We are a nation of SUV fans.
Last year, the country's best-selling model wasn't even a car because the Toyota Fortuner displaced the Vios as the country's number-one seller, proof that we like our vehicles with a bit (or in this case, a lot) more ground clearance.
So what makes the Fortuner such a sought after model? When we tested them two years ago, we weren't all that enthused with the mid-grade and entry-level models, namely the 2.4 V with a diesel and the 2.7 G with a gas engine. But Toyota aims to rectify that with a series of changes made for the 2018 model year. So will these little changes go a long way for the Philippines' biggest seller?
Here we have the TRD model and it's based on the 2.4 G diesel model. With the kit on, the front looks that bit more aggressive thanks to the chrome bits being taken away. You get a blacked-out grill and the lower half of the bumper getting a more chiseled, more defined look. I like the fact that even the foglight housings are different for this particular variant. If anything, I would have preferred the Fortuner coming out like this in the first place.
Beefier 18-inch alloy wheels come courtesy of TRD too and they suit the changes made to the front end. Personally, I could do away with the stickers on the lower half of the doors. As for the rear, the TRD treatment drew mixed reactions, ranging from tacky to subtle. I do wish the rear garnish was also finished in gloss black, just like the grill. All in all, the TRD pack made the Fortuner look a little more appealing, but that's just me.
Those who have sat inside (or own) the first batch of Fortuners will notice one substantial change in the cabin. Gone is the bright brown fabric trim Toyota called Chamois in the 2016 and early 2017 models. The seats are still brown but are now finished in a much darker shade. But perhaps more significant is the addition of more features for the G variants of the Fortuner. It now comes with automatic climate control, a tweaked touchscreen display, and to the relief of some people, reverse sensors. Granted, there's no camera but the sensors are a start. It's these little changes that somewhat lifts the Fortuner's cabin feel and packaging.
As for the rest of the interior, the design is largely carried over. You get the same high center stack, the dual glovebox and the same amount of soft touch materials. Even after two years since its launch, it still looks smart and remains ergonomic. Space isn't much of an issue either since the second row seats slides backwards and forwards. Set it right and third-row accommodations aren't that claustrophobic either.
It's a minor technical update for the Fortuner so there are no big changes under the hood. The now familiar 2.4-liter turbodiesel powers this model and it makes 150 PS and 400 Nm of torque. Power is sent through the rear wheels and shifts via a six-speed automatic transmission. It's as straightforward as they come. One significant upgrade the Fortuner did get is not in its engine but with its brakes. Finally, it now comes with rear disc brakes.
So how does it feel on the road? To be honest, it's largely the same save for the slightly heavier steering. Ride is largely similar to the ones tested back in 2016 meaning it is still on the fidgety side. It is smoother when you carry more passengers but only slightly so. Mind you, it's a lot improved over the Fortuners of the past but the occasional side step and thuds remind you that this is based on a pickup truck. On the flipside, it's pretty comfortable when you're seated in front.
Maybe because the unit I got was barely broken in (just 1,200 kms), I noticed a fair amount of gear hunting from the transmission. It would occasionally stumble between second and third and takes its time to select the gear it wants. That doesn't mean its jerky though but you do notice the delay. Ironically, putting it in Eco mode does make the transmission come up with a firmer decision as to what gear to use.
Performance from the 2.4-liter diesel is adequate at best although a little more grunt would be nice. Eco and normal modes feel largely similar with initial lag from take-off. To rectify that, put it in power mode and it surges forward with less effort. Considering the weight gain of the second-generation Fortuner, it carries itself well enough to satisfy most. What is worth praising is the relatively quiet nature of the engine, further complemented by good sound deadening.
Handling, particularly when it comes to braking, is slightly improved. There's still a fair amount of nose dive which we pointed out in the past but braking stability is better. Perhaps its the new discs at the back or a (possibly) recalibrated anti-lock brake system that gives the Fortuner better stopping power. Also, the rear doesn't sway as much as before. As mentioned earlier, steering is slightly heavier but the upside is a bit more precision when turning it in. It's no 86 but it's not that truck-like to drive.
With the TRD kit, the Fortuner G 2.4 4x2 retails for Php 1,791,000 (1,776,000 if you don't opt for White Pearl). It's a rather steep price to pay for what essentially is a base model with a body kit. That being said, the basic Fortuner isn't so basic anymore. Without the kit, the base Fortuner diesel with an automatic is at Php 1,672,000. With the addition or more features, a much needed upgrade to disc brakes and slightly better driveability, it could be said that the small tweaks went a long way for the country's best-selling vehicle.
You no longer feel shortchanged when you choose the G variants and it's nice to know Toyota is making an effort in adding more standard equipment. Perhaps just additions to more safety equipment, such as traction control and stability control, would make the Fortuner range a value-packed choice.