South Africa’s best-selling SUV received a thorough facelift late in 2020, which included the introduction of an updated turbodiesel motor. Does the revised model improve the Fortuner’s value proposition? We racked up some big miles with the Japanese Adventure SUV during the festive season. Here's what we found.
We like: Fits all family lifestyles, peace of mind, better urgency from the engine.
We don’t like: Unconventional 3rd-row seat setup, ride quality not best in class.
- Price: R806 300 (January 2020)
- Model tested: 2.8 GD-6 4x4 VX
- Engine: 2.8-litre turbodiesel 4-cylinder
- Power/Torque: 150 kW/500 Nm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Fuel consumption: 7.9 L/100 km (claimed)
- Top speed: 180 kph
The updated tail-light clusters are the quickest way to distinguish the Fortuner from its predecessor.
We’ve covered the updates to the Fortuner and Hilux ranges quite extensively on Cars.co.za, but here’s a quick refresher on the important parts of the facelift’s um, facelift. To enable the venerable 2.8 GD-6 4-cylinder turbodiesel to match the outputs of the (Ford) Ranger and Everest, Toyota's updated the venerable motor (mechanically and electronically) to produce 150 kW and 500 Nm of torque.
The love-it-or-hate-it brown interior from the pre-facelift Fortuner has been discarded and replaced by much-more-palatable black trim. In terms of electronic accoutrements, Toyota's 7-seater Adventure SUV gains a more connected infotainment system and this new-for-2021 VX derivative comes equipped with modern intelligent safety features that also improve the vehicle's general driving experience.
The exterior execution has had a touch up too – in the forms of new lighting designs front and back, while a metallic trim strip has been added to underscore the side glass, C-pillars and tailgate screen; think of it as a belt for the Fortuner’s waistline. Those with a keen eye will also notice the lack of badging on the back of this model; that's not part of the facelift offering, merely how this unit was delivered by Toyota.
How does it fare in terms of…
Ample on-road performance isn’t usually a prerequisite for an off-road-oriented SUV, but because the Fortuner has an upgraded engine, the revised powertrain is probably worth addressing right off the bat. It’s the same upgrade as the Hilux received (insofar as the extent of its mechanical improvements) and, in the SUV variant, it certainly benefits the vehicle's driveability. The added urgency when overtaking is the most notable improvement; to put it another way: getting around slower traffic at higher speeds requires far less planning and anxiety because the Fortuner now has greater reserves of oomph to call on.
The 6-speed automatic transmission, meanwhile, does a good job of selecting the right gears at the right time, although the 'box does tend to kick down a little early when the Toyota is required to climb hills (as opposed to using the low-down torque to "pull itself up" inclines). Aside from the extra noise from the engine and additional fuel being burnt during these kickdowns, there are no real downsides.
Around town, the off-the-mark acceleration feels eager – it's a notable improvement on the sluggish performance of the pre-facelift 2.8 GD-6. While fuel consumption is claimed to be better with this update, we found that the Fortuner would often climb above 10.5 L/100 km in town. While on long journeys, when the Toyota cruised at the national speed limit for protracted periods, the readout settled at 9.0 L/100 km.
The Fortuner is still a bit shaky on harsh gravel roads, but impressively capable when used as a 4x4.
One of the areas in which the Fortuner has been unable to match its Ford Everest archrival is ride comfort. As a rule, a bakkie-based SUV, which consists of a body mounted on a ladder-frame chassis, can’t hold a candle to the pliant suspensions of monocoque designs (such as the Land Rover Discovery, BMW X5 etc). Unlike the Hilux, the facelifted Fortuner hasn't had any adjustments to its damping to help settle the rear-end better over bumps. It still exhibits a fair amount of body roll when cornering at speed and, on dirt roads, the Toyota can feel as if it's crabbing across the surface (while the cabin reverberates).
A more circumspect owner won’t have a problem adjusting to these idiosyncrasies by simply reducing the speed, but it remains a weak point of the package; there is certainly room for improvement.
Family-car buyers favour rugged 7-seater SUVs because they cover all the bases at a price point that doesn’t (or at least didn’t) break the bank. All 7-seats in the VX spec Fortuner are upholstered in black leather, which feels comfortable and hard-wearing. The 2nd-row seats can be tumbled forward and folded upwards to provide more loading space.
Other manufacturers prefer to have the 2nd row of seats fold flat into the floor instead, which gives users an easier load space to work with, but not as much height to load into. It’s a bit of a "whatever works best for you" scenario. The 2nd row also slides fore and aft on rails and even when set as far forward as the bench will go, it provides more than enough legroom for passengers.
The 3rd row of seats, in turn, fold upwards and against the sides of the load bay, which is a Fortuner tradition and, frankly, this configuration continues to confuse us. Granted, you get a lower loading height compared with Adventure SUVs in which the rearmost seats fold down into the floor, but then, because the seats are stored to the side in the Toyota, it limits the maximum load-width of the luggage area.
Foibles aside, the Fortuner still has one of the largest load bays of all new vehicles on sale in the Republic, which is a trump card in itself. The 3rd row was often occupied during the Toyota's tenure in our test fleet and, aside from the lower-than-average seating position, the rearmost seats provided sufficiently comfortable accommodation on long journeys.
Interior and tech
It's nice to finally have Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility in a Fortuner.
The VX-spec Fortuner sits atop the range and, as a result, comes equipped with more buttons to play with. Front seat heaters are standard on this derivative, which will be welcome on cold winter’s days. The 8-inch infotainment screen is now Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatible, although it would be nice if it had more than 1 USB port. As soon as someone else wants to charge a device through the USB port, you lose your smartphone-mirroring function. You could use USB adaptors in some of the 12V ports dotted around the cabin, but it’s pretty standard fare to have at least 2 USB ports these days.
The new safety features, which were introduced on the Hilux and have now been carried over to the Fortuner, are very welcome. The pre-collision detection system is the most notable new addition, while lane departure warning and road-sign recognition are nice-to-have features. They come over and above standard features (across the range) such as ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability control and traction control.
Adaptive cruise control with distance control is also part of the new safety package for the VX derivative, which certainly takes the hassle out of trundling through busy towns along the national freeways.
Price and after-sales support
Toyota has the largest number of franchised dealers in the country, providing peace of mind for owners that worry about finding a workshop while on holiday "well off the beaten track". Toyota also has a notable track record for reliability and has twice won the coveted Brand of the Year title at the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards, powered by WesBank.
The 2.8GD-6 4x4 VX retails for R806 300, which includes a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and 9-service/90 00 km service plan, both of which can be extended at the dealer at extra cost.
The new Fortuner improves enough to continue its reign at the top of SA's SUV sales chart.
The facelifted Toyota Fortuner certainly shows improvements in some areas of its package where its predecessor was middling or perhaps even slightly behind the opposition. Its powertrain is far better than before and more closely matched with that of the Everest. The black interior is less polarising than the previous brown getup and the updated infotainment system will be welcomed by the majority of users. Improving the safety features and adding adaptive cruise control to this top-spec derivative will certainly make those looking for more value for money think twice before opting for an Everest instead.
The Fortuner remains the SUV you buy that answers the question "what if?" What if I need 7 seats, reliability, good service, decent performance, to go off-road and remain respected on the school run? Well, the facelifted Fortuner is the answer if you still want to have some money left after completing the purchase, although, having said that, the VX's price is starting to become head-scratchingly expensive...