Finally, the second-generation Toyota Fortuner is here. Ryan Bubear reports back from the local launch...
The traditional bakkie-based SUV is, by its very definition, a woefully compromised thing.
Yes, thanks to its body-on-frame underpinnings, this flavour of SUV is generally neither the most comfortable nor the most nimble. But the trade-off to this distinct sense of utilitarianism is twofold: vast interior space and an enviable ability once the tarmac runs out.
In South Africa, the overwhelming majority of buyers have accepted — or perhaps even embraced — this fact. Indeed, the original Toyota Fortuner — the undisputed king of ladder-frame SUVs in terms of sales on our shores — has sat atop the mid-sized SUV pile since its local launch way back in 2006, with overall sales in SA fast approaching 100 000 units.
But what if there were another way? What if a seven-seater, bakkie-based SUV could be both rugged and refined? Both capable off-road and comfortable on it?
Well, the new Toyota Fortuner — which is built right here in South Africa — attempts to answer this very question, and slap down the segment's second-in-command Ford Everest in the process. Yes, like the eighth-generation Hilux on which it is based, the re-imagined Fortuner makes great strides in the comfort and refinement departments, without sacrificing the off-road talents that have helped render it so incredibly popular.
And, again, the second-generation Fortuner borrows liberally from the Hilux's range of engines, which means it is available with the brand's cultured new 2.4-litre and 2.8-litre turbo-diesel powerplants. Curiously, Toyota SA has also added the ageing 2.7-litre petrol unit (available in auto only) to the line-up, while retaining the 4.0-litre V6 petrol as the flagship variant.
At the local launch, we were afforded the chance to test the two new oil-burners (each of which are saddled with 10 000km service intervals), while also having a taste of rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations, as well as sampling the new six-speed transmissions (again, shared with the eighth-gen Hilux).
The 2755cc mill — which replaces the popular 3.0D-4D — makes 130kW at 3400rpm and 420Nm between 1400rpm and 2600rpm. In models fitted with the fairly unobtrusive self-shifting transmission, this peak twisting force rises to 450Nm, albeit spread a little more thinly between 1600rpm and 2400rpm. Toyota claims a combined fuel economy of between 7.5 and 8.5 litres per 100km, depending on the model.
The 110kW 2393cc diesel, meanwhile, is credited with 400Nm from 1600rpm to 2000rpm, regardless of transmission, with the manual (which now boasts a light, car-like shift action) sipping at a claimed 7.0 litres per 100km and the auto at 7.9. Unfortunately, Toyota has opted not to offer this delightful little engine — which stands tall next to its heftier 2.8-litre sibling — in conjunction with all-wheel drive.
Still, the two diesels are light-years ahead of their respective predecessors in terms of refinement, with in-cabin noise levels further reduced by generous wads of sound- and vibration-deadening insulation materials. This newfound sophistication carries over to the ride, courtesy of a double-wishbone front suspension and four-link coil-spring rear setup.
And while the new Toyota Fortuner clearly isn't designed to scythe through the bends, it does feel noticeably nimbler than its forerunner, displaying a little less body-roll than we had expected, too. Of course, it also needs to be competent off the beaten track, and here it certainly doesn't disappoint.
We found the 4x2 models suitably stable on gravel tracks, while the all-wheel drive variants — each with an electronic rotary dial positioned below the air-conditioning controls — absolutely sailed through the day's sandy off-road course. While it certainly wasn't the sternest test (we didn't even have to think about using the rear differential lock), there's little doubt that the new Fortuner is just as capable than before.
So, what's it like inside? Well, the Japanese automaker has resisted the temptation to copy-paste the latest Hilux's much-improved fascia, instead opting to hand the Fortuner a smart new cabin personality all of its own. A vertical centre cluster, which is flanked by columns of faux-leather, dominates proceedings, and houses a nifty touchscreen display on high-spec models.
And while we wouldn't go quite as far as to describe the new quarters as elegant, there's certainly a sense that the Fortuner has eschewed its agricultural roots for something a little more upmarket. The colour combination, though, comes across as a little odd, mixing brown upholstery and wooden trim with black plastic.
Perceived quality, however, seems relatively high at first glance, and the steering wheel thankfully now adjusts for both rake and reach. Naturally, interior space is still a fundamental strength, even if the wheelbase has been cut some 5mm to 2745mm (the overall length of the vehicle, incidentally, has increased 90mm to 4795mm).
The three-seat second row both slides and reclines, and will happily house a pair of hefty adults (and perhaps even a third). The third row of two perches, however, is as cramped as one would expect, and is best reserved for small children, even if Toyota claims a 45mm increase in leg-room back there.
This final row can be split 50:50, with each half stowed vertically via a strap system — similar to before. It's a setup that feels somewhat finicky when compared to the one-touch power-folding system found in the top-spec Ford Everest.
So, how does it stack up against said Everest in terms of pricing? Well, here the Toyota has the clear advantage, with its eight-model range aggressively priced from R429 400 to R633 400, with like-for-like variants seriously undercutting the Fords. Furthermore, the Blue Oval brand's (two-model) line-up is hamstrung by a distinct lack of choice. That said, we suspect many would prefer the Everest's butch looks to the Toyota's somewhat more controversial styling.
The new Fortuner, though, is fairly well equipped across the range, with the entry-level 2.4 GD-6 and 2.7 VVT-i models boasting push-button start, cruise control, manual air-conditioning, a chilled cubbyhole, front fog-lights, roof rails, 17-inch alloys, and three airbags. These two variants are each rated to tow up to 2500kg.
The 2.8 GD-6 derivatives, meanwhile, add leather upholstery, LED automatic headlights, an automatic air-conditioner, and four extra airbags (by our maths), while the flagship 4.0-litre V6 furthermore gains a power back door and a navigation system. Both feature a braked towing capacity of 3000kg.
So, like the Hilux, the new Toyota Fortuner is considerably more sophisticated than its predecessor. With an improved ride quality and new levels of on-road refinement, it's more suited to urban driving than ever before, but just as capable in the bush.
In short, the Japanese brand has managed to significantly shrink the compromise that traditionally comes with bakkie-based SUVs. Which means the Toyota Fortuner is utilitarian no more, and suggests that the brand will fairly easily achieve its sales target of 1100 units a month.
In fact, South Africa's best-selling SUV may be just about to become even more popular...
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See page two for specs and pricing.