It doesnâ€™t take rocket science to realise that a Hilux-based SUV spin-off would go down well with South Africans. After all, not only is the Hilux the best-selling vehicle in South Africa, thereâ€™s also the precedent of the Isuzu KB-based Frontier, a vehicle that did very well in South Africa. In fact, it would appear to be such an obvious recipe for success that one wonders why Toyota hasnâ€™t done it before! But better late than never. The Toyota Fortuner is here and judging by the marketâ€™s initial response, seems set for massive sales. We tested the 4,0-litre petrol Toyota Fortuner to find out whether it can successfully bridge the gap between double-cab pick-ups and fully fledged SUVs.
Upmarket looks for Toyota FortunerThere is no mistaking the Hilux origins in the Fortunerâ€™s design, especially at the front, but the transition into a SUV body has been very successful. The Toyota Fortuner is an imposing vehicle, with a 220 mm ground clearance, attractive 16-inch alloy wheels and a particularly neat, sweeping C-pillar design. Overall, the Toyota Fortuner manages to look a fair bit more expensive than its utilitarian roots would suggest. In fact, it would certainly not look out of place parked among all the Land Rovers and Jeeps at the local golf club, or school drop-off.
Hoist yourself into the driverâ€™s seat (itâ€™s high) and youâ€™re fronted by a facia that comes straight from the Hilux. This is not such a bad thing, seeing as the Hilux boasts one of the most car-like dashboards in its class. Nevertheless, given the Fortunerâ€™s more upmarket positioning, perhaps a few detail changes would have been wise. As it stands, the ventilation controls are rather rudimentary, slightly old-fashioned devices and there arenâ€™t any remote audio controls on the steering wheel either. Also somewhat jarring is the secondary lever to operate the low-range transfer case.
The Toyota Fortuner cabin is finished in light beige, which may not be entirely practical considering the likely family use most Fortuners will be subjected to. At least the seats are leather upholstered, so can be wiped clean quite easily. Speaking of family use, thereâ€™s certainly plenty of space. The second row of seats can slide fore/aft to either give rear passengers more legroom or allow those seated in the second row stretch-out space. The two flip-up rear seats are also surprisingly practical, with the space being sufficient for smaller adults or kids. Unfortunately these seats take up a lot of boot space when theyâ€™re folded up. A more modern fold-flat solution would have been preferable. The boot is still of a very practical size, mostly because the spare wheel is mounted underneath the body.
Comfort and refinementThe driverâ€™s seat offers a good range of adjustment, including height, and the steering wheel is rake adjustable. Whatever setting you select, the driving position is commanding, affording the driver an excellent view out of the vehicle. We took the Toyota Fortuner on a fairly long road trip, and must commend the comfort of the seats, too. This flagship model also comes loaded with goodies, including air-conditioning (with separate outlets and controls for the third-row passengers), electric windows/mirrors, radio/CD, cruise control and power steering. The safety specification consists of two front airbags and ABS. Unfortunately there is no ESP (electronic stability programme).
Toyota must be applauded for the Fortunerâ€™s overall display of refinement â€“ it certainly feels distinctly less bakkie-like than a Hilux double-cab. The engine plays a big part in this, delivering not only scorching performance, but also going about its business in a quiet and smooth way. It really is quite a performer, this Toyota Fortuner. The 4,0-litre V6 delivers a whopping 175 kW and 376 Nm of torque, enough to propel this near two-tonne bruiser to 100 km/h in well under nine seconds. As is to be expected, fuel economy is not this engineâ€™s forte. Expect it to return around 15 L/100 km, which combined with a relatively small fuel tank of 65 litres will call for frequent refuelling.
Respectable road mannersThe Toyota Fortuner may be based on the Hilux, but there have been some significant changes underneath. For one, the Hiluxâ€™s leaf springs are gone, and replaced by coils, four links and a lateral rod. In front, thereâ€™s a stabiliser bar. On the go, the Fortunerâ€™s ride comfort is largely dependent on the road conditions. It deals very well with large bumps, but rippled road surfaces can upset its composure to the point where it starts feeling fidgety. The ride is better at cruising speed, but beware the corners, as the Toyota Fortuner does feel rather top heavy, and remember there is no ESP. Talking of safety netsâ€¦ The brakes are discs in front and, rather disappointingly for such a powerful, weighty SUV, only drums at the rear.
The one place where the Fortunerâ€™s bakkie roots really allow it to shine is off-road. Boasting good ground clearance and approach/departure angles, as well as light steering and an automatic transmission, the Toyota Fortuner is easy to manoeuvre. Centre and rear differential locks are fitted, and as mentioned before, there is low-range too. And should you ever have to cross a river, the Toyota Fortuner boasts a 700 mm wading depth.
Toyota Fortuner - VerdictItâ€™s not often a vehicle comes across as being worth more than the sum of its parts, the Toyota Fortuner does just that. Comfortable, spacious, practical, handsome and extremely capable off-road, and very fast on it, this big Toyota is destined to find lots of South African homes. Ultimately, due to its heavy fuel consumption, the 3,0-litre turbodiesel version makes more sense, though, and not only because of its better economy. The 4,0-litre petrol engine in this Toyota Fortuner delivers huge power, but we feel given the performance potential Toyota shouldâ€™ve gone further with the safety package and included an electronic stability programme. Nevertheless, this is a very likeable new Toyota.
- Upmarket looks
- Seven seats
- Off-road ability
- Two airbags only
- Top-heavy feel
Engine: 4,0-litre, V6, petrol
Power: 175 kW @ 5 200 rpm
Torque: 376 Nm @ 3 800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 180 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,3 seconds
Fuel economy: n/a litres/100 km
- Nissan Pathfinder 4,0 LE Auto:Â The Pathfinder is a superior product in many ways, including cabin design, finish and overall refinement, but is it nearly R100 000 better? Probably not.
- Ford Territory 4,0 Ghia AWD Auto:Â Think of the Territory more as a station-wagon-esque crossover, rather than a SUV, and you have an idea of its capabilities. The cabin is comfortable and itâ€™s a lovely family car, but the fuel consumption is horrendous.
- Kia Sorento 3,5 Auto:Â The Sorento has done much to elevate the Kia brandâ€™s desirability, and boasts good looks, a comfortable cabin and a high-value price. But the engine lacks grunt in this comparison and it canâ€™t stay with the Fortuner off-road.