Alvin Thomas tests a workman-like SUV with a little finesse for the faithful, no-frills customer.
If the term “workhorse”could be applied to a car, it would have to be the Toyota Fortuner. They’re practically everywhere you look around – the roads, the dunes, the mountains and even those deep, overflowing wadis. Truly, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were more of these SUVs active as desert-wanders than actual camels nowadays.
Fallacious statement? I think not.
Just ask any engineer in Oman if what I say is true, and he will most likely agree. You see, the Fortuner, since its inception in 2006, has been adopted as an “engineer’s best friend”. The vehicle was considered proficient at everything that was asked of it. Case in point: the Fortuner remains one of the most rented vehicles today.
Two of my closest friends even rent Fortuners when they go off-road. However, it must be noted that for long – despite its capabilities and practicality (and love affair with engineers) – the Fortuner wasn’t perceived as a vehicle of choice for families and other off-road enthusiasts thanks to its drubbing behind the shadows of its more capable brothers – the Land Cruiser and Land Cruiser Prado.
But why? Well, that solely boiled down to its design cues and, in my opinion, cut-rate looks: it really didn’t look like something that would appeal to families and adventurists. But come the successor, things have taken a turn (thankfully) for the better.
The all-new (second-generation) Toyota Fortuner looks nothing like any other Toyota in the line-up, not even the Hilux pick-up that it is originally based on. What it does look like, though, is a very athletic and brawny SUV; possibly even the coolest looking off-roader to hail from the “Land of the Rising Sun” (granted, the Fortuner is put together in Indonesia, but you get my drift).
But before we proceed any further, let us stress that new look: the Fortuner adorns Toyota’s new “keen look” corporate design, which is smart and sharp. The lights are sleek and almost eagle wing-shaped with daytime running LED lamps embedded in them, and the front grille swoops down to the air intake cover for the radiator in the bumper.
The bumper itself is muscular and well-toned.
Rounding up the rear end, you get thin, chiselled tail lamps that are separated by a large chrome strip in the middle, and a spoiler atop the liftgate but nothing much else.
Still, the new design-language is scores ahead of its drab predecessor and, frankly, incredibly easy on the eye. Looks may be subjective but I think most people will agree that the Fortuner actually looks nice this time around. Kudos, Toyota.
Inside, I was glad to see Toyota replace its old plasticky interior in favour of neatly padded leatherette surfaces. You get soft-touch materials on the arm rests, parts of the dashboard and even the centre console. As with any Toyota, I found the fit and finish to be bang on, with really no panel gaps or annoying squeaks. However, I did come across a slight hitch when the third-row seats kept getting deployed from their resting position while off-roading.
Apart from that, the Fortuner’s interior is absolutely sublime: you even get a glovebox cooler, a responsive 20.3cm touchscreen with extremely finicky light sensitive controls around it, and a decent-sounding six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth streaming and AUX support. Thankfully, Toyota does chuck in physical buttons and knobs for the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) controls.
There’s adequate space in the second row, although third-row seating should be reserved for children and small-sized adults. Surprisingly, luggage capacity in the back is excellent, even with all the seats deployed.
On the contrary, getting in and out of the SUV is quite a task, thanks to its raised ride height. But this translates to excellent off-roading capabilities, and that’s what the Fortuner is all about.
Powering the Fortuner is a 4.0-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine, pumping out a rather measly 235hp at 5,200rpm and 376Nm of torque at 3,800rpm. While the numbers may not be class-leading, it is definitely good enough to power the 1,800kg body to 100kph from zero in nine seconds flat.
But what the Fortuner lacks in power, it makes up for in pure blue-blooded torque. The twist is available (as expected) low down in the rev range, and that amounts to excellent pull from a standstill. This particularly came in handy when I took the vehicle off-road at the Seeb dunes and the beach.
The six-speed gearbox is potent, and shifts gears smoothly but I did encounter the odd hiccup here and there – particularly when smashing the pedal to the metal. You could still take control of the gear shifts via the steering-mounted paddle-shifters. However, the reaction times are painstakingly dawdling, and I would rather you leave things to the gearbox itself.
One of the biggest changes in the new Fortuner is the fact that now you only have part-time all-wheel-drive, meaning, you can now only stroll around in the city in two-wheel-drive. Of course, when heading off-road, you can opt for four-wheel-drive and even low-range gears. Thanks to this, your fuel readouts should improve considerably.
Ride quality is another area where the new Fortuner scores over its predecessor. Granted – given that this is still a body-on-frame SUV – it still rides like a truck but the end result is a much more refined SUV.
Still, body roll is existent (ever so moderately) in corners and road imperfections – like any other SUV in this class – can be felt within the cabin. The 46cm alloys wrapped around 265/60 off-road rubber does help things, though.
The steering is quite heavy and damped but lacks any form of feedback. Handling is decent, though, and the brakes are incredibly powerful even if the brake pedal doesn’t particularly translate any form of feel to the driver.
Meanwhile, the road noise is kept to a minimum with effective sound deadening materials but the wind noise is evident after 120kph.
But things take a turn for the better once you head off the highway and into the deserts. The differential on the Fortuner is unbelievable – a bargain even – considering it is nearly as good off-road as the king: the Toyota Land Cruiser.
Steep inclines and undulations do not affect the stability of the vehicle by much, even though it has a live real-axle. The ladder-frame construction, however, gives the SUV unbelievable approach and departure angles. This means you can head right into the mountains without dinging your vehicle’s nose and hind – something that certain Asian and American SUVs don’t quite seem to get right nowadays.
At no point during my test did I feel the Fortuner struggle to gain traction. The dunes didn’t upset the engine, gearbox or even the differential by much although my idiocy did let me down when I misjudged a steep dune.
Still, I could lock the differential, pop it into the low-range gear and haul myself upwards. It was incredibly fun, too.
As a matter of fact, I became so confident with the vehicle, I kept trying steeper dunes and smoother surfaces just to try to push the Fortuner to its limits. Of course, each and every time, the vehicle only came out strong and victorious.
The Fortuner may only seem like your run-of-the-mill pick-up-turned-SUV, but you mustn’t forget that this has more to it than just looks and grunt. It’s got the character of a spirited off-roader and underneath all that that skin, the heart of a Toyota SUV. It’s mighty brilliant, this SUV.