A NATURAL HABITAT is an ecological or environmental area where a specific species lives. A species is most comfortable and at its optimal best when it is within its natural environment. The concept of natural habitats also applies to the world of the automobile. Some cam are most comfortable on the road, some on a track, and some, like the new Toyota Fortuner, on a ground dotted with ditches, slush, hills and dirt. Welcome to the Toyota Fortuner Experiential Drive Camp, a multi-day, multi-city drive camp organised by Autocar India and Toyota to provide prospective customers an opportunity to explore the rugged side of the big SUV. “Customers might have Fortuners, but this is the first time they am conducting a test like this on the product,” says N Raja, senior vice-president and director of sales and marketing, Toyota Kirloskar Motors.
Now, it is a fact that most owners of a 4×4 off-roader like the Fortuner drive the car almost exclusively on the road, at most venture onto dusty rural roads once in a while. However, Toyota wanted them to at least know what their vehicle was capable of, and hopefully spark the desire to indulge in off-reading. “We take a feedback session with customers after the drive,” says Raja. “Here, we ask them how they feel about the car before and after the drive, and many people admit that they did not know the car was capable of such things, and that they would love to try even 5 o percent of what they saw today on their own.”
The drive camp consisted of an off-road course created by off-roading specialists, and conformed to a very high level of difficulty. That should not be a cause for worry though, because, according to Tejas Kothari, founder of Offroad Junkie, “This course is challenging for the first-time off-roader, but the Fortuner makes it very easy for them.”
How exactly does the Fortuner make it easy? The answer lies in a slew of off-roading capabilities the car is armed with. First the fundamentals – the Fortuners at the drive camp are powered by 2.8-litre diesel engines with monster torque ratings of 450Nm available from early on in the rev band, mated to six-speed automatic gearboxes with a manual mode.
Then, you have a suspension setup that has been strengthened, and a slew of off-road features such as a switchable four-wheel-drive system known as Sigma 4 with 2WD, 4WD and 4WD. Low modes, an electronic differential lock that selectively brakes individual wheels as and when needed, active traction control, a hill hold function and downhill assist control that tackles steep declines almost autonomously.
The course consisted of myriad obstacles, such as chicken holes, rum biers, an articulation ramp, a water trap, a slush patch, sand patches, steep inclines and declines and side inclines. Each obstacle was to demonstrate specific capabilities of the Fortuner. Participants were first given a debrief, where off-road experts and Toyota representatives briefed them about the Fortuner, its capabilities and the do’s and dont’s of driving on the off-road course.
They were then taken through the course by a professional off-road trainer, following which they were allowed to take a go at it themselves. “Every participant I witnessed stepped out of a mud-caked and dust-covered Fortuner, grinning.”
“I have not seen any other car till date that can tackle such extreme inclines,” remarked Abhishek Galwankar, a participant at the Mumbai camp. “When I saw people trying the course, it was like a near-death experience for me,” Manoj from Bengaluru told me. “But when I tried it for myself, it was an out-of-this-world experience”.
More than 2,500 participants showed up for the drive camp across Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, compelling the trainers to work overtime from morning till after sundown. So impressed were some participants that they actually booked their Fortuners immediately on the spot. A great product, after all, is one that sells itself.