What is it?
The Fortuner, Toyota's traditional body-on-frame SUV, is probably the most sought after and admired SUV in India today. Big, burly and loaded with a fearsome reputation for toughness, it has remained a strong seller from the time it came to our market in 2009. This, despite the fact that the Fortuner today, is well past its prime, and is up against technologically up-to-date competition like the Ford Endeavour and the Chevrolet Trailblazer. Toyota, however, hopes to give its popular SUV a new lease of life with the second-generation Fortuner that's all new.
The look, to begin with, is a complete departure from the current car. Shaper and less block-like, the new Fortuner is actually rakish looking, with plenty of stylistic flourishes embellishing its sides. Toyota’s designers have used a high bumper line to make it look imposing, there are slim LED-equipped headlight units that add to the futuristic look and in an effort to give it the feel of an upmarket luxury car, plenty of chrome details have been used as well. Strips of chrome line the grille, there are big chrome brackets around the fog lights, and there is chrome in the headlights and along the waistline of the car too.
This Fortuner is based on the newer-generation of the Hilux pick-up truck, so there’s little to doubt its tough credentials. Its frame has been further stiffened; it gets additional side rails, stouter cross beams, reinforced suspension towers and larger shock absorbers. It’s now longer, wider and heavier than the version it replaces and has significantly evolved over its two decade-long life cycle.
What's it like on the inside?
The interiors of the Fortuner have received a much-required upgrade. The dashboard is no longer bland, and unlike the earlier car, it isn’t a copy-paste job of the Innova Crysta’s.
At the front, there's more shoulder-room and headroom, and Toyota has also succeeded in freeing up more legroom by using slimmer seats and a slimmer dashboard. Another major update is that the new leather seats are much nicer to sit in as well. Perfect for large frames, the seats offer great shoulder, back and thigh support, and you don’t get tossed around from side to side because the bolstering is good. In the second row, there's more kneeroom and you aren’t sat too low, and this makes it comfortable. Even the tall backrest holds your upper back nicely, so the Fortuner is now a lot more comfortable on long drives. The middle bench can seat three in comfort, and the middle passenger gets a three-point seatbelt suspended from the roof too. Even the third row is a bit better to sit in, and importantly both passengers get three-point seatbelts. Getting in is a bit easier, there's a bit more space to slide in, and the seats are a bit bigger and placed slightly higher, so you can tolerate longer stints in the back. There is a rear air-con system with dedicated blowers in the roof, as well as other practical bits like cupholders and power sockets. There's only one USB slot, however, and that for a seven-seater isn't enough.
The dashboard is more of a mixed bag. Yes, it is much more upmarket than the earlier Fortuner by a considerable margin and is better equipped too, but it isn't really as big an improvement like the rest of the car. The well-defined centre console and beautifully detailed instrument panel lift the ambience of the cabin tremendously. The leather-lined and chromed-over bits look great and the touchscreen at the centre further adds to the appeal. Even the steering wheel and the instrument panel work really well, but there are still quite a few low-quality plastic bits here. The dash has hard plastics all over, the gloveboxes feels cheaply put together, the doorpads don't really have a quality feel and the lower you go in the cabin, the worse the plastic quality gets. So, overall, it's all very attractive, but not well built.
It is quite well equipped. You get electronic stability control (ESC), downhill assist control, hill assist control, seven airbags, pedestrian protection on the bonnet, LED lamps, puddle lamps, leather seats, paddle shifts, cruise control and even park assist. However, there is no sunroof and some other expected bits like front parking sensors and dual-zone climate control.
What's it like to drive?
We got behind the wheel of the new Fortuner with a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel engine producing 177hp and 420Nm (MT) / 450Nm (AT) of torque. Existing 3.0L Fortuner owners will relate to this motor quite easily. It offers plenty of low-end torque and turbo lag is negligible. The motor is so drivable that for the most part, you’d be happily driving around town in a higher gear at a lower rpm. There’s adequate mid-range punch until about 3,500rpm, after which, power delivery tapers. The motor isn’t very rev happy either and is best to upshift early and ride the wave of torque than to spin to 4,000 rpm and produce more noise than speed.
Like the Crysta, the Fortuner comes with three driving modes – Eco, Power and Normal (default). Being over 200kg heavier than the outgoing car, for performance it is best to use the Power mode, where the throttle responses are the sharpest. This SUV feels eager to lunge forward and you’ll often find yourself backing off the throttle, especially in city traffic conditions. In Normal too, responses are sharp and the initial surge of torque does give you a sense of the power at your disposal.
What's also impressive is that the motor is smooth and refined when driven in a relaxed manner. This helps the Fortuner cruise almost silently, with the engine only purring at lower engine speeds. When the engine does get clattery and rattle is when you put it under load. Push your foot down on the throttle and there's quite a din. And at times the rattling from under the hood gets so loud, you'll have no doubt about this being a diesel. And this only worsens once you are past 3,500rpm, when the motor drones a lot and gets quite vocal, without too much increase in forward speed. So it's best to use the top end of the powerband only if you have to.
Toyota will sell the diesel Fortuner with both a manual and an automatic gearbox. We tested both six-speed gearboxes and are happy to report that both performed quite impressively.
The automatic in particular shifts gears smoothly and there are the paddle shifters to move around ratios, but dropping a gear for a sudden overtake can take a while. It doesn't mind being hurried and there isn't too much shift shock, but get too optimistic and downshift too early and it will make you wait a bit; accompanied by a 'beep' that asks you to be patient until revs drop. In 'S' mode, you can manually select the max gear that you’d like the car to drive in, and that comes in handy while climbing up or down a ghat section.
The short-throw six-speed manual is less relevant, especially on a car at this price, but it works well too. Speaking of which, the clutch is quite light and the travel isn’t too long either. Toyota has done well to get rid of the long-throw-commercial-vehicle-like shift action present on the earlier car, and though the gearbox isn't light per se, you don't need to put your shoulder in either. What also works quite well on the manual gearbox is Toyota's IMT system that blips the throttle automatically as you come down to a lower gear.
This time around, Toyota also has a 166hp petrol on offer, which is the same 2.7-litre unit that powers the Innova. As on that car, what you really enjoy here is the additional refinement. The extra dose of smoothness is really pleasing at low speeds, there's a good amount of power when you accelerate, and the fact that the motor makes its maximum power above 5,000 rpm, allows you to spin the engine fast as well. You do, however, miss the torque of the diesel when you need to execute a quick overtaking manoeuvre. There's also the fact that this motor isn't particularly zingy either.
One of the areas where the Fortuner has improved the most is handling. The new car rolls less, feels much more agile and is willing to change direction. The really impressive bit is that it feels lighter on its feet and is more willing to tuck into tight corners than even the Innova. This comes as a bit of a surprise because of the additional bulk. And what's nicer is that the steering (while not easy at parking speeds) is lighter than that on the Innova. So it's less of a chore to park and nicer to steer though traffic as well. Straight-line stability has improved too. It remains unfazed as speeds climb above 120kph – despite the 225mm ground clearance – and now long corners are easy to take at high speeds, with the Toyota settling down nicely. Also improved massively are the brakes, something that desperately needed upgrading. The discs up front deliver good bite and the pedal effort required now is much lower too.
Even the ride has been refined. While the lumpiness and the typically busy, always-on-the-move big SUV feel is still present over poor surfaces, the new Fortuner does feel more settled. There's a lot less up and down movement, the suspension is much more absorbent and the ride in general is flatter too. Where the Fortuner does its best work is on really bad sections, where it just seems to glide through larger holes and deeper ruts.
Fundamentally, the Fortuner is an off-roader and a fairly successful one at that, but here too Toyota has changed the system completely. Instead of full-time four-wheel drive, found on the earlier car, you now get 2WD, 4WD and 4WD low. Known as Sigma 4, the system is more efficient, and to further enhance grip Toyota has included a virtual limited slip differential that works through individual braking of the wheels.
Should I buy one?
The new Fortuner is big, offers oodles of style, packs the right amount of kit and wears the ever-so-dependable ‘Toyota’ badge. There’s little doubt that this SUV is far more luxurious and comfortable than the one it replaces. Add to that, it is offered with a wide combination of transmission and drivetrain options. Yes, the feel of some of the plastics in the cabin could have been better, and it falls short on equipment you would expect at this price, which at Rs 25.92 - 27.61 lakh for the petrol and Rs 27.52 - 31.12 lakh for the diesel (ex-showroom, Delhi) makes it considerably pricier than the outgoing Fortuner and the most expensive in its class. Pound for pound, it may not offer the best value, but for someone looking for a dependable vehicle with an air of indestructibility that has the potential to outlast its owner, the new Fortuner is the answer.