Toyota’s knack for developing vehicles that are perfectly suited to South Africans’ lifestyles must make it the envy of many a local importer.
Having access to a vehicle such as the Toyota Fortuner 3.0 D-4D, which had success story written all over it right from the development phase, must have given Toyota South Africa great confidence prior to its local launch. And still, the Fortuner has arguably exceeded even its maker’s wildest expectations. A regular in the top 10 sales charts of the South African market, locals have taken to its bakkie-derived toughness, macho style and high value pricing like ducks to the water.
Subtle upgradesIn its latest guise, the Fortuner is a more attractive offering than ever before, with the visual changes at the front giving it more of a stand-alone character than previously, when it really just looked like a Hilux-based wagon. Still, it has never been unattractive. The striking C-pillar design, puffed up wheelarches and large 17-inch alloy wheels lend it the masculine look so loved by shoppers in this segment. With the spare wheel mounted underneath the body and not on the tailgate, it also looks more upmarket than the price suggests.
Inside, the carefully considered upgrades have improved matters even further. The upholstery is now darker, making it more practical for family use. And the push-button control panel for the climate control system is a big improvement. Criticisms are really limited to subjective irritations, such as the fake wood panels on the facia.
The Fortuner’s high ride height affords driver and passengers alike a very commanding view, and the driver’s chair can further be raised through standard height adjustment (electric). The steering wheel, however, is only adjustable for rake. Still, the driving position is not uncomfortable, and although the chairs initially feel overly firm, they proved comfortable on longer trips. The standard specification also goes a long way to making these trips as pleasurable as possible. Climate control keeps the cabin cool (there are separate rear vents), the steering wheel boasts remote audio controls and cruise control is fitted, too.
Perhaps the best seats in the house are those in the second row. Boasting fore/aft sliding, it allows occupants to tailor their own legroom or, if they’re generous, to slide forward to afford those seated in the third row more stretch-out space. Talking of which… those two rear seats. Hinged onto the side of the cabin walls, they fold up relatively easily, but when this done they don’t only eat into boot space, but also tend to rattle around somewhat. And they can’t easily be removed either. Toyota should look at a design that would result in the seats folding flat into the floor.
Based on HiluxAs most will know by now, the Fortuner is based on the underpinnings of the Hilux pick-up. But the rear suspension features a coil-sprung set-up, and not leaf springs, which does endow the big Toyota with a more controlled, less jiggly on-road demeanour. There have been some worrying reports of rolled Fortuners, pointing to a car that doesn’t perform particularly well in an emergency swerve situation, but Toyota has moved to quickly wipe out such concerns by fitting an electronic stability system as standard, in addition to the ABS and EBD. So, although the Fortuner still can feel top-heavy when cornered too hard, the likelihood of it toppling over has been significantly reduced.
Being a body-on-frame SUV, the Toyota Fortuner 3.0 D-4D can’t match the ride refinement of unibody SUVs and crossovers, but in general the ride is well controlled and big bumps, especially, ironed out with ease. It’s really small, continuous ripples in the road surface that the suspension struggles to cope with. The big upshot of the Fortuner’s bakkie-derived underpinnings is, of course, its off-road ability. Featuring four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case, as well as centre and rear differential locks, the Toyota is a superb off-road machine. The ground clearance and good approach/departure angles, as well as the torquey nature of the engine further enhance its ability off the beaten track.
The engine is by now well-known and highly regarded. The 3.0-litre D-4D unit delivers a meaty 120 kW and 343 Nm of torque from as low as 1 400 rpm. It pulls very strongly, but could do with some extra refinement, especially as it is used here in what will be in most cases the household’s primary family vehicle. The low-speed clatter is to be expected, but it remains fairly gruff at higher speeds. The fuel consumption is good, though, with a figure of around 10 litres/100 km not being impossible to achieve on a regular basis.
The reasons for the Fortuner’s success are very easy to grasp. South Africans love the outdoors. They also love their bakkies. And the trust in the Toyota brand runs very deep. How could the Fortuner fail, then, as it seemingly offers everything most South Africans would ever want from a vehicle? It doesn’t.
For what it is, and at the price, the Fortuner is incredibly difficult to fault. Since it also features an electronic stability system and the cabin enhancements make it feel more upmarket inside, it is better than ever before. It will take something very special to dethrone the Fortuner as the darling SUV of this country.
Sliding second-row seats
Standard stability control
We don’t like:
Flip-up rear seats take up boot space
Still feels top-heavy
Engine: 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 120 kW @ 3 400 rpm
Torque: 343 Nm @ 1 400 rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 170 km/h
0-100 km/h: N/A seconds (12.5 sec EST.)
Fuel economy: N/A litres/100 km (10.4 L/100 km EST.)
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 3.2 DI-D GLS Auto:
Currently only offered in automatic form, and rather expensive. The Mitsubishi is a strong rival, though, with a modern cabin and solid underpinnings. Good off-road, too.
Ford Everest 3.0 TDCi XLT 4x4:
A brand new contender, but looks and feels like the older vehicle. The underpinnings are not as modern as the Fortuner’s and consequently it’s not as impressive on the road, and off of it. The cabin, however, is very spacious, with true seven-seat capability.
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5 DCi 4x4 LE:
Although the Nissan offers extra power and a more upmarket cabin, it is hard to justify the significantly higher asking price. In terms of refinement, however, the Nissan is superior.