Toyota Fortuner

Hilux underpinnings give birth to family friendly bush-basher

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IF EVER a recipe stunk of success, this is it.

Take one of Australia’s most popular vehicles, the Toyota Hilux, bolt on a more comfortable and refined seven-seat SUV body that’s dripping with a huge dose of Aussie engineering know-how and watch it sell like hot cakes.

And so it is with the Fortuner.

Toyota Australia predicts it will sell every one of the 6000 examples it can get its hands on next year.

Pitched as a long-awaited diesel alternative to the petrol-only Kluger, the Fortuner shares most of its underpinnings with the allnew eighth-generation Hilux.

It features the same body-onframe construction, front suspension, steering hardware and rugged underbody protection, as well as the Hilux’s newly developed 2.8-litre 1GD turbodiesel four. Two transmissions are nicked from the Hilux as well; a new six-speed automatic and a six-speed manual, with the latter providing an extra point of difference to the auto-only Kluger.

So there’s plenty of workhorse DNA underneath, but Toyota has worked hard to disguise the Fortuner’s blue-collar roots with passenger-car comfort and refinement.

Hilux’s leaf-sprung rear end is replaced with a classier fivelink, coil-sprung set-up, the cabin is impressively quiet and every Fortuner boasts seven airbags, rear camera, traction control, trailer sway control, LED taillights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth.

Three grades are offered – $47,990 GX (auto adds $2000), $52,990 GXL and range-topping $59,990 Crusade. Toyota is tipping 55 percent of buyers will opt for the entry spec.

So the Fortuner is a balancing act between everyday suburban comfort and genuine off-road ruggedness. And for the most part, it pulls it off.

Fortuner’s spacious interior is quiet and blends soft-touch materials with hard, durable plastics and third-row access is a breeze thanks to one-touch fold and tumble seats. The rearmost pews are no prison sentence either with enough space for occasional adult use, though headroom is compromised.

All of this is underpinned by Toyota’s bulletproof off-road reputation, and it’s on the dirty stuff where the Fortuner shines.

A part-time four-wheel-drive system offers both high and low range and there’s a locking reardifferential, 279mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 700mm.

Throwing the Fortuner at a challenging off-road course at the national launch only crystallised the depth of its Aussie-tuned ability, where impressive wheel articulation, and approach and departure angles, sees it easily master obstacles.

Where the Fortuner is less impressive is on the black stuff.

The ride is firm and overly busy and its stiff live-axle rear end skips and jiggles across lumpy surfaces. Vague steering is another let-down.

The new 130kW/420Nm diesel is no tower of power, even in 6-speed auto guise which boasts a torque bump to 450Nm. And while it is whisper-quiet when cruising, it’s gruff under load. The auto’s 8.6L/100km official fuel figure (7.8 for the manual) is hardly segment leading either.

So the recipe isn’t perfect, with the Fortuner a family-sized SUV that feels more comfortable off-road than on it. Will the less-than-perfect road manners discourage potential buyers? With Toyota predicting 50 percent of the Fortuner’s life to be spent offroad, we doubt it.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/Economy Price On sale el e ren t h yee Toyota Fortuner Crusade 2755cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD 130kW @ 3400rpm 420Nm @ 1400-2600rpm 6-speed manual 2135kg 12.0sec (estimated) 7.8L/100km $59,990 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Better off-road than on; vague steering; choppy ride; sluggish auto Genuine off-road ability; space and refinement; cohesive styling

01 MATCH STICK

Manual Fortuner is fitted with an ‘intelligent manual mode’ that provides rev matching on downshifts, a function usually reserved for performance cars. It works well, too, athough few will experience it, as 90 percent of Fortuners will be automatics.

02 SHARE MARKET

Despite shared underpinnings with Hilux, Toyota says everything from the B-pillar back is unique to Fortuner.

The only common exterior parts are the front door skins, bonnet and windscreen.

03 PULL THE OTHER ONE

Fortuner boasts a hefty 3000kg towing capacity for manual variants and 2800kg for autos.

An extensive range of genuine accessories were also developed alongside the Fortuner from day one, with bull bars, snorkels and fog lights all designed to retain a predicted five-star safety rating.

Feeling the Strine

FORTUNER is the single biggest undertaking achieved by Toyota’s Notting Hill, Victoria, techical centre. The local boffins have worked tirelessly since 2010 to tune the chassis, suspension and steering for local conditions, as well being responsible for the Fortuner’s wiring harness and multimedia system. “If the Fortuner could speak, it’d have a strong Aussie accent,” says Toyota Oz. Sadly, though, the Fortuner will be the last Toyota to boast such large local involvement, as the facility will shut down in June 2016.

OR TRY THESE...

Ford Everest From $54,990

Significantly pricier but offers more power, better handling, and interior equipment (radar cruise, lane assist) lacking in Fortuner. But its five-pot turbo-diesel is coarse and did we mention the price? A base Everest is $7000 more expensive.

Isuzu MU-X From $40,500

Based on the popular D-Max ute, the MU-X is relatively cheap and its top grades offer roof-mounted entertainment screens to silence the sprogs. Lacks Fortuner’s diesel refinement, though, and it’s even less polished on public roads.