The Indian car market is seeing a revival of sorts for luxury people-movers.
The first car of the type to go on sale was the MB 100/140 from Mercedes in 1999. According to a review, it was spacious, comfortable and refined.
It, however, did not impress luxury car customers much and, as a result, not too many were sold. Mercedes stopped selling it in 2001. Now, after a gap of 18 years, the carmaker has put the considerably more luxurious V-Class on sale.
And keen to join the fray this time around are both Toyota and Kia. Toyota, with the Vellfire, is targeting the same sort of customer Mercedes is looking at, and Kia, with its Carnival, is more interested in Innova upgraders.
The Toyota Vellfire will not sell cheap in the market, with an expected price of around Rs. 7.5 million (US$ 104,100).
The reason for this is that the car will be imported as a fully built-up unit under the government's 2,500 car import rule.
Only 200 units will be initially imported when the car goes on sale in the coming months, and it is expected to be powered by a petrol-hybrid powertrain that pairs a 150 PS, 2.5-litre engine and a 143 PS electric motor, which make a combined maximum of 197 PS.
Unlike the Alphard, the Vellfire gets a restyled front end.
It gets a differently styled grille with massive chrome bands, delivering something of a deconstructed feel. It also gets a huge floating roof, and a chrome-lined B-pillar that actually leans forward.
What's likely to be an even bigger draw is the 'Executive Lounge' package. It includes two business-class seats on the second row that can be reclined, with foot extensions popping out as on an airline seat.
The seats are ventilated, and the car sold in India could have a massive screen placed in between the first and second row. The Vellfire will get kit like two sunroofs, three-zone climate control, mood lighting, individual tray tables, seven airbags and an option of a black or beige interior. How Indian customers will react to the powered sliding doors is anybody's guess.
The sliding doors are a feature that will be seen on the Kia Carnival as well. The most accessible of the new crop of luxury MPVs is likely to go on sale only in early 2020. To be part-assembled in India and sold at an expected price between Rs. 2.5-2.6 million, the Carnival will be an interesting step up from the Innova.
Also sold as the Sedona in some markets, Kia says the Carnival will sit a half or full segment above the Toyota Innova, depending on specification
Stuff like connected car technology, a large touchscreen infotainment system, two sunroofs, three-zone climate control, and loads of safety kit. What will impress some of the more luxury-oriented buyers will be the superior build quality, a luxury car-like dash and large captain's chairs on the second row with extensions to prop up one's feet.
The interior is expected to be spacious as well. To begin with, the Kia is built around a more efficient monocoque chassis and it is 380mm longer and 155mm wider than the Innova Crysta. The exterior dimensions are impressive for sure; it measures 5,115mm in length, 1,985mm in width, and 1,740mm in height.
Also, what will make access to the third row easier is the fact that the Kia is lower-slung for easier ingress and egress. The roof at the rear is slightly lower and, as a result, the seat is placed a bit lower too. But legroom should be good due to the extra length.
Configured and built originally for the US, there's also a fair bit of boot space in the rear, even with all three rows up. And this can be further augmented by opening the boot floor; at least three soft bags can sit here. Some versions even have a motorised third row.
The Carnival for India is likely to be offered with a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel, with power sent to the front wheels. The engine produces 202 PS at 3,800 rpm and 441 Nm of torque between 1,750-2,750 rpm. A six-speed automatic is likely to be the gearbox of choice, though a six-speed manual will also be available.