The Toyota Fortuner has practically adopted to heart its tagline of "the world is mine," with 19,444 enjoying the SUV since its 2005 introduction. But with the mass market midsize diesel SUV (such as the Ford Everest and the Isuzu Alterra) competition getting significant upgrades, can it still lay claim to the top of sales in its class?

The unit that was sent for testing had an optional TRD Sportivo body kit (a P140,000 choice) that gave the SUV a dint of sportiness, helping it veer somewhat away from the primarily utility feature marketed by Toyota to prospective buyers. The front and rear chin spoilers make the vehicle look lower than it really is, the spoiler above the rear hatch glass gives it a ready-to-race look, and the side step boards have rubber inserts that are useful in securing footing when climbing into the interior.

Inside, the moquette seats and door inserts were replaced with full leather trim, preventing the cabin from making it look old and dated, even after 6000-odd kilometers. Retained were the tan/khaki interior colorway and ergonomic layout for all occupants, the numerous storage places (11 cupholders!), the cold airconditioning (including a third row-controlled fan speed switch), decent audio entertainment and the lack of a second row electric outlet.

Speaking of storage, also retained was the second row fold/tumble ability, but this time it has visible arrows on the tumbling levers on the second row flanks. The third row forward folding and 50/50 lateral split tumbling ability is still there, but the diagram behind the third row backrests are bigger, making them easy to see from afar and thus follow precisely. And both rear rows can still fit seven average Filipinos. Just don't expect Ford Expedition-level comfort from the third row - you practically squat into the seat, with the second row backrests coming into contact.

Getting into the 3.0L 16-valve inline four-banger's powerband (2,000-2,500 rpm) can take sometime, but dropping the four-speed a/t into "3" - meaning only three forward gears are used - helps greatly on mountain roads. Despite a lively a/t, the Fortuner managed to log a 170 kph top speed and a 9.85 km/l consumption rate (on a week of mixed driving). It still manages to go on muddy trails with aplomb, with the engine and a/t always getting somewhat quickly into the powerband, be it on high or low gearing. The transfer case stick (for transition to four-wheel-drive) requires effort to row, however.

One knock against the first few batches of Fortuners that arrived in the country was a stiff rear ride. In contrast this unit had a ride that could rival its Previa or Land Cruiser siblings in ride comfort, but still had a dint of skittishness on constant broken tarmac. The OE Bridgestone Dueler H/T B40 265 70R16s, despite complaining loudly on every turn, still maintained composure up to 75 kph. There's light to moderate body roll and the steering can be blunt on occasion, but a good mix of taps on the middle pedal and light steering wheel movement is a great remedy for the SUV's understeer bias.

The safety aids are good enough to keep occupants from tumbling about. The brakes grip hard with just a tap of the right foot, and the ABS wakes up when you need it. The handbrake bites with relatively short increments, and exterior lighting is bright. The constantly bright Optitron gauges are a big help, especially when the sun is directly above the SUV and the shadow is cast on the windshield. There are only two negatives - drum brakes for both rear wheels (a risky proposition when stopping from 100-plus kph, given the SUV's curb weight) and an annoying reverse gear alarm that drowns out the backup sensors' warning chimes.

In 2006, Toyota laid a successful claim to the midsize SUV arena with the Fortuner. Three years later, despite the arrival of numerous competition, it remains the benchmark in the midsize SUV class.