You get a job, you get married, and then you have kids. Hopefully in that order. You watch your first child open his or her eyes for the first time and curiously look around the ward. And everything changes – you cease to be a manager or senior manager or whatever fancy corporate title you hold at your office. Your primary job title has now become provider and protector of your family.
It’s no longer about horsepower, torque and acceleration times from now on. It’s all about making sure your family is able to travel in the most comfortable and safest vehicle you can afford. And for the longest time, the well-to-do family man has been shopping at grey importers for his weapon of choice. It’s not an uncommon sight to see a sea of white or silver MPVs imported from Japan parked at these dealerships. Now, the official importers are having a go to get some market share as well.
Malaysian Nissan distributor Edaran Tan Chong Motor was one of the first to officially enter this segment with the launch of the Nissan Elgrand in Malaysia back in 2012. UMW Toyota followed later with the Alphard this year, and ETCM followed up by quickly bringing in the latest facelift of the Elgrand, which was globally unveiled at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show.
These large luxury MPVs such as the Toyota Alphard and Nissan Elgrand are displacing traditional choices at the RM300k-RM400k range, which used to belong exclusively to Euro sedans and SUVs.
Specifications, and differences compared to the pre-facelift Elgrand
Like the pre-facelift model, the Elgrand continues to be offered with a 3.5 litre engine only, while its competitor the Alphard has a more affordable 2.4 litre model. This means a relatively high road tax cost, although with the Elgrand, being an MPV, it’s not as a high as a 3.5 litre sedan (about RM2.4k versus RM4.2k).
The engine is Nissan’s venerable VQ35DE, offering 280 PS at 6,400 rpm and 344 Nm of torque at 4,400 rpm. In this application it’s paired to Nissan’s Xtronic CVT transmission, which has a six-speed manual mode.
Upgraded specs over the pre-facelift model include LED headlamps, multi-spoke 18-inch wheels, a new Fine Vision instrument panel with a five-inch colour Drive Assist Display between the dials and a leather steering wheel with MID and cruise control buttons.
The interior trim has been revised from medium brown in the pre-facelift car to a new, darker deep wood grain. The black leather seats now have a diamond-shaped quilted pattern and brown double stitching.
The power folding function for the third row seats has been removed, but this allows for the third row to gain a new sliding function for you to adjust between having more luggage space and more third row legroom. Other features include powered rear sliding doors and a powered boot.
Safety wise, the Elgrand comes with six airbags (dual front, side, curtain), ABS, EBD and Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC). Nissan’s Around View Monitor provides a bird’s eye view of the vehicle to assist parking. This is done by stitching together images from four 180-degree wide-angle cameras.
While this system sounds like a great idea, it’s let down by being displayed on a relatively low resolution screen. Even Tan Chong’s own TCAT head unit has a screen and reverse camera that looks way sharper than Nissan’s own OEM screen and camera.
With everyone spoiled by the high resolution displays on our laptops and mobile phones these days, car companies should really rethink the resolution of screens and cameras that they equip in cars.
Driving the Nissan Elgrand – life in the first row of seats
The Elgrand’s 3.5 litre V6 fires up with occasion. Hearing it start up in a quiet parking lot would make you think it’s probably some kind of an expensive sports car, only for you to find a big lumbering MPV when you turn your head to ogle.
It’s a pretty large vehicle, the Elgrand. After the delicious sounding engine start up sound, the next thing you’ll notice when you drive off is how slow the steering is geared. This means you’ll have to turn more of the steering wheel to get the wheels to turn as compared to what you’d normally be used to in a sedan. That said, the Elgrand is relatively easy to manoeuvre, and even parking isn’t that much of an issue thanks to the Around View Monitor.
The V6 has gob-loads of power, and the Xtronic CVT puts it to the ground ever so smoothly. Revs are kept consistently low, but if you need that extra bit of power, the CVT gearbox smoothly brings the revs up. Nissan’s CVTs are some of the best in the business – there’s no irritating rubber band effect here. CVTs are usually used on small engines, but perhaps more large engines should get them too?
It feels like just the right amount of power because you can summon additional acceleration at any time, and while the engine-gearbox combo doesn’t deliver a surge that kicks you back into your seat, the added acceleration feels acceptable. I think the smaller engine (which you’ll be able to find in grey market Elgrands) would feel a little underpowered in this case.
The Elgrand is a tall car (though not as tall as the Alphard), so you can expect it to lean quite a bit through the corners. Other than obvious reasons of safety, you shouldn’t take corners too fast in this vehicle because your second row passengers that are probably family members that you love are going to feel a little nauseated.
There’s a little storage console in the middle of the front two seats, which integrates four cupholders (two front and two rear) and a USB port in the middle. A further two cupholders pop out from the dashboard just below the seat heating controls.
How does it perform as a chauffeur-driven car?
If you’re going to be driven around in the Elgrand, you’ll probably be sitting in the middle row, which has two individual “captain chairs”. These have manual adjustment – they can slide back and forth, they have integrated ‘floating’ armrests that you can flip up and down, and there’s even an ottoman leg rest which you can raise. However, tall people won’t find this feature very useful.
The seats are nice and supportive, and the rear air con controls and vents are just above you. There’s also a larger range of adjustment than usual because you can even adjust the angle of the top half of the seat back separately from the seat.
There’s another storage console in between these two captain seats, which integrate four cupholders, and you can fold this down to make it easier to move between the second and third rows.
There are some advantages and disadvantages in being chauffeur driven with a big Japanese MPV instead of the ubiquitous Mercedes-Benz S-Class. An S-Class beats the MPV in the sense that the its seats are way more comfortable, and the front passenger seat of an S-Class can be controlled by both the driver and the rear passenger, so you can adjust your legroom on the fly.
Having a low centre of gravity, the S-Class has a much smoother ride, especially through the bends. So if you decide to work on your laptop in the car – which is really a good way to reclaim the hours that we spend in traffic jams these days – there’s less chance of you getting motion sickness.
A sedan will also handle better and brake better, so if by any chance you get into some kind of a hairy situation, you’ll fare better in the sedan.
One big plus point of travelling in the Elgrand is that the rear blowers are a lot more powerful, and they do a better job at cooling without being overly noisy. Since they’re positioned right above your head, you get the perception of being in a cool cabin with less effort than the blowers in an S-Class, which is positioned relatively far away.
Of course, if you compare the cost of acquisition based on brand new car prices, an Elgrand is significantly cheaper than an S-Class. So you do get a lot more interior space compared to an equivalently priced Mercedes-Benz, which would be an E 250.
The Elgrand can also fit four adults in the second and third rows very comfortably with plenty of legroom, especially when you position the seats for maximum cabin area as opposed to luggage area, so it’s more suitable for business meetings too.
This is one huge MPV basically – it’s incredible how much legroom there is even in the third row!
How is it as family transport – child seat and luggage flexibility
Since the Elgrand can seat six very comfortably, it’s inevitable that it should sometimes have to carry six people’s worth of stuff. We recommend items to be stored in the luggage area only, as storing them on the floor in the passenger cabin will turn them into projectiles in an accident.
With the third row adjusted to the maximum rear position, the boot is 150mm deep, enough room for a compact stroller and various other groceries. The good news is that you can slide the third row forward to increase luggage space to 240mm deep. This wasn’t possible with the pre-facelift car. The third row is also split 60:40 so you can slide them back and forth individually for more flexibility in adjusting between luggage area and legroom. There’s also a luggage hook on the back of the 60 split section.
ISOFIX child seat anchorage points are only found on the second row captain seats, which hinder the flexibility of child seat installation somewhat. It would have been nice for the third row to get ISOFIX points as well, so you can have one child in each second and third row with an adult seated next to them for company and care. Third row ISOFIX seems to be a feature exclusively available in European MPVs (such as the seven-seater Volkswagen Sharan) and three-row SUVs only.
So with the Elgrand, you’ll have to use a regular seat belt-secured child seat for the third row if you want such a setup. You just need to make sure the seat is secured properly, as an improperly secured child seat is unsafe in accidents. Belt-secured seats are just as safe as ISOFIX seats, but what ISOFIX does is minimise incorrect installation.
As for ease of ingress and egress, It’s pretty easy to move between the second and third row thanks to the gap between the captain seats. The fact that the second row uses manual adjustment instead of electrical adjustment turns out to be a plus point in this case, as it also makes it easy and quick to fold the seat forward to access the third row from the sides instead of through the middle.
Another neat feature is an additional wide angle pop-down mirror near the rear view mirror that’s angled to let you easily see all your passengers at a single glance.
How different is the Elgrand from the super popular Toyota Alphard?
Firstly, the Elgrand is only available as a 3.5 litre, while the Alphard has a cheaper 2.4 litre option. This can represent significant savings – a RM329k purchase price for the 2.4 litre Alphard compared to the Elgrand’s RM388k price tag. The 2.4 litre engine also has significantly lower annual road tax costs – RM729.60 versus RM2,436.80. Compared to the 3.5 litre Alphard however, the two MPVs are priced very close to each other, with the Alphard costing RM387k, and they both have similar annual road tax costs.
Although it physically looks smaller, the Elgrand is actually longer and wider than the Alphard, with a 3,000 mm wheelbase compared to the Alphard’s 2,950 mm. The Alphard looks bigger because of its taller height at 1,905 mm versus the Elgrand’s 1,815 mm. Naturally, the fact that it is taller translates to the Alphard having greater headroom inside, so it might be easier to walk around in the cabin.
Toyota took a very different approach to the third row of the Alphard compared to the Elgrand. The third row of the Alphard can seat three, but the middle passenger will be pretty much sitting on where the third row bench splits, as it has a 50:50 configuration compared to the Elgrand’s 60:40.
There’re also no sliding or fold-down adjustments – you have to fold them up and hang them by the side of the rear windows like an old Mitsubishi Pajero. The seats themselves are smaller in the Alphard, while the Elgrand’s third row has taller seatbacks so they’re more comfortable for adults.
Another thing to point out is that the captain seats of the Alphard (pictured above, left) have an armrest design that is basically integrated into the seat like a ‘shell’ – think of an airplane’s business class seat which has solid plastic flanking your thighs. This actually prevents you from spreading your legs out if you’re big sized and it feels pretty restrictive. No such problems with the Elgrand, and since you can pretty much flip up the armrests out of your way, you have easier access to a child sitting next to you in a child seat.
You can compare the Elgrand against the Alphard side by side on CarBase.my. Of course, the Alphard is a more recognisable product, and as a result it enjoys a plus point that regular commenter Sam Loo refers to as ‘good RV’. The 3.5 litre Alphard also has a six-speed stepped automatic gearbox for those who dislike the feel of a CVT gearbox.
A fantastic people mover if you have the dough
I started off this story adding ‘well-to-do’ in front of family man, because of how expensive all these luxury MPVs are. If you’re an average Joe who can only do a little better than an Alza or Grand Livina, you’ll probably be shopping for a Nissan Serena S-Hybrid instead, which also offers a lot of interior space, albeit in a less refined and narrower cabin. It will also be cheaper to run, with the only downside being the availability of only two airbags.
The Elgrand is significantly more comfortable and safer, at more than double the price. It’s also very capable in the face of its more popular competition. Despite it being essentially a square box on the interior, Nissan has managed to trim it properly so it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in an empty van. If you’re shopping for something at that price range, don’t forget to check this one out.