The new Fortuner looks radically different to its predecessor.
The new Fortuner looks radically different to its predecessor.

By: Jason Woosey

Cape Town - Could it be that the new Toyota Fortuner is just a touch embarrassed about being related to the Hilux?

Whereas the first-generation Fortuner at least bore some kind of family resemblance to its bakkie brother, the new one has taken something of a design quantum leap, as if it aspires to be a sporty crossover rather than the traditional body-on-frame SUV that it actually is. The new design might not be to everyone's liking but it sure is striking and you could never accuse it of looking too similar to its predecessor.

Under that cloak, this second generation Fortuner shares most of its bits and bobs with the recently launched new Hilux but there are some notable differences. As before, the bakkie's load-me-up rear leaf spring suspension makes way for the coil springs that are essential for a comfy ride. The new frame is also more rigid than before and improved insulation measures make it quieter on the road.

HOW DOES IT RIDE?

I got to know the new Fortuner on a variety of rural roads on the local launch in the Western Cape and I was impressed by how the suspension soaked up the many dirt roads on the route. The ride is a tad bouncy, but never harsh or uncomfortable.

The Fortuner's overall on-the-road sophistication has improved immensely and is impressive by ladder-frame SUV standards, but it's still no match for the modern unibody crossovers that some urbanites might consider as an alternative. It also feels less than surefooted on twisty tar sections thanks to some body roll and very light steering.

NEW DIESEL ENGINES

As with the Hilux, this new wagon gains Toyota's latest-generation turbodiesel engines. The previous 2.5-litre unit is replaced by the 2.4 GD, rated at 110kW and 400Nm, while the old 3-litre makes way for the 2.8 GD, which is good for 130kW and 450Nm in automatic guise, with manual models detuned to 420Nm. All gearboxes in the new Fortuner range have six forward ratios and the manual 'box in the 2.8 diesel also has rev-matching technology for smoother shifts.

If you're not prone to being short of fuel money there are two normally aspirated petrol engines on offer, starting with the 122kW/245Nm 2.7-litre unit inherited from the Hilux and serving the most affordable model in the range. At the other end of the scale, the flagship Fortuner gets Toyota's 4-litre V6, with 175kW and 376Nm worth of old-school muscle.

I tried out the two diesel engines and both provide decent-enough performance, and deliver momentum in a smooth, sophisticated and undramatic manner.

‘PROPER’ BUNDU BASHER

While the smaller engines propel the rear wheels, the V6 has four-wheel drive as standard and the 2.8 GD offers it as an option. Given that this is still a 'proper' SUV, these versions have a transfer case with low-range gearing and rear differential lock, which is electronically controlled.

Yet this time your reputation as an off-roading know-it-all is assisted by some new-age electronic gadgetry such as Downhill Assist Control. On that note, all models, 4x2s included, get the obligatory modern safety gadgets in the form of traction, stability and trailer sway control systems. Just as well, as ground clearance is a towering 279mm.

THREE GRADES, NEW FEATURES

Toyota has brought the cabin toy box up to date too, with upper versions (2.8 GD and 4.0 V6) featuring an 18cm touch-screen with reverse camera, and the V6 gaining satellite navigation.

To keep the so-called grade walk simple, standard feature generosity basically grows with engine output and there are three grades on offer. The 2.4 GD and 2.7 petrol both come with the 'Entry' package that includes air conditioning (front and rear), a four-speaker audio system, cruise control, a chilled glove box, front and knee airbags and 17-inch alloy wheels.

All 2.8 GDs have 'Standard Grade' spec, which adds the six-speaker touch-screen audio system as well as leather seats, automatic climate control and side and curtain airbags. Only the V6 is offered in 'High Grade', which brings satnav and a powered tailgate to the party.

STYLISH, PRACTICAL CABIN

The interior design has also taken a bold step forward and taking pride of place is a stylish new dashboard, much like that in the Toyota 86 coupé, and you'll even find a few soft-touch, stitched surfaces in the middle section.

This is a generously sized family hauler with a versatile and practical layout that seats seven. The middle row seats tumble for easy access to the third row and they can also recline when their occupants want a nap or slide forward if they feel like making room for those behind.

The third row is big enough to fit two average-sized adults, just don't subject them to a long journey if you want world peace to prevail, and even with those seats in place there's enough space for a bit of shopping or a few tog bags in the boot. Both seats fold into the walls when you need more loading space.

VERDICT

Practical, tough, more sophisticated, and yet priced beneath the opposition, the new Fortuner is certain to remain SA's favourite SUV and perhaps even build upon its predecessor's impressive sales numbers if the economy ever plays along. Toyota reckons it'll sell 1100 of these a month and we don't doubt that for a second.

PRICES

2.7 VVT-i RB auto - R429 400

2.4 GD-6 RB manual - R436 400

2.4 GD-6 RB auto - R453 400

2.8 GD-6 RB manual - R513 400

2.8 GD-6 RB auto - R531 400

2.8 GD-6 4x4 manual - R571 400

2.8 GD-6 4x4 auto - R589 400

4.0 V6 4x4 auto - R633 400

Prices include a five-year/90 000km service plan and three-year/100 000 warranty.

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