Toyota Alphard Review 54


Why buy an Alphard?

  • If you want luxury motoring for your family and chattels in a superbly well-built vehicle, you’ve found it.
  • Hugely flexible and comfortable seating arrangements for up to 8 people.
  • Powerful, smooth and quiet, with the option of four wheel drive.
  • Can be converted into a campervan.
  • Also works quite well as a driveable office!

Picture of nearside - Toyota Alphard Review

Background to this Toyota Alphard Review

The Alphard is Toyota’s luxury 8 seater minivan / MPV / people carrier.  This Toyota Alphard review is going to focus on the first generation car, produced between 2002 and 2008.  Why?  The first generation cars are currently the most frequently imported, due to the UK rules about cars over 10 years old only requring an MOT prior to registration.  You can read more about this here.

The Alphard is still in production today and is now in its 3rd generation.

Engine and Drivetrain Choice

The Alphard has 2 engine choices, both petrol: a 4 cylinder 2.4 litre or a V6 3 litre.  The 3 litre V6 1MZ-FE also features on the Lexus RX300 and Toyota Camry, amongst others.  The 2.4 2AZ-FE has previously been seen in the UK in the Previa and RAV4.  All Alphards have automatic transmission and both engine options are available with 2 or 4 wheel drive.
Picture of the engine bay - Toyota Alphard Review

“Should I buy the 2.4 or 3 litre?”

I see this being asked frequently.

My answer will always be the 3 litre.  The V6 has a very satisfying, purposeful burble that feels completely in keeping with the grandeur of the whole car, and that isn’t matched by the 4 cylinder engine.  It has plenty of power but doesn’t shout about it.  The choice really depends on what you’re used to driving, and how much emphasis you place on running costs, but I think the 2.4 Alphard is underpowered.

Want a more numbers-based answer?  Look at the power to weight ratios:

  • The 2.4 litre 4WD has 85 bhp/tonne (and 144 lb.ft torque).
  • The 3.0 litre 4WD has 113 bhp/tonne (and 230 lb.ft torque).

In its favour, the 2.4 litre has cheaper maintenance costs.  Only 4 spark plugs to buy instead of 6, and no timing belt to replace.  Finally, the 2.4 is intended to run on standard unleaded, whereas the 3.0 is intended to run on super/premium higher octane fuel.

Interior accommodation

There is so much flexibility in the Alphard’s seating arrangements: bed, cafe, table, straight forward 3 rows and a boot space big enough for a chest freezer are all possible.  The middle row of seats has 2 ISOFIX points and can rotate to face the rear of the car. This video explains the options.

Need an owner’s manual?

Equipment

There are a lot of variations in equipment levels, but in most cases ‘loads’ would be a good summary.

Driver aids

  • HID headlights (dipped beam) and driving lights.
  • Lane assist.
  • Cruise control (only on some models).
  • Reversing camera and/or parking sensors.
  • Front blind spot cameras.
  • TEMS (Toyota Electronically Modulated Suspension, only on some models).

Picture of the driver and passenger seats - Toyota Alphard Review

Comfort

  • Space to seat 8 adults in comfort.
  • Power sliding rear doors.
  • Dual zone climate control, with separate controls for the rear seat passengers.
  • Power curtains (some models only).
  • Adjustable arm rests.
  • Dimmable ‘room’ lighting.
  • Front and rear AV screens with headphone sockets.

Picture of the rear seats - Toyota Alphard Review

Safety

  • Driver and passenger airbags (plus side/curtain airbags on some models).
  • 2 x ISOFIX points (on the outer middle row seats).
  • ABS.
  • The rear seat passengers aren’t sat right up against the boot lid – much safer should something crash into the back of the car.

Driving the Alphard

There is a real sense of occasion in driving the Alphard.  I think the burbling V6 engine adds to this.

Once you’re behind the wheel, the Alphard doesn’t feel as big as it looks from the outside.  The 3 litre V6 engine has plenty of power and is quiet, smooth and feels effortless.  It can pick up speed surprisingly quickly and without any fuss when required.

Unsurprisingly for a 4WD car weighing 2 tonnes, there are disc brakes all round.  They pull the car up well, but there is almost no pedal feel under braking.  I think this is fairly typical for this type of vehicle.

Cornering performance is OK for the size, weight and intended purpose of the car.  There is some body roll and it doesn’t like being asked to change direction quickly.  Setting the TEMS to sport helps matters a little.  I think expecting amazing cornering performance from a car like this is missing the point of the car really!

Why you might not like the Toyota Alphard

Reason #1: fuel consumption

Despite fuel prices being (relatively) low in the UK of late, most people are concerned about fuel consumption on a car like the Alphard.  If you budget for about 25 mpg, you should be in the right ball park.  Some will get less and some more.  It isn’t necessarily the case that the 2.4 litre engine will give better fuel consumption.  Unless you’re really light with your right foot, this engine will need to be worked much harder to get the car moving, resulting in more fuel being used.

Reason #2: looks

I’ve seen a variety of less than complimentary words used: the Alphard ain’t that pretty when viewed from the front.  Viewed from the side, back or any 45 degree angle its just fine, but the front view isn’t so great in my opinion.  This is something I could easily overlook as the overall ‘package’ is so impressive, but you might not be so forgiving.  I certainly concede the Alphard’s main competitor, the Nissan Elgrand, is a better looking vehicle.

Reason #3: driving dynamics

Definitely built for wafting along rather than pressing on, so if you’re looking for sporty handling, particularly in corners, look elsewhere.  Remember it is a 2 tonne van with 2 sofas, 2 armchairs, 2 TVs and a carpet better than you’ll find in most rented accommodation.Picture of the nearside and front - Toyota Alphard Review

Summary

I hope this Toyota Alphard review has been an interesting / useful read.  I’m certainly a fan of the car and I’d love to know what you think of it.

If the Alphard is a bit too much for you but you want a similar type of vehicle, have a look at a Toyota Noah.

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54 thoughts on “Toyota Alphard Review

  • Andrew Post author

    I thought I’d update this post following a question I received recently. I was asked which version of this 1st generation Alphard has leather seats. This is most likely to be the top specification MZ G edition trim level, which is listed as having leather seats as standard. Leather seats may also have found their way into some of the slightly lower trim levels too, and there are also some very good quality leather seat covers around.

    Hope this helps if you’re looking for leather!

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • phil w

    I largely agree too, having been a happy owner since earlier this year, 3 litre was essential to us as were 8 seats (not 7). Having previously owned a different Toyota MPV the abilities of the Alphard are outstanding!
    When compared with the Elgrand there was no comparison, subsequent experiences confirm this.
    Now there is quite a number around care needs to be taken to peer beneath showroom gloss & excitement to see what you are really getting – TV & GPS are great but will they work here? for example.
    Anyway we have absolutely no regrets with our purchase – we bought from Japan directly & would also recommend this route.
    Only problem is what model (of Alphard or Vellfire) will we be replacing this with in a few years time?

    • Sophie Thompon

      hi phil w
      we are thinking of importing one from japan, what tips would you give for doing so?
      Thanks
      The Thompson’s

  • Quentin Macfarlane

    The engine in my 2.4 litre Alphard camper cuts out in extremely high temperatures (29C +) and externally there is a strong smell of petrol. This has happened to me twice in recent days and I’m obviously concerned that petrol vapours-if that’s what they are-could ignite. The temperature gauge in the vehicle is normal. Any idea what’s causing the problem. I’m currently travelling in France with my vehicle-not due to return to the UK until late September. Thanks for any advice you can give.

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Quentin

      Sorry to hear your Alphard is giving you bother. It is quite difficult to give an accurate answer about the car without seeing it, but in the first instance I would be looking at the oxygen sensor, idle air control valve and also looking for any splits in the air, vacuum and fuel hoses.

      Is the engine management light coming on?
      Is it stalling under load or at idle?
      Any other symptoms?

      In view of your concerns over possible petrol vapours I suggest you get the car checked out as soon as possible. Hopefully you will be able to find a competent mechanic with a fault code reader. A Toyota garage in one of the cities or larger towns should be able to help if no one else can.

      Best of luck with getting it fixed. I would be interested to know the cause when you find out.

      Andrew

  • Colin Oliver

    Hi Andrew,my choice is the 05 v6,I think the five speed auto will be worth it.
    My concern with the later models,is with the HID/Xenon headlights.The law states these must have washers,and have some sort of self levelling system.I would not like to spend a lot of money on a late model,then have to shop around for a sympathetic MOT tester.

    Thanks Colin Oliver

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Colin

      Thank you for your contribution. However my understanding of the MOT testing requirements for HID headlights is different to yours.

      The MOT testing manual states that HID headlights may have washers and self levelling systems fitted, and that they must work correctly if fitted. It doesn’t state that HID headlights must be fitted with washers and self levelling systems. You can access the manual online here. Section 1.7 deals with testing headlights.

      So from my point of view, there is no need to worry about an Alphard with HID headlights. By the way, some Alphards right back to 2002 have HID headlights.

      I’ve never had a problem getting an imported Japanese car with HID headlights through the MOT and I don’t search around for sympathetic testers! The situation is stricter for cars under 10 years old going through the IVA test.

      I hope this is good news for your car choice, and please let me know if you think I’ve got the above wrong!

      Thanks
      Andrew

  • john walden

    Thanks. You’ve made up my mind on not just this vehicle but also on hte features I require, and, engine capacity. 3 ltr.

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi John

      Great, thanks very much. I’m really pleased the article was helpful and I hope you enjoy your Alphard.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • neil

    hi Andrew ive just purchased a 2.4 hybrid and I love it . Its done 77000 miles and has a full jap service history and is in amazing condition for 2004. I also have a 3.4 ltr grand hiace which I had converted to lpg 7 years ago when I first bought it , its been totally reliable which is why I think I can trust the hybrid to be reliable after all it is a Toyota . is there any reason why you haven’t mentioned the hybrid version in your appraisal , or is it because you haven’t had any experience with them .

  • David Green

    Hi
    Have a 2.4 2002 Alphard for a year now, fitted out as a camper, so far so good pleased with it if you don’t race about,
    One problem I have is obtaining a full set of spare bulbs, to go abroad with, could you suggest a suppler.
    Is it possible to chip this engine for a little more power, also is lPG worth the expense for better fuel costs.

    Your article was very good.
    Thanks

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi David

      Thanks for your comments on the review. To answer your questions:

      Bulbs – I don’t know of a supplier of a kit. I usually just make my own by buying individual bulbs from eBay sellers. This does require taking the bulbs out to see which ones you’ve got, but this has 2 benefits: 1. you learn how to change the bulbs. 2. you know you’ve definitely got the right bulbs.

      Chip tuning – I have no previous experience of this unfortunately.

      LPG – depending on the quality (and therefore cost) of the conversion fitted, I reckon it would take 17-20k miles for the saving to pay back the installation costs. Only you can decide whether this is worthwhile, depending on how many miles you drive a year and how long you intend to keep your Alphard.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • John White

    i am a handyman who is looking for a replacement to my old hi ace van, but as new(er) Hi ace vans are incredibly pricy, would the Alphard be an option ? I like the idea of some superior comfort as I am not a young man anymore !

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi John

      As a Toyota HiAce owner I can say without doubt the Alphard is significantly more comfortable than the HiAce. It is also a lot quieter.

      The Alphard could definitely be an alternative. The rear row of seats can be unbolted or kept folded to the side and the middle row kept ‘flopped’ forwards to give a sizeable load area. You could make some covers to velcro in place if you wanted to keep the seat cloth in good condition whilst in van mode, or just buy one with a slightly ropey interior to start with.

      A few other things to consider:

      Will the conversion to van be permanent or will you want to make use of the rear seats sometimes? If you will, this will limit your options for racking etc. inside the ‘van’.

      Load area – if you use all of your HiAce’s load area at the moment, I don’t think you’d get quite as much space in an Alphard.

      Towing – the Alphard wouldn’t have as high a towing weight as the HiAce.

      Security – you may need to obscure the rear windows.

      Bulkhead – if you carry heavy stuff you might want to consider the safety implications of not having a bulkhead to stop them flying forwards in an accident or under heavy braking.

      Good luck with your decision. I think there is someone on the Facebook Alphard Owners’ Group who uses their Alphard as a van for work so you could have a look on there for some more insights.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • Z.C.

    Wonderfully accurate review and well analysed.
    I have the 2.4 and I can’t wish myself to get rid of it as there is nothing in the market quite like it! The 2.4 engine married wth the non CBT gearbox in earlier models is a marriage made in hell. They seem to quarrel often and get the ratios right. Would love the 3.0 V6 but with more in-town driving and school runs and acting as ‘the wife’s car’, we still find it thirsty.
    0 on performance and top speed but then again this MPV isn’t meant for that and don’t let any ‘sporty body panels and spoilers’ fool you.

  • Brian Ingham

    Hi Andrew
    just bought a Alphard 2.4 2002 plate converted to camper amazed how easy it is to drive. sat nav is still doing my nut in any advice on getting the sat nav sorted would be appreciated reversing camera works fine as does the radio everything else is in Japanese which is to be expected on an import ,is there a way to get this sorted for UK roads , is there any publications on the service manual in English that you could point me in the direction of.
    regards
    Brian Ingham

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Brian

      Congratulations on your purchase. In most cases the head unit needs to be removed and replaced with one in English with UK navigation software. It is possible to do this and retain a fully functioning reversing camera. There isn’t a way of converting the factory fitted Japanese head unit to English.

      There is a translated owner’s manual available, but not a service manual as far as I’m aware.

      Enjoy the Alphard!
      Andrew

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Martin

      The official MPG figure was 17.2 km/L which equates to 48.5 miles per gallon. I think most Alphard hybrid owners would be over the moon if they were achieving this fuel consumption.

      Back in the real world, most of the figures I see reported are between 30 and 35 mpg.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • Ugochukwu Nwosu

    Hi Andrew, thanks for this review. I am planning on getting an Alphard, one already used in the UK. Before I conclude I wanted to get an insurance quote, however I can’t even get these as listed type of vehicles. Any thoughts about insurance. Also would these makes be easily repaired if anything goes wrong. I’ve tried calling some of the main dealers to see if I can get any kind of comfort about getting support and what I hear is that they cannot run any type of technical diagnostics on these. I don’t know if this is normal. I am based in Rochester, i.e. if that helps in identifying any garages near me that have experience in dealing with Alphard. Interestingly yesterday 19/Mar/2017 was the first time I have heard about the Alphard. I am in the market for an 8-seater and the Alphard seems to tick all my boxes, except the fact it is imported and the likelihood of not getting technical support or ready insurance.

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Ugochukwu

      Getting insurance for a car imported from Japan is slightly more involved than for a UK car, but there are plenty of companies that will provide cover now. I’ve suggested some companies to try elsewhere in the comments on this post.

      Regarding your experience with the dealer, unfortunately this is an all too common experience. There are plenty of fault code readers and other diagnostic equipment available to buy in the UK that will work on Japanese imports. It is just a case of looking for a mechanic with an open mind and a willingness to work on an imported vehicle. Many of the more expensive pieces of diagnostic equipment already have JOBD capability.

      I’ve written more about parts availability here.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • Isaak Kohn

    Hi Andrew,

    I am looking to buy an alphard as seen by a friend and I do like the smooth driving as I had driven this vehicle, but I wondered regarding the petrol would it be a good choice to buy an Hybrid and what is your recommandations regarding the Hybrid?

    Best regards,

    Isaak

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Isaak

      If you are referring to a first generation Alphard Hybrid (ATH10W), several contacts in Japan have advised against these due to reliability problems. I am a stickler for reliability and as such wouldn’t buy one. My thinking on this is as follows: it isn’t that the hybrids go wrong all the time, just that when they do, it often seems to be a big problem which can quickly become more expensive than the fuel costs saved.

      Having said that, there are plenty of people who have one and are very happy. The real world fuel consumption seems to be about 5 mpg better than the regular 2.4 litre 4 cylinder engine and probably about 10 mpg better than the 3 litre V6.

      So my recommendation (i.e. what I would do if I was buying) if you’re looking for a 1st generation Alphard is to avoid the hybrid and trade fuel consumption for reliability / ease of fixing.

      I’d be interested to hear what you end up buying!

      Andrew

  • Phil Wilson

    Update of my June 2016 review. I think your review is spot on Andrew. Having owned “the best car we’ve ever had” (a 3 litre 2002) for jus over a year now. It has done the school run daily, usual local trips & also Essex to the Isle of Wight, Cornwall & the Peak District, over 12000 miles in it’s first UK year. No faults apart from a brake bulb & regular 25mpg plus. It has been driven empty & fully loaded with no complaint. We have the pale “Alcantara” covered seats & they are still as new & look really classy, in fact it would be a sin to cover them!
    Lastly, but very importantly, our local trusted garage is quite happy to work on this vehicle, they even have it on their “Hunter” tracking & alignment system.
    What to replace it with in a few years? – simple another one!

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Phil

      Thank you very much for the update – I’m really pleased to hear you’re enjoying the Alphard. Also good to read your mpg figure, which I think is very reasonable for a 3 litre V6 engine.

      Happy motoring!
      Andrew

  • John B

    Hi Andrew,
    Do you have a recommendation for the best transmission or are there any I must avoid? There was a 4-speed Alphard, then a 5-speed. More recent models have a 6-speed, or a 7-speed CVT, although I imagine these are still pricey. “ZC” in the comments remarked that the 2.4L didn’t work with the (4-speed?) auto box very well. I’ve read in general that CVTs are like driving an elastic band powered car because the revs change with no change in speed, and that CVTs rarely achieve a high mileage without wearing out, and no-one will repair them.
    On the other hand, I could imagine a CVT having better fuel economy, and I could get one if I splashed out a bit more cash, or I could have one cheaply if I went for a Serena or Noah instead.
    Cheers,

  • Dave Deacon

    Thank you for the reviews and I am convinced the Althard is my next car. Probably the 2005 facelift model with 5 speed box. There are plenty available across the country. The one issue I have is how to know an imported car is not stolen before shipping or have outstanding finance. Not all dealers are BITMA members. Any advise would be appreciated.
    Many thanks
    Dave D.

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Dave

      Thanks for your comment and question. You mentioned BIMTA and indeed not all dealers are BIMTA members. But you as an individual can get your own BIMTA check on any car you’re looking to buy, which may help give peace of mind about the issues you mention. Also have a look at this post, which gives some tips on checking the odometer reading of an imported car.

      Best wishes
      Andrew

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Denis

      I presume you mean LPG? If so, yes this can definitely be done, plenty of Alphard owners have chosen to do this with both the 2.4 litre and 3 litre engines. In most cases I understand the tank goes in the spare wheel well. In general there is a slightly lower MPG figure with LPG but this is more than compensated for by the (much) lower price of LPG.

      People choose a variety of locations for the filling port: I’ve seen some mounted to the tow bar, others in the bumper and others inside the existing fuel door.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • Alan Manaton

    Hi Andrew, Very useful review, many thanks, we are considering our options at the moment and the one thing we’re having difficulty with as regards the seating is, can the 7 seater be used as a double bed/how much would it take to adapt it so it did, thanks, Alan.

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Alan

      As far as I know the 7 seater wouldn’t convert into a double bed. Adapting it would be tricky because the seat runners are in different configurations in the 7 seater compared with the 8 seater. So it isn’t just a case of unbolting one of the middle row single seats and swapping it for a double. If you want to use your Alphard in double bed mode, I’d go for an 8 seater.

      Thanks
      Andrew

  • adrian

    Worst engine of toyota ever,just the slightest friction and the head bolts loosens also blowing head gaskets and leaking coolaint after 150k miles

  • Brigitte Mussell

    I am interested in buying an alphard. Which insurance can I get? I tried my current LV and they won’t insure it. Regards, Brigitte

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Brigitte

      This is often a problem with insuring imported vehicles. Many of the price comparison sites and volume insurers only have a database with UK vehicles so cannot find imported cars and default to a ‘computer says no’ approach.

      I have seen imported car owners have success (and reasonable quotes) from the following (I have no affiliation with any of them):

      Churchill
      Liverpool Victoria
      Direct Line
      Sky insurance
      Adrian Flux (sometimes reasonable, sometimes expensive!)

      I hope you manage to get a competitive quote.

      Cheers
      Andrew

      • marcus

        Good info Andrew, thanks. I will definitely avoid the hybrid, as I need to travel abroad and don’t want complications. Again 3L looks better than 2.4. Only question now is whether to go LPG?

        • Andrew Post author

          Hi Marcus

          A lot of Alphard owners have had their vehicles converted to LPG and seem very happy with the results. I guess it depends on how many miles you’ll be doing and how long you envisage keeping the Alphard (and in your case how much fuel will be in the other countries you’ll be visiting) as to whether the LPG conversion will be worthwhile.

          The 2.4 does have the advantage of simpler (and therefore cheaper) servicing, e.g. no timing belt and only 4 spark plugs which are much easier to access than on the V6. So it might be worth factoring this into your calculations.

          Cheers
          Andrew

      • jon

        Just thought I would update you that Churchill wont insure Alphards any more as they don’t appear on there list of cars!
        L and V might be able to but only with a registration so you can get a quote before you buy. I Hope that helps,
        Jon

  • Justin

    Great review and very helpful, I drive back and forth between the UK and Austria regularly. I am looking to change my old Regius 3 litre for something a bit younger!! Your review advises very well.

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Michael

      No this engine has a timing chain. Regular oil checks and changes with good quality oil are the key to looking after it!

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • Steve

    Hi Andrew,

    I thinking of purchasing a camper and have read a lot of reviews. Yours is concise and clear and covers all the relevant points.

    I have decided from your review to purchase a 3.0 litre, automatic Alphard and due to doing around 1400 miles a month will opt for an LPG conversion. I don’t plan on changing the vehicle for a good few years.

    Thank you

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Steve

      Great to hear, thank you. If I was doing nearly 17k miles per year I think I’d go for LPG too!

      Cheers
      Andrew