Ever since it made its much awaited entry in India in 2009, the Fortuner has been running away with the sales in its segment. The brawny SUV has been receiving constant facelifts all this while, along with some generous increments in its price. The popularity of the vehicle hasn’t faded one bit, though, with the Fortuner shifting 1000 to 1500 units every month, despite being priced quite optimistically. Reaching the end of its product life cycle, and due to be replaced by an all new version very soon, the Fortuner received the go-anywhere capability of a 4×4 combined with the convenience of an automatic only in its most recent 2015 avatar. We took the burly behemoth for a 500 km roundtrip to see whether that body-on-frame chassis is showing any signs of arthritis yet, or does it still feel as young and punchy as it did when it made its disruptive entry into the Indian premium SUV space.
Images: Chirag Mondal
Nothing too drastic has happened on the outside, and the Fortuner carries on with its intimidating, beefy exterior scaring away the vehicles ahead of it with just a flash of its headlight. Toyota, however, have made a few changes to the exterior as a differentiator for the newest upgrade. The headlights and tail lights have now been partially blacked out, and the SUV also gets a new set of alloys in a dark grey hue. Also, the badges on the tail gate now read ‘Full-Time 4WD’ and ‘Automatic’ for the first time.
Those minor changes apart, the Fortuner carries on with its rugged appearance, which has charmed the Indians, especially those with clout and cash to a large extent.
The 5-speed automatic transmission
As mentioned above, the 5-speed automatic transmission has been combined with the 4WD for the first time in the Fortuner’s history in India. And the result, we are glad to announce, doesn’t leave much to complain about.
A traditional torque converter unit, the new 5-speed automatic gearbox certainly isn’t the quickest shifting or the most intelligent unit out there. It is not an incompetent unit either, though, and the areas it lacks in are adeptly masked by the torque laden engine which delivers a solid shove across the rev range. Ample torque to lug this 2.0 ton leviathan with utmost ease is available from as low as 1400 rpm, with hardly any perceptible turbo lag. So in most cases, even if the transmission doesn’t drop a cog or two, the engine is delivering enough juice to keep things going reassuringly. The transmission, however, is a reasonably competent unit and shifts down with a fair degree of alacrity. It’s no dual clutch DSG, but it isn’t a moaning old CVT of yore either.
Up-shifts from the transmission, during normal medium-speed driving come early, adding to a relaxed, hassle-free driving experience. Add some weight to your right foot and the gearbox doesn’t mind letting the tacho needle climb up a few extra notches. It’s a nice gearbox which, along with that linear, torquey engine makes for an effortless driving experience in almost all conditions, median-less single carriageways included.
Engine & performance
The good old 3.0 liter D-4D engine continues to do duty under that hulking bonnet featuring a massive air scoop. While not too refined or too rev happy, that engine is the epitome of reliability, along with being the fountainhead of a never ending torrent of torque. Thanks to its lack of turbo lag, and responsive nature right from the very bottom of the rev-range, tractability is never an issue. That monstrous engine loves munching miles doing cruising speeds of 100-120km/h in top gear at a lazy 2000-2200 rpm. The 0-100 km/h timing of nearly 12.5 seconds isn’t bad for a vehicle this size, and the Fortuner, though not blazingly quick, has the character and attitude that lends itself to Indian conditions very well.
While there is no denying the linear nature of the engine, it isn’t the quietest unit out there. The sound of the engine is quite audible from low to medium revs, and the decibels keep adding as the revs climb. The cabin is relatively insulated from the sound, though. Also, none of that sound translates into any vibrations, and the engine feels quite smooth and refined if you cut out the clatter. The engine revs all the way up to 4500 rpm, at which point it actually creates some noise, and doesn’t quite enjoy being there. The Fortuner revels in the mid-range, between the 2000 to 3000 rpm mark where it gathers pace effortlessly, making light work of shortening distances.
The Fortuner has always taken pride in flashing its Full-Time 4WD badge and the car is actually a capable off-roader. With its high ground clearance, that torquey motor and a traditional body on frame chassis, it has the right hardware to go flattening some shrubs. It comes equipped with some serious 4×4 hardware, and offers three modes to choose from. The H mode is supposed to be used most of the time, in everyday driving conditions, on tarmac, and even while negotiating light off-roading. In this mode, the central differential is unlocked, sending power even to wheels without traction.
The H mode is meant demanding off-roading conditions such as loose sand, muck or gravel. The central differential, in this mode is locked, distributing power between the front and rear axles equally. Don’t use this mode on tarmac, though, or you will end up with shredded tyres and a screwed up driveline. The LL mode does the same thing as the HL mode, but in low ratio, allowing the flow of maximum torque to the wheels, at very slow speeds. This mode is meant to deal with extreme off-roading situations where traction is next to unavailable.
With that huge and rather old engine, and drive being sent to all four wheels, fuel efficiency isn’t the Fortuner’s biggest USP. And it cannot really be expected to be. For its size, weight and engine capacity, however, the Fortuner doesn’t fare too badly with an average fuel efficiency of around 8-9 kmpl with city and highway driving mixed.
Interior and equipment
As on the outside, a few things have changed inside, too. The interior gets a sporty, all-black treatment in place of the previous beige shade. While some will miss the open, airy feel that the light colour bestowed the cabin with, the black treatment would appeal to those who actually use this car for their outdoor adventures – the darker shade being less prone to getting dirty. The dashboard, the upholstery, and the door panels are all done in black, with a contrasting white double stitching. Leather upholstery helps lift the premium feel inside. While the seats are finished in black, the roof-liner gets a grey treatment for maintaining some equilibrium. The big windows and ample light coming into the cabin ensures that the innards of the car never feel shadowy, even with the dark themed interiors.
Also new are some features on the central touch-screen unit, which now features satellite navigation and voice commands over the previous versions. The rest of the features on the touch screen unit are the same as the previous version, and it feels a bit dated as compared to similar units on other cars, even in segment much below the Fortuner represents. The panel isn’t very sensitive to touch, requiring a relatively forceful push of the finger for inputs. The voice commands feature, too, isn’t very intuitive and requires the user to go through a steep learning curve before being able to use it with some effect. The rear view camera, though a nice feature for such a large vehicle doesn’t offer guide lines that move with the steering.
The MID on the car, though minimalistic and old-looking, shows useful information such as distance-to-dry and average efficiency.
The audio system comes with Bluetooth, USB & AUX connectivity. It takes a bit of time to connect the phone using Bluetooth, but the audio quality, once connected is decent.
The leather wrapped steering wheel, with a wood finish top also features mounted controls, with a new button for voice commands. The arrangement of the buttons on the wheel has also been changed to make place for the said control.
The central drive selector unit, now being an automatic, is also new and features a leather wrapped knob with a wood-finish top. Cruise control, though available from earlier models works much better with the auto version and along with a dead pedal in the foot-well, makes for a comfortable drive experience on open highways. The instrument cluster now gets a gearshift indicator specific to the auto variant, showing the engaged selection.
Even with all those changes, however, the interior of the Fortuner comes across as rather average for a vehicle that costs upwards of Rs 30 lakh in Mumbai. We really would have expected a car in this segment to have a more premium interior with features to match. Things like only dual airbags, no disc brakes for one pair of wheels and manual day-night mirrors aren’t omissions one expects for a vehicle this expensive.
What’s likeable, however, is the open, airy, comfortable and commanding seating position, the generous boot space and the general sentiment that you are in a car that announces power more than any other model currently on sale.
Here we have talked about some interesting details about the car using images
Leather wrapped steeering wheel with a wood finish top gets its mounted buttons re-arranged to accommodate the newly introduced voice command system
Audio system sounds decent, though it takes a bit of time before connecting with your phone’s Bluetooth
Third row space is minimal, with very limited knee and head-room
Front seats are powered, thought they still miss out on lumbar support
Various arrangements of seats to make space for the luggage or passengers
Second row seats are very comfortable with ample knee, head and shoulder room
Second row seats can be reclined for more comfort.
Ride and handling
Even with all its ground clearance and those high profile Dunlop tyres offering ample primary suspension, the Fortuner is surprisingly stiff. This is especially true at low speeds where the suspension offers resistance even to minor edges and bumps, translating into a shuddery feel for the occupants. It’s a bit surprising, as other similar SUVs, while faltering in many other departments, almost always offer a soft, cushy ride quality at slow to medium speeds. The ride quality on the Fortuner flattens marginally as you load it up with more occupants and luggage, and significantly as it gathers pace. At medium to cruising speeds, the Fortuner feels more sorted, though bigger undulations and rough patches still manage to somewhat unsettle it.
The steering on the 4×4 AT variant is a tad heavier than its other variants, though we aren’t complaining, and actually liked the relatively solid feel at the wheel.
The Fortuner is a tall, heavy, traditional SUV running a body on ladder frame, which means that great handling isn’t one of its prime virtues. With a high centre of gravity and those high profile tyres, the Fortuner isn’t the kind of car you push too hard around corners. It feels solid in a straight light, but try carrying that speed even on those long sweeping corners, and the top heavy feel somewhat creeps in, urging you to lift your foot off that right pedal. Body roll is there to be experienced, though it’s still fine for a vehicle this size.
In all, the Fortuner feels a tad bouncy at low speeds, with the ride settling down on the highways. It’s at its best munching miles at cruising speeds on those open, smooth highways. By all means, the Fortuner is not the kind of car you should even think trying to attack the curvy blacktops with. It can turn hazardous. As long as you know you are driving a rather tall, top-heavy, 2.0 ton behemoth, you’d be fine.
More than anything, it’s the Fortuner’s impeccable reputation as a reliable, rugged, go-anywhere vehicle that makes it shine. Toyota was always known to be an able SUV maker, thanks to the global reputation of the legendary Land Cruiser. The Fortuner, with its massive dimensions, brawny character and intimidating personality has become a hot favourite among those who wants to flaunt power.
The current gen Fortuner has been around for about 10 years internationally. And it still doesn’t look took exactly old in appearance. That engine will last an age and so will every other component on the car. For those who like their cars big, there really isn’t a true alternative from an international carmaker yet, even with a price tag which has reached astronomical heights.
Sure, we would want the Fortuner to look and feel more modern, from both inside and out, but that isn’t going to happen with the current gen model. The new generation Fortuner in on its way, and expect it to address all the concerns that the buyers of the current gen model may have.
Price as tested : 26.5 lakh ex-Delhi
Check out an exhaustive image gallery of the Toyota Fortuner 3.0 4×4 AT below