Toyota’s take on its massively successful Fortuner leans toward style and sophistication. However, at the heart of it is still a capable SUV with tonnes of road presence.
A drive through God’s own country, as scenic as it is, can also be a frustrating proposition. The incredible vistas have narrow roads snaking around them, but the towns are never-ending and the traffic never really thins out. Ideal SUV country? Possibly, especially ones like the four-wheel-drive Fortuner that I am shepherding around, because, let’s face it, you do want to get away from the transport buses sliding their way down the hill and catch a piece of green earth to marvel at what truly makes Kerala so special.
More often than not, there is a little trail at the end of the tarmac that leads up to the best vantage point and that is where this Toyota comes into its own and makes sure you have the best seat in the house. Don’t forget the fact that since its launch in 2009, the Fortuner has been an absolute favourite in India, especially as a symbol of power. It did grow to look fairly dated, especially on the inside and in need of a proper makeover.
It is of little surprise that the Japanese manufacturer has decided to carry the same basic formula forward – big dimensions, massive road presence and of course, a fair amount of chrome, just to make sure all bases are covered. The difference though, is the styling. No longer is it a brute, it has some clean lines and shiny finish that makes it look more upmarket. Toyota did acknowledge that the Fortuner needed a thorough upgrade and decided to develop an all-new car starting from a fresh piece of paper. Consequently, the new Fortuner sits on a new ladder frame that has been re-designed and made stiffer and it is powered by a new 2.8-litre diesel motor. While it looks less like the Prado now, the designers have used various elements to maintain some sort of resemblance to the rest of Toyota’s line-up.
It sits high up, with the bumpers well off the ground and the waistline is pretty high too with a prominent kink at the C-pillar adding a bit of flair. All the chrome and clean lines make the new Fortuner look very different from the previous generation and it is certainly less macho and more chic. Even the lamps have a sleek design with LED elements in them to stick with the scheme of things.
On the inside, the Fortuner still feels familiar. A large dashboard, leather upholstery for the seats and steering-mounted controls.
There is a large touchscreen that sits in the middle of the dash now with the air-con controls sitting below it and off-road aids right at the bottom. Four-wheel-drive is selected via a rotary switch now and you have the option of leaving it in regular two-wheel-drive for everyday use (not full-time four-wheel-drive anymore).
There are plenty of practical touches as well to make the cabin superbly functional. There are two glove boxes, cup holders, bottle holders and even baggage hooks behind the front seats for your carry bags. Although Toyota has managed to pack in all the essentials, there isn’t any bit that particularly catches your eye. T he materials used also vary greatly in feel and aren’t consistently plush. It also misses things like dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming mirror, power seat adjustments for the passenger seat and parking sensors up front. What it does get is a powered tailgate that can even be set to open till a height of your choice,if you so desire.
On the move, however, the new 2.8-litre diesel engine provides enough poke. Power peaks at 175bhp with 420Nm of torque being made available in the manual version and 450Nm in the automatic. Although it is slightly more than the older 3.0-litre diesel, the new car is roughly 200 kilos heavier. But, you don’t have to worry, the way this power is delivered makes sure you always have enough – maximum torque is available as low as 1600rpm and it stays constant till 2400rpm. This ensures seamless power delivery with barely any lag. Get past 2000rpm and you can feel a surge of power to get things moving at a brisk pace. The six-speed manual gearbox has well matched ratios and you can leave it in a higher gear while you cruise, no problem at all.
However, push the motor hard and it gets very noisy. Beyond 3000rpm, there is little action from the motor and a lot of noise filling up the cabin to make things rather bothersome. Shift up a gear and let the engine turnover at lower revs and peace will return to the cabin. Hovering around the 2000rpm mark is where it works best and the engine feels the most lively. The six-speed auto, on the other hand, isn’t as much of an upgrade and you still need to time yourself well to execute overtaking manoeuvres as the gearbox takes its time to sort itself out, especially in the narrow highways around Cochin.
In ‘S’ mode, it always switches to S4 automatically, regardless of what position it is in and does not change the number indicated even when you hear the ‘box downshift. Even when you want to upshift, the ECU takes into account how far you have depressed the accelerator and decides whether to allow an upshift or not. In case you are flat with the right foot, it will hold revs till you hit the redline before shifting up, regardless,of you selecting the next gear via the paddle shifter. This may have been nice in an angry sounding sports car, but here you are just forced to listen to an unrefined drone or lift your foot off thegas to shift when you want to. There is also the option of engaging ‘Power’ or ‘Eco’ mode or just leaving it in normal. There is a very slight difference in throttle response that can be felt with the manual transmission, however, this tends to be lost when using the automatic gearbox.
Toyota also has a 2.7-litre petrol engine on offer. This is the same one that goes into the Crysta and makes 164bhp along with 245Nm of torque. Unlike the diesel, this comes with a five-speed manual ’box or a six-speed automatic. We were offered the automatic version for a drive and it is safe to say that this is the one you leave alone when you go to the showroom.
Ride quality is impressive though and the new multi-link suspension manages to smother even large potholes (there are a few that have been left behind by the monsoon), without a second thought. The stiffer frame also makes it noticeably better at highway speeds. There isn’t the typical way wardness that you expect from a ladder-frame chassis, which makes it pretty relaxing even for long stints behind the wheel. However, the steering communicates nothing more than bumps. The electrically assisted mechanism does not weigh up in any situation and does little more than indicate the general direction your wheels are pointed at. Moreover, the tall stance causes a fair amount of roll and a lot of lateral movement at low speeds over larger potholes/off-road situations.
What is interesting though is the number of new technologies that have been introduced to assist in off-road situations. Apart from being able to choose between two-wheel, four-wheel and four-wheel-low, it employs additional driving aids with the brakes. In case you have a free-spinning wheel, the brakes stop it and transfer power to the other wheel using active traction control (A-TRC) and in case of a steep downhill gradient, you can now engage DAC (downhill assist control) which uses pre-installed programs to determine your descent speed automatically (depending on gradient and lateral movement) and uses the brakes independently to do so. These should make the Fortuner a more capable off-road vehicle, although the first impressions about these technologies are mixed, especially the DAC.
Overall, Toyota has thrown a bit of a mixed bag at us with the new Fortuner. While the exteriors have moved away from its brute-like character, the interiors remain strictly adequate for a $44,000 car. Yes, it’s an upgrade over the older vehicle,but it doesn’t feel particularly plush or stylish. The slimmer dash and rearranged seats have freed up enough legroom for all passengers and the adjustable second row seats make it a very comfortable place to be in.
They have even implemented a roof-mounted seatbelt for the middle passenger to ensure full use of the most comfortable seats in the car. The front seats are pretty supportive as well, although the seat squab could’ve been longer. It’s safe to say the petrol motor is simply a case of Toyota hedging its bets against any sort of ban situation. The diesel is the obvious choice although the manual/auto debate is open for the sort of driving you prefer doing and, funnily enough, how strong your arms are – try engaging reverse in the six-speed manual and you’ll know what I mean.
Engine: Diesel: 2755cc, 4cyl, turbodiesel, 175bhp@3400rpm, 420Nm(MT)/450 Nm(AT)@1600-2400rpm, 6M, 6A
Petrol: 2694cc, 4cyl, petrol, 164bhp@5200rpm, 245Nm@4000rpm, 5M/6A
Tank capacity: 80litres
Tyres: 265/65 R17 (2WD), 265/60 R18 (4WD)
Pros: Clean, crisp exterior styling, ride quality, off-road ability
Cons: Ordinary dashboard, automatic gearbox, refinement at higher revs
Bottom line: The Fortuner has taken off in a new direction. It still has the ability but has traded its brutish character for style. Interiors could have used more inspiration. Ride quality and cruising ability are impressive.