo-barge promises the feel of a first-class airline seat. Does it deliver though?
There’s an undeniable charm to being chauffeur-driven around in opulent luxury, even as you discuss your next multi-million dollar project on the phone. It’s an essential checkpoint to having ‘arrived’ to the good life. It may not quite match the thrill of being behind the wheel, but as far as experiences go, it’s still a good one. And, if you’re used to the comfort of your leather-wrapped back seat experience, chances are you’re used to the first-class experience on flights as well. And that’s where the Toyota Vellfire comes in or wants to, rather. According to the folks at Toyota, before the Vellfire was to be bought to India, a dedicated team travelled across the country to speak to luxury car owners, where rear-seat comfort precedes pretty much everything else. Toyota found out that quite a few luxury car owners are willing to shift from their current brand to a more extravagant experience altogether. And with the recent influx of luxury-MUVs like the Mercedes-Benz V-Class and Kia Carnival, it only makes sense to bring in a product like the Vellfire, which can mix it up in terms of seating and space.
When I first saw the Vellfire I have to say I was quite impressed. The tracking car was a Fortuner, but couldn’t dwarf the Vellfire. In fact, it looked like a more well-polished, better-dressed cousin to the SUV. It doesn’t look athletic but then again, it doesn’t have to. The Vellfire looks colossal in an unoffending way. It makes a statement with its sheer size and chrome inserts but it never seems overbearing or bothersome. To be honest it looks like a Kei-car on muscle-bursting steroids. However, the LED headlamps, electronic-sliding doors, 17-inch hyper chrome alloy wheels, twin sunroof come together to give the Vellfire an unmistakable presence.
Let’s get into the driving seat first and get that out of the way. With the Vellfire, it’s more of climbing onto than getting into but nothing uncomfortable or unmanageable. Once you’ve set yourself in the cushy seat the first thing you notice is the well-contoured and premium and steering wheel. Next thing you’re bound to notice is a neat and well-laid-out dashboard which has a mix of both soft-touch materials, hard plastics, faux-wood and India’s favourite, chrome. The gear knob is mounted slightly at an angle in true MUV-style which makes it fall easily at hand. At the centre of the dashboard there’s a 10-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system that offers SmartDeviceLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Then there’s 17-speaker equipped JBL sound system. The conventional tachometer in the instrument cluster has been replaced by a dial for Charge, Eco and Power, expectedly, considering this is a hybrid but apart from that the binnacle looks pretty conventional. There’s a bunch of neat cubby holes near the side AC vents, centre console and side-door pockets, all of which add to up to provide quite the solution for the storage needs. Speaking of which the centre armrest, which can be opened from the passenger or driver’s side, reveals a rather larger storage space too. Overall, the Vellfire’s driving seat is a rather luxurious and comfortable place to be in, but of course that’s not what the Vellfire is about.
Before I get to driving the Vellfire, let’s switch over to what matters more – the second and third-row seats. To aid ingress at the back, there’s a chunky grab handle on each side. After that, well, let’s just say, the Vellfire’s strong points really begin to shine through. The Ottoman captain’s seats will literally ease you into a sense of comfort and peace. There are no two ways about it, the Vellfire is for the customer who spends maximum time in the second row. Everything from a James Bond-style fold out for the seat controls to the 13-inch retractable screen – which again, bears a striking similarity to screens on an aeroplane – bring a whole new sense of occasion. Even though I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked to in those seats they left me with a lasting impression which is a really important aspect of the buying experience. This is where Toyota has really nailed it with the Vellfire. It really did feel like the first-class seat of an aeroplane, which is mighty impressive.
The only slight discomfort I felt was from the manual mechanism to move the seats front and back but other than that no complaints at all. By the way both front seats and the second-row seats can be cooled or heated. Also like the front seats, there are discreetly placed storage spaces all-around at the rear. To add a touch of class Toyota has also equipped the Vellfire with 16-colour ambient roof lighting, three-zone air conditioning, sun blinds for the second and third-row seats, personal VIP spotlights, green-tinted acoustic glass and twin moonroofs! Getting into the third row is easy too. The second row seats can be adjusted electronically to fold forward, after which the captain seats can be moved via the manual handle. The seating position in the third row is slightly knees-up but not too uncomfortable. The third row is equipped with three head restraints, however the feasibility of fitting is questionable.
Finally, let’s talk about the bit of driving experience we managed at Toyota’s test track, inside its plant near Bengaluru. Since it was only a short track we couldn’t really get an understanding of high-speed stability or ride comfort but the Vellfire is surprisingly easy to drive despite its near five-metre length. It also masks its weight well, not letting you feel its weight of well over 2 tonnes. Under the hood is a BS6-compliant, four-cylinder, 2.5-litre petrol engine that works in tandem with two motors, one mounted on the front axle and the other on the rear axle. This effectively gives the Vellfire an electric 4WD drive system. The Vellfire is also a self-charging hybrid-electric vehicle, replete with a pure EV mode. Toyota claims 60 percent of the driving in city conditions is handled by its high-voltage battery which means it runs purely on electricity a lot of the time! However, 4WD cannot be engaged manually and will only come into play if required. On our short test drive the Vellfire’s hybrid powertrain did well to impress despite the heft it had to carry, but the CVT did dull the experience a bit. Be gentle with the throttle though and the realisation for who or what this car is meant for becomes quite clear. It’s clear Toyota has made this car for the informed buyer. A buyer who values the sum of its parts, rather than just than the appeal of a badge. With those top-notch second-row seats and the sheer number of creature comforts packed in, the Vellfire makes a strong case for itself as a road-going vehicle that can offer the first-class feel of a high flying jet plane. All we have to wait for now is the price.
|ENGINE||2.5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol hybrid|
|MOTORS||Front – 141 bhp, Rear – 68 bhp|
|HYBRID BATTERY||Nickel Metal Hydride|
|PRICE||79.50 lakh onwards (ex-showroom, India)|