Pay attention, listen carefully and you’ll find that most cars ‘talk’ to you. No, I don’t mean the voice of the lady that calls out directions or the one that reads your short messages to you (when your phone’s hooked up). What I’m on about are the little subliminal messages almost all cars seem to put out. They tell you how comfortable they feel at high speeds, how happy they are bouncing over a poorly surfaced road, or just how much effort they are putting in to deliver performance.
No, you don’t need to drop down into a zen-like state and lower your heartbeat to pick up these messages and, of course, the car doesn’t actually ‘speak’ to you either, but what you do tend to get, if you are really ‘listening’, is loads and loads of information.
Problem is, the ‘information’ I’m currently getting from the new Fortuner is all but unbelievable. I’ve just run it hard across a set of deep ruts, thrown it nonchalantly down a rocky riverbed and even thrashed it across an abandoned construction site; but instead of complaining or threatening to disgorge some of its wheels, it seems to actually enjoy the beating in an almost sado-masochistic way. Far from screaming stop, stop, stop, this SUV seems to want more.
More? MORE? Well, take this, I say to myself, guiding it up a steep path, the initial bit threatening to twist the chassis like it is made of cardboard. And still, it’s unfazed; no creaks, no groans, no snapping welds, not even a hint of flex. What has Toyota put into the new Fortuner’s ladder-frame? Yes, I know it’s shared with the new-generation HiLux pickup that has a reputation of being near-indestructible, but this level of chassis stiffness is like nothing I’ve experienced before.
Not only has Toyota seriously beefed up the ladder frame by reinforcing the side rails and adding new, stouter cross members, there are also reinforced suspension towers and large diameter dampers; all here to allow it to take a hammering without so much as blinking. For overall chassis stiffness, brute strength and robustness, there aren’t too many SUVs out there like it.
The walk around
Also at an all-new level is design and styling, something that’s easy to notice as I take a walk around this tall and sharply-styled SUV. Whereas the earlier Fortuner, especially the pre-facelift one, was a simple, upright SUV with rounded off corners and a wraparound rear windscreen, this new one is so rakish and edgy, it could easily pass muster as a Lexus. It certainly seems to be designed off a similar style sheet. Toyota’s designers have used a really high bumper line, the main grille is quite severely tilted back and the sharp-looking headlamp with LED running lights provides the perfect contrast. Another very trendy feature that sees prominent use on the nose is chrome bracketing. Thick bands of chrome flank the grill in a V, and it’s been heavily used around the fog lamps as well to add to the edgy feel of the nose. The Fortuner, however, looks best when viewed from the rear three-quarters. The muscular skinning makes the flanks look tough and modern, the distinctive ‘kick-up’ in the belt line near the C-pillar looks fantastic and the wraparound rear windshield and beautifully cut tail-lamps complement the attractive side perfectly. It clearly is one of Toyota’s nicest-looking SUVs.
Made of great
This Fortuner is an all-new car, but Toyota has chosen to go with a near-identical wheelbase at 2,745mm. But this new SUV is longer, wider and slightly lower than the version currently sold here in India, which puts this new car at an advantage when it comes to cabin space and comfort.
To begin with, once seated inside, I find there’s more width in this new car. The cabin feels much airier and less constrained and the all-round visibility is improved as well. The slightly slimmed-down and more space-efficient seats at the front also happen to be particularly comfortable. Perfect for large frames, they offer great shoulder, back and thigh support and what’s neat is that they are well bolstered too; so, you don’t get chucked from side to side.
I step back to the second row, or should I say step up, (the presence of the chassis means there is a big step up and won’t be to everyone’s liking), and there’s plenty of kneeroom here too. You can now seat three abreast on the rear bench in a bit more comfort, the centre passenger gets a seatbelt suspended from the roof, and unlike many SUVs, you aren’t sat too low either. Even thigh support is good here. Those of you who want to be chauffeured around will love this.
Also improved is space and comfort on the third row. These ‘plus-two’ seats (we like to refer to them as 5+2 as against a full seven seats) may still be for children or short drives only, but getting into the back and getting settled here isn’t nearly as irksome as some of the competition. And the seats aren’t totally unusable either. You also get a rear air-con system with dedicated blowers in the roof and there are other practical bits like cupholders and power sockets.
There’s even a bit of useable luggage space in the rear with all three rows up, and if you need additional space, the third-row seats fold up to the sides as well, giving you more luggage space. As on the Ford Endeavour, you even get a powered tailgate.
Up front, the cabin looks much more attractive than the outgoing car. There’s a real sense of style here, the collared centre console with its leather-lined and chromed-over sides looks fabulous and the large touchscreen in the centre only adds to the overall appeal. What also works well is the instrument panel with the info screen in the centre of two very legible white-on-black dials. Very similar to the one on the Innova, it hits the spot and the nicely finished steering wheel adds considerably to the more upmarket interior too. There are, however, plenty of not so well-finished plastic bits on the inside and these spoil the ambience of the cabin a bit. The gloveboxes feel cheaply put together, the fake wood near the gear lever is very ‘plasticky’ and the doorpads aren’t all that special either. Still, the cabin is quite practical, with plenty of space to store things like bottles, phones and other odds and ends and you do get the convenience of keyless go and a start-stop button as well.
I head out again, but this time, onto regular, sealed roads outside the massive construction site I’ve been driving in and around. Time to pay attention to things like driving position, general visibility and ease of manoeuvrability; all of which are surprisingly good. I don’t say this lightly, because Jakarta has traffic patterns very similar to our own, with bikers jinking in and out and cars always trying to give you the ‘squeeze’. And what makes things easier is the fact that the driving position is great. The seat is powered, the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake and even visibility out the rear is quite good, due to all that glass at the back and the nicely set-up reversing camera.
The rear-wheel-drive only version I’m driving is powered by the smaller 2.4-litre motor that will also propel the new Innova back home in India. Known as the 2GD-FTV, it puts out 150hp and is mated to Toyota’s new AC60 six-speed automatic. Idle is a bit gravelly and though it isn’t too loud, this is clearly a diesel. Refinement levels, however, improve as soon as I set off from rest. The engine smoothens up quite nicely around 2,200rpm, there isn’t much turbo lag and a meaty slug of torque comes in at around the same time, making it comfortable to drive at city speeds.
The new diesel engine also spins smoothly to 3,000rpm, with a linear increase in power and torque, which makes the new Fortuner shift quite smartly. In fact, the engine pulls pretty well till around 3,800rpm, but demanding more power and performance after that comes with a few penalties. The motor strains hard, gets quite vocal and performance isn’t very strong either. And what’s not nice is that the din gets louder still as you approach 4,500rpm. So, while I find that driving the Fortuner 2.4 in city traffic is quite effortless and cruising on open highways even at relatively high speeds is easily manageable, overtaking, even in fast-flowing traffic, is a bit of a chore. You have to plan your moves well in advance, you have to be patient and if the car in question decides it doesn’t want to be overtaken, you could be in for a bit of a dice. As on the Innova, there are three driving modes; Eco, Normal and Power, and for faster traffic, it’s best to use Power, that significantly improves the amount of grunt you have at lower and medium engine speeds.
Thankfully, we’ll also get the more powerful 177hp 2.8-litre diesel in India, and performance with that engine will be much stronger. It has 27hp more power and a lot more torque, so, it should be much quicker and importantly, more effortless. Toyota will launch the 2.4-litre version too at a later stage, but we suggest you only look at it if you are chauffeur driven.
What impresses me much more is the new Fortuner’s ride and handling. The new chassis is clearly stiffer and, as a result, the redone suspension needs to work less to deliver the same amount of suppleness or grip. This has allowed Toyota to use slightly softer springs and more absorbent dampers, improving the ride quality of the new Fortuner.
This is demonstrated time and time again over some of the less-than-perfect roads we encounter in Jakarta. Even though some of the sections are quite bad, the Fortuner just seems to glide over them more often than not. Larger holes and deeper ruts do cause it to display some of its underlying stiffness and the destabilising effect of all the unsprung mass being flung around (the heavy wheels and heavy suspension arms) is still felt too, but that rocking, always-on-the-move ride quality associated with the earlier Fortuner currently sold here has been largely eradicated.
What the new Fortuner also manages to do, quite nonchalantly, is remain unfazed at speed. Jakarta’s intra-city highways are four lanes wide and super quick and I’m genuinely impressed with how easily it copes with the speed. Remember, this is a full-on body-on-frame SUV with a 225mm ground clearance and 700mm of water-wading ability. And that means most of the heavy bits are up there on the second floor. But the new Fortuner, in fact, is so stable, it holds on to extremely high speeds with almost no additional input at the wheel. Still, impressive high-speed stability isn’t the Fortuner’s only party trick. Toyota has also improved the new Fortuner’s brakes by a fair margin. The new Fortuner gets 17-inch discs at the front and stopping power, bite and pedal modulation are much improved. I find myself braking with plenty of confidence deep into corners, allowing myself to carry an impressive amount of speed into corners and the brakes help deliver plenty of peace of mind in free-flowing traffic too, where you need the extra bite to stop this beast in a hurry.
What’s also much improved is handling. Yes, the new Fortuner still rolls like the Titanic and this is a bit disconcerting initially, but the new, stiffer chassis, better-balanced suspension and the nicer steering all contribute to make this car reasonably agile to drive, even over something like a winding road. And this, quite honestly, comes as a bit of a shock. No, it isn’t quite up there with competition like the Endeavour and it still is big, heavy and sometimes quite ponderous. But like that fat man who can dance, it has a fairly good sense of balance. And that makes it so much more relaxing to drive in corners. The steering, though good at speed, remains heavy at city speeds and this can be quite an irritant if you want to swap lanes in slow traffic. The Ford Endeavour’s much lighter steering helps mask its bulk much better.
The new Fortuner is a big step forward for Toyota. It looks much more appealing, is more comfortable on the inside, rides and drives better, feels tougher and even more indestructible. Some of the plastics on the inside aren’t as good as they could have been, the engine should have been more refined and the new Fortuner is likely to be more expensive as well. A well-specified one is expected to cost between Rs 28 and 32 lakh when Toyota will finally launch it here in November 2016. Still, if you’ve always liked the Fortuner, you’re likely to be absolutely delighted with this new one, which all things considered, is a big, big step forward. Just don’t expect it to walk all over the competition like the earlier one did.
Fore by four - the Fortuner’s new all-wheel-drive system
The new Fortuner we’ve driven is a two-wheel-drive version, but Toyota expects the four-wheel-drive versions to be just as popular as on the outgoing model. Why buy a full-fat, body-on-frame SUV if you are going to forsake its ability to go ‘places’ in the first place? The four-wheel-drive system, however, is a bit different on the new Fortuner. Unlike the one on the outgoing SUV, you will no longer get a full-time four-wheel-drive system. Here you will be able to decouple the front axle drive for improved efficiency in everyday conditions. The system also uses a dial-like selector and electrically driven engagement system rather than just levers as used on the earlier Fortuner. The settings useable are two-wheel-drive high (H2), on the extreme left, four-wheel-drive high in the centre and four-wheel-drive low on the right. The rear diff lock can be selected via a button next to it. Also on offer will be Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), Hill Descent Control (DAC) and Active Traction Control (A-TRC) that distributes power to the wheels with the most traction.