Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos, Kelvin Christian Go | posted February 19, 2016 12:41
What Customers Want
This is it.
For nearly 11 years, Toyota has fielded the Fortuner in the highly competitive midsize pick-up based SUV category. Technically speaking, it's the Pick-up Passenger Vehicle class, but regardless of what name the segment may use, it has become the battleground for mainstream success, offering customers affordable SUV with seven seats and truck levels of ruggedness, durability and reliability.
Now there's an all-new Fortuner, and we're going to see if this car can regain the top spot, especially since its competitors -the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, the Ford Everest, the Chevrolet Trailblazer, and the Isuzu mu-X- are all waiting to see what Toyota will bring to the battlefield.
For style, Toyota really worked to bring a Fortuner that looks good both in photos and in the metal. The look certainly isn't conservative, and it starts with the eye-catching lower bumper; it seems to be inspired by the Toyota Mirai with those triangular slots for the foglamps and the overall attention to detail. The grille is smaller than before, but it accentuates the vertical chrome bars and the much slimmer LED headlamps.
When viewed from the side you'll see that Toyota has worked to break up the normally slab-sided nature of SUVs. They widened the fenders without the use of plastic cladding, made the wheelarches more square-ish, and fitted a handsome set of 18-inch, 12-spoke alloys. What really drew the eye, however, is the greenhouse. The beltline appears higher (giving the impression that it rides above all), the B-, C- and D-pillars are all blacked out to create one continuous greenhouse around the car, and there's an unusual little upward kink below C-pillar. The back has likewise been stylized, this time with slimmer wraparound taillights that seamlessly integrate themselves with the rear chrome garnish.
The interior is likewise all-new, and almost completely distinguishes itself from its pick-up brother. The new Fortuner continues its trend of a predominantly black interior with light gray on the pillars and ceiling, accented by some details like metal trim pieces such as the Fortuner-branded button for the upper glove compartment and the satin finish (faux) wood on the shifter panel. What looked really nice was the black leather used on the primary controls (steering and shift knob) and the premium brown leather upholstery for all seven seats.
Being the top spec variant, this one ticks all the available boxes for features such as DVD playback (from the AVT unit), satellite navigation, climate control, power seats, push-start, and other niceties. There's even a power liftgate in the back for convenience. What's new for the Fortuner is the stability control, the power tailgate, the color LCD screen for the multi-info display and trip computer, as well as the Power and Eco modes for the automatic gearbox.
The Fortuner is still a seven seater: two in front, three in the middle and two in the back, all wrapped in rather supple leather. The cupholders that were previously at the base of the center console have now migrated to the fold down center armrest. The big improvement is in the third row, as the 50/50 split seats are actually spring loaded, meaning that if you fold and disengage them from the floor, they pop up halfway by themselves. All it takes is a little effort to fold them up the rest of the way and hook them onto the D-pillar as opposed to the ceiling grabhandles like before. It seems Toyota paid good attention to ergonomics for this one with the ease of folding up the third row.
The Fortuner, like the Hilux, gets a much beefier frame than the predecessor, further enhancing overall durability and rigidity. Again, Toyota paid attention to what customers want by reworking the coil springs and dampers for suspension to lean towards the comfort side of the spectrum, and we'll test that fully.
Powering the Fortuner 4x4 is the 2.8L 1GD-FTV. It's actually smaller than the previous 1KD-FTV engine, but it produces 9% more power at 177 PS and 31% more torque at 450 Newton-meters. These new generation GD engines are actually some of Toyota's most advanced powerplants. A new development called Thermal Swing Wall Insulation Technology improves the overall thermal efficiency of the engine by 44%. A new variable geometry turbocharger was also developed by Toyota in-house, and it's 30% smaller and features a new turbine and impeller.
Sitting in the driver's seat, what's easily noticeable is the absence of the hood scoop, as the Fortuner's intercooler is no longer mounted on top but in front. It's larger, and should be able to cool the pressurized intake air. The shifter is still a gate-type automatic, but instead of the previous 4-speed auto, it's now a 6-speed. Likewise gone is the lever for the 4x4 transfer case; instead there's a dial on the dashboard that will take care of business when you do decide to go off-road.
As a daily drive, the Fortuner has really improved. The cabin is a very nice place to be, especially with the new seats, the leather, the powerful climate control system, and the commanding view of the road ahead. Before, customers complained of the stiff/bouncy ride of the Fortuner's rear suspension, but that's no longer the case. The reworked suspension resulted in an SUV-kind of plushness, one that won't jar its occupants every time a pothole comes up/
As expected, the handling of the Fortuner has become a bit softer around corners given the new suspension. What was noticeable was the way the Fortuner shifted its weight up front under braking. The absence of rear disc brakes combined with the more powerful front brakes up make the Fortuner dive a bit under heavy braking instead of squatting. Thankfully Toyota has safety systems like ABS, brake assist, EBD and electronic stability control to keep it in check in this 4x4 variant.
On a motorway, the Fortuner proves itself a good, quiet and smooth cruiser. The new gearbox and engine give it plenty of go if you need acceleration or simply want to cruise at higher speeds. As expected, fuel economy is much better; on the highway, the Fortuner cruised at 13.9 kilometers per liter at 100 km/h. In the city it's also quite good, able to realistically achieve 10.2 km/l in moderate to light traffic (29 km/h average) situations.
That's not to say that the Fortuner was just made for smooth or partially paved roads, as it really can tackle the most challenging kind of terrain. The 4WD system does perform well when taken on a trail, and the paddle shifters allow the more experienced driver to maintain the right gear for the conditions. Crossing streams is likewise not a problem given the 700mm wading depth, and that goes for the random (yet alarmingly more frequent) urban flash flood.
The expectations of the Fortuner are high, especially since the competition has not only grown but elevated their game as well. Toyota took the feedback of their customers from the last 11 years and incorporated them into the new Fortuner, and that's important. There are still things that I think should have been worked on like the braking balance (by installing rear disc brakes) and even changing the mechanism for the spare tire in the back (it's quite thief-friendly). Nevertheless, Toyota has built a vehicle that will undoubtedly be a strong seller in the class, and can command more premium prices than the competition.