The Fortuner has been in the offing for a number of years now, and many customers have been eagerly awaiting the launch of this SUV from Toyota. And why not – after all, it has for brethren the Landcruiser and Landcruiser Prado, which is the mainstay of the UN, and the FJ Cruiser, which many owners will swear by. Is the Fortuner worth the aura of mystical allure that has worked up around it since rumours of Toyota-Kirloskar Motors launching it in the country have surfaced? We spent a day with the car to find out.
The Fortuner is almost the same overall length as an Innova (4695mm vs 4555mm), but it looks a whole lot larger thanks to the high ground clearance and overall sporty ready-to-tackle-anything stance and look. The front end is contemporary, with projector lamps and a grille that feels very upmarket, it resembling the Mercedes M-Class’s grille. Projector headlamps add sophistication to the nose, but HID lamps would have been far more useful in our highway conditions. The bonnet has a functional air scoop that feeds the turbocharger’s intercooler, and it also adds to the aggression of the front end. The fender flares and large tyres on easy-to-clean alloy wheels that fill up the wheel arches contribute to the butch looks, and the side steps and roof rails are standard. These are handy bits, since the side step helps with getting in and out of this high car, and the roof racks will allow you to mount extra headlamps or a luggage carrier with ease. The chrome mirrors and door handles add to the image of luxury. The rear is brought up by the sporty rear spoiler and sedan-like horizontal tail-lamps, which buck the trend of vertically stacked lamps that the rest of the SUVs in the price range are following. The exhaust is placed high enough to clear water and other obstacles, be it while negotiating an off-road trail or while negotiating flooded streets. The quality and finish of the paint is of a very high standard.
The leather feels good to the touch but we still feel that beige is a colour that gets easily dirty and difficult to clean. However beige has been the flavour for the last few years with everything going browns and beige. Some areas on the dashboard and the armrests have fake wood inserts. Even though the interiors are built with tough, durable and hard-wearing plastic (that will no doubt stand the test of time and elements) some of the fit on the panels could be much better. The grab handles on the A-pillars are useful to hang on to while getting in or out of the car. There is a lot of space in the car – the front two rows have immense amounts of legroom and headroom. The second row isn’t very comfortable, as the passengers get shaken about quite a bit over bad patches of road. It splits 60:40 for greater load-carrying ability. The third row is a little short on knee and head room, but is fine for short trips – even adults won’t complain when seated in the third row, thanks to the adjustable backrest and large rear quarter glasses that remind us of the Mercedes M-Class when viewed in isolation. Flipping the second-row seat to access the third row is ridiculously easy and effortless. Climbing in and getting to the third row is easy as well, but getting out is a little tricky, since the car is so high off the ground and the width of the side step isn’t enough for an occupant to put his or her entire foot on it. The leather-clad seats lack under-thigh support. The driver will quickly get comfortable with adjustments for height available in addition to the usual – although they are all manual – but the steering wheel doesn’t telescope. We also found that the wheel rake doesn’t allow the wheel to go as high as we would have liked when we raised the seat height. A dead pedal is a useful addition.
The white dials and orange needles are easy to read and we love the way they light up. They can also be adjusted for brightness. When the third row is folded away, the boot space is enormous, and when the third row is in place, it isn’t very big but it will fit a small bag or two. The doors have usefully big pockets and cupholders in addition to the fold-out ones in the dashboard. The center console consists of a multi-function display that gives the occupants information about various functions like instantaneous and average fuel consumption, tank range, elapsed trip time, ambient temperature, average speed and has a compass as well. This display needs to be larger – the current one is oh-so-1980s. The audio system is a six-CD changer and seems to be from the same family that is present in the Innova. It is a simple-looking unit that can play mp3 and wma formats, but has no provision for an auxiliary input, USB drive or SD card. Rear passengers will also rue the fact that it doesn’t have a remote. It can play loud, with punchy bass and clear highs, but lacks quality sound. The front components help the system sound just about okay on the front but the rear speakers leave a lot to be desired. We’d have also liked it to be more intuitive to use – we kept fumbling through the sub-menus for the entire day that we had the car.
The climate control system chills the large interior in a very short time despite the large cabin and glass area. Even third-row passengers have more than adequate cooling at their disposal, with a very nice touch being the cupholder in the das h that positions the drink right in front of the vent to keep it cool. There’s also a small storage space for the third row that is fed cold A/C air to keep the drinks of the third row occupants cool. There is a separate switch at the bottom of the centre console that turns the cooling for the third row on or off. The air-con controls are easy to use. A switch for the rear parking sensors, a very useful 20V power outlet and a cigarette lighter round off the functions of the centre console. The big mirrors are electrically adjustable and foldable although we wish they came standard with integrated turn indicators, which are currently an option as an original Toyota accessory. All windows are powered with the driver’s window getting an auto up/down and the rear screen has a wash/wipe and defogger. We’d have liked the parking sensors to switch on automatically when reverse was selected, rather than having to switch it on manually.
Engine, drivetrain, fuel efficiency
The 3.0-litre turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine has four cylinders and generates 168bhp and 343Nm of torque with the help of 16 valves and a DOHC. It doesn’t rev freely to the redline, but it more than makes up for it with bucketloads of torque. Third gear is a very apt demonstration of this – it is flexible enough to accelerate from about 25kph to 110kph! When started from cold, it sounds every inch a big four-cylinder diesel and quite like the Innova from the inside. We wish it were a little more muted and refined, because we didn’t expect this much noise in the cabin at idle or cruising speeds. Power delivery is linear, with a little extra surge at around 1800rpm, when the turbo starts doing its work. A little turbo lag is also evident, but it pales into insignificance when you realise that we managed a 0-100kph run of just 12.3 seconds!
The Fortuner possesses permanent all-wheel drive that allows the driver to select between 4H, 4Hl and 4Ll modes. Most occasions will require the 4H mode, while serious offroading will require the 4Ll mode. There are two gearshift levers, one for the normal five-speed ‘box, and the smaller lever to the appropriate four-wheel drive mode. The throw of the lever is really long, and shifts from second to third, or fourth to third are positive but cannot be hurried at all. The best way to drive the Fortuner would be to ride the tidal wave of torque instead of trying to swap cogs at lightning speed. We were quite surprised by the amount of shake from the gear lever at idle or whilst cruising at any speed.
Driven at speeds between 80-100kph in fifth, the Fortuner returned about 10.8kpl – a fairly decent figure considering its nearly three-ton weight and the permanent all-wheel drive. During our performance testing session, which is usually the worst on economy, this figure dropped to 6.1kpl. The 80-litre fuel tank should offer a safe range of 800km with careful driving.
Ride & Handling, Steering
We’ve got good news for offroad enthusiasts – it’s all that and then some. The axle articulation and long suspension travel will have off-road enthusiasts grinning in anticipation. Most Fortuners will be driven on roads most of the time, and we found that the ride was jittery on the expressway. At low speeds everything feels good, whether the road is good, bad or nonexistent. The commanding ‘first-floor’ driving position that allows you to peer over mere mortals in their sedans, coupled with the small turning radius will help you in traffic. It has 220mm of ground clearance, but you’ll have to be careful while negotiating rocky terrain. In light of the fact that it has double wishbones upfront with a four link setup at the rear it is surprising that it has such a jittery ride quality at speed with plenty of pitching especially on the middle and rear rows. It feels very nervous at the limit – in excess of 160kph, the steering doesn’t inspire confidence at all and tends to lighten up considerably but it does feel better when fully laden. The vehicle’s height and large side surface area also make it nervous in crosswinds at speed.
Braking, Tyres, Safety
The Fortuner has discs in the front and drums at the rear. Rear discs would have been nice, but we also have to remember that it has been derived from a low cost, low maintenance load-carrier platform. It is equipped with ABS, which helps it stop from 80kph in a minimal 33.1 metres. We wish the brakes had more bite and feel.
Dunlop AT20 Grandtrek all-terrain tyres of the size 265/65 R17 surround the Fortuner’s classy alloy wheels. They grip well on a variety of surfaces and are quiet at speed, but we’re sure owners will want to switch to tyres with more off-road capability if they’re going to go where no man’s tyre has trod before. A point to note is that the current tyres are imported rubber – at some stage with more localisation, you might find Indian brands on the Fortuner’s wheels.
The Fortuner comes equipped with airbags for the driver and front passenger, along with ABS. All passengers except the middle rear passenger get a three-point seat belt. It meets Toyota’s stringent GOA body standards, which means it will absorb the impact optimally while retaining the integrity of the passenger cell.
Cost, Overall evaluation
The Fortuner is a very capable machine off-road or on the beaten track. However, it didn’t inspire much confidence during our high speed runs on the highway which is no doubt where this SUV will be used most of the time. There are quite a few vehicles which have better ride quality and high speed handling, its own sibling on the same platform – the Innova – included. For an on-road Mumbai price of close to Rs 21 lakh one does feel a little short-changed on features. Yes, it does have all the usual frills (central locking, power windows, climate control) but it’s lacking in features that customers in this segment increasingly want today and are looking for (for example, some customers we met wished that it had a DVD player, remote-controlled audio system, reverse camera, auto lamps, tyre pressure monitoring system, sunroof, Bluetooth connectivity, and most importantly, better on-road ride quality.) No doubt the Fortuner will do well, what with the Big ‘T” badge which has come to stand for reliability and quality the world over. The Fortuner is a competent product, but people who have been waiting for it for over three years did expect Toyota to deliver a more feature-laden overall package for the product that’s been the most awaited in recent times in the country.