Like its predecessor, the latest Fortuner is based on a Hilux ladder chassis but is more sophisticated both inside and out.
Like its predecessor, the latest Fortuner is based on a Hilux ladder chassis but is more sophisticated both inside and out.

ROAD TEST: Fortuner 2.8GD-6 4x4

By: Jesse Adams

Johannesburg - This is Toyota’s all-new and much improved Fortuner. But I must tread carefully around the term ‘much improved’, so as not to offend the legions of loyal previous Fortuner owners.

The now discontinued first-generation was a sales chart topper, and for its ten-year tenure was officially the best selling SUV in our market – proving it nailed a bullseye on the South African sport-utility dartboard. But some changes might not be viewed as improvements.

This is the risky second album, and if you’re an early Guns N’ Roses fan you’ll know how a slight alteration of style and execution can wreak havoc on sales. The band’s second release, Lies, sold less than half of their debut, Appetite for Destruction. It can be easy to stray, even slightly, off the winning formula and antagonise hoards of devoted followers.

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Has that happened here? No, I don’t think so. Fortuner part two will likely pick up where it left off at the top of sales charts, but that’s not to say it isn’t significantly different in flavour to the original.

But let’s start with what’s factually ‘much improved’.

Smarter interior

Like the new-from-the-ground-up Hilux bakkie it’s based on, the second-generation Fortuner is a much more refined piece of kit. Where the previous version felt at least a notch or two below the cabin quality of the more upmarket Prado, the new one purveys a stronger sense of upper classiness. Hard plastics have made way for soft-touch materials throughout, and swanky wood and aluminium-look finishes give the interior a more sophisticated ambience than before. But be warned, if you’re not a fan of chocolate-coloured leather, dark brown is the only upholstery choice in higher-specced derivatives.

The interior is quieter, and Toyota says it’s gone an extra mile with expandable foam and other sound-killing materials to minimise road and engine noise. The cabin seems much more sealed off from outside elements, and if the outgoing model could be considered a rough-and-tumble bakkie with a boot, this is much more of a high-riding luxury vehicle.

Improved ride, performance

I’m also happy to report that ride quality is much improved, and not only from the previous model’s, but also the current new Hilux which I found a bit too alive and springy on rough roads. As before, the Fortuner’s rear suspension features a four-link setup with coil springs. It’s still a solid-axle rear end meaning there’s some body judder across bigger bumps and potholes, but it’s far better at isolating wheel movement than its leaf-sprung Hilux sibling.

Our test unit was powered by a completely new 2.8-litre turbodiesel, and while it’s 227cc smaller than the old 3.0 D-4D it’s quite a lot more powerful. With 130kW and 420Nm (450 with an autobox) it outdoes its predecessor by 10kW and a huge 77Nm (or 107Nm). Torque is fed in from as low as 1 500rpm, making light work of uphill pulloffs and low-rev overtaking moves.

I was also very pleased with a new feature called iMT, or intelligent manual transmission which, when engaged, automatically blips the throttle on downshifts. It makes the six-speed manual feel distinctly less clunky. I’m amazed that such a simple feature can have such an effect on driveability. So much so that I wish it defaulted into iMT mode on each startup. Toyota says the function uses a bit more fuel, but our Fortuner showed an average of 9.9 litres per 100km regardless of iMT position. I did 100km with it on and 100km with it off, just to see.

But it’s not without fault

But what about those new Fortuner features which might not be taken as improvements? Well, the infotainment system is one. In higher derivatives like our test vehicle, there’s a 7-inch touchscreen which wouldn’t look out of place in a German luxury car. I personally didn’t have much trouble navigating its complex functionality, and once my iPhone was paired I enjoyed seeing my music album art displayed in vivid colour. But I’m not sure everyone will appreciate its layers upon layers of menu and sub-menu screens.

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There’s also no volume knob, and this is a major faux pas. Prodding the small touch-sensitive up and down arrows in the touch-screen can result in any number of erroneous selections.

Thankfully it’s possible to adjust volume via secondary controls on the steering wheel.

Next, I’m not sure if everyone will go gaga for the new model’s styling.

It’s far busier now with overly ornate head- and tail-lights, disjointed body creases, and an extremely fussy frontal section straight out of a manga comic.

The C-pillar is all glass now, but an unnecessary (but still interesting) upward curve in the window line is placed directly in the path of rear blind spots. Admittedly this is a nitpick, but a valid one.

VERDICT

The seven-seat Fortuner has made a leap so far upmarket, it might actually bother its hoity brother, the seven-seat Prado. It’s still the same rugged, offroad capable SUV it was before, but now with added class and quality. I’m just not sure if the khaki-clad braai brigade will love the busy styling and hi-tech infotainment offered in range-topping models.

Follow me on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd

FORTUNER VS ITS RIVALS

Fortuner 2.8GD-6 4x4

2.8 turbodiesel, 130kW/420Nm

7 seats, 6-speed manual

Ground clearance: 279mm

R571 400

Chevy Trailblazer 2.8D 4x4 LTZ

2.8 turbodiesel, 144kW/440Nm

7 seats, 6-speed manual

Ground clearance: 218mm

R572 300

Ford Everest 3.2 4x4 XLT

3.2 turbodiesel, 147kW/470Nm

7 seats, 6-speed auto

Ground clearance: 225mm

R634 900

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2.5DI-D 4x4

2.5 turbodiesel, 131kW/400Nm

7 seats, 5-speed manual

Ground clearance: 218mm

R534 900