It's no secret that the Indian consumer out in the market for a big, flashy SUV absolutely loves the Fortuner. Toyota pulled off a bit of a masterstroke when they decided to introduce it in 2009, and then continued to offer upgrades that were lapped up. However, it began to look dated and the arrival of the new Ford Endeavour slowed things down for the Toyota. It is of little surprise that the Japanese manufacturer decided to carry the same basic formula forward – big dimensions, massive road presence and of course a fair amount of chrome, just to make sure all bases are covered. The big difference though, is the styling. No longer is it a brute, it has some clean lines and shiny finish that makes it look more upmarket.
Toyota did acknowledge that the Fortuner needed a thorough makeover and decided to develop an all-new car with everything reworked. Consequently, the new Fortuner sits on a new ladder frame that has been redesigned and made stiffer, and it has a new 2.8-litre diesel motor to power it. While it looks less like the Prado now, the designers have used various elements to maintain some sort of resemblance with the rest of the Toyota line-up. It sits high up and the waistline is pretty high too, with a prominent kink at the C-pillar adding a bit of flair. All the chrome and clean lines makes the new Fortuner look very different from the previous generation and less macho, more chic. Even the lamps have a far more sleek design with LED elements in them.
On the inside, the Fortuner still feels familiar. A large dashboard, leather upholstery for the seats and steering mounted controls. There is a large touchscreen that sits in the middle of the dash now with the aircon controls sitting below it and off-road assist aids sitting at the bottom. Four-wheel-drive is selected via a rotary switch now and you have the option of leaving it in regular two-wheel-drive for everyday use (not full-time four-wheel-drive anymore). There are plenty of practical touches as well to make the cabin superbly functional. There are two glove boxes, cup holders, bottle holders and even baggage hooks behind the front seats for your carry bags. Although Toyota has managed to pack in all the essentials, there isn't any bit that particularly catches your eye. The materials used also vary greatly in feel and aren’t consistently plush. It also misses things like dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming mirror, power seat adjustments for the passenger seat and parking sensors up front.
On the move, however, the new 2.8-litre diesel engine provides enough poke. Power peaks at 175bhp with 420Nm of torque being made available in the manual version and 450Nm in the automatic. The best part being the way it is delivered – maximum torque is available from as low as 1600rpm and it stays constant till 2400rpm. This ensures seamless power delivery with barely any lag.
Get past 2000rpm and you can feel a surge of power to get things moving at a brisk pace. The six-speed manual gearbox has well matched ratios and you can leave it in a higher gear while you cruise, no problem at all. However, push the motor hard and it gets very noisy. Beyond 3000rpm there is little action from the motor and a lot of noise filling up the cabin to make things rather bothersome. Shift up a gear and let the engine turnover at lower revs and peace will return to the cabin.
Hovering around the 2000rpm mark is where it works best and feels the most lively as well. On the other hand, the six-speed automatic isn’t as much of an upgrade and you still need to time yourself well to execute overtaking maneuvers as the gearbox takes its time to figure things out. In ‘S’ mode it always switches to S4, regardless of what position it is in and does not change the number indicated even when you hear it downshift. Even when you want to upshift, it takes into account how far you have depressed the accelerator and decides whether to allow an upshift or not.
In case you are flat on the right foot, it will hold revs till you hit redline before shifting up, regardless of you selecting the next gear via the paddle shifter. This may have been nice in an angry sounding sports car, but here you are just forced to listen to an unrefined drone or lift your foot off the gas to shift when you want to. There is also the option of engaging ‘Power’ or ‘Eco’ mode or just leaving it in normal. There is a very slight difference in throttle response that can be felt with the manual transmission, which tend to be lost when using the automatic gearbox.
Toyota also has a 2.7-litre petrol engine on offer. This is the same one that goes into the Crysta and makes 164bhp along with 245Nm of torque. Unlike the diesel, this comes with a five-speed manual ‘box or a six-speed automatic. We were offered the automatic version for a drive and it is safe to say that this is the one you leave alone when you go to the showroom.
Ride quality is impressive though and the new multi-link suspension manages to smoothen out even large potholes without a second thought. The stiffer frame also makes it noticeably better at highway speeds. There isn’t much waywardness that you expect from a ladder-frame chassis, which makes it pretty relaxing even during long stints behind the wheel. However, the steering communicates nothing more than bumps. The electrically assisted mechanism does not weigh up in any situation and does little more than indicating the general direction that your wheels are pointed at. Moreover, the tall stance causes a fair amount of roll and a lot of lateral movement at low speeds over larger potholes/ off-road situations.
What is interesting though is the number of new technologies that have been introduced to assist in off-road situations. Apart from being able to choose between two-wheel, four-wheel and four-wheel-low, it employs additional functions with the brakes. In case you have a free-spinning wheel, the brakes stop it and transfer power to the other wheel and in case of a steep downhill gradient, you can now engage DAC (downhill assist control) which uses programs to determine your descent speed automatically (depending on gradient and lateral movement) and uses the brakes independently to do so. These should make the Fortuner a more capable off-road vehicle, although the first impressions about these technologies are mixed, especially the DAC.
Overall, Toyota has thrown a bit of mixed bag at us with the new Fortuner. While the exteriors have moved away from its brute-like character, the interiors remain strictly okay. Yes, it is an upgrade over the older vehicle, but it doesn’t feel particularly plush or stylish. The slimmer dash and rearranged seats have freed up enough legroom for all passengers and the adjustable second row seats make it a very comfortable place to be in. They have even implemented a roof-mounted seatbelt for the middle passenger to ensure full use of the most comfortable seats in the car. The front seats are pretty supportive as well, although the seat squab could’ve been longer.
It is safe to say that the petrol motor is just a case of Toyota hedging their bets against any sort of ban situation. The diesel is the obvious choice although the manual/ automatic debate is open for the sort of driving you prefer doing and, funnily enough, how strong your arms are – try engaging reverse in the six-speed manual, you’ll know what I mean. It won’t be surprising to see the two-wheel-drive diesels to be the pick of the lot at Rs 27.5 lakh (manual) and Rs 29.1 lakh (auto), ex-showroom Delhi. But the four-wheel-drive versions at Rs 30 lakh (MT) and Rs 31.1 lakh (AT) are the ones you should look at if you enjoy weekend adventures away from the city.
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