Toyota very cleverly booked its Fortuner range in for a bit of botox enhancement and a snip and nip of plastic surgery but, other than that, it wisely decided not to tinker too much with the successful formula that has made it South Africa’s darling SUV.
Although now in mid-life and with 51 500 sold units behind its name since launch in 2006 it is as popular as ever judging by the 1 712 units sold just in August alone (which may have been helped along by a touch of skilful price massaging, seeing that it was the “outgoing” range prior to the face-lifted models launched last week).
With the newly-unveiled updated model range now in the dealer showrooms the Japanese carmaker says it is looking at an initial sales figure of between 700 and 900 units a month which should be relatively easy, particularly as there is now also a new carrot in the range in the shape of a 2.5-litre D-4D 4×2 engine addition.
Main appeal, the price tag
The main appeal of the new addition will be its price tag of R325 500, which is about R70 000 less than the previous cheapest model, and its spunky turbo-charged, direct fuel injection engine which is very similar to that of the trusty Toyota 3.0-litre engine.
At the media introduction of the revamped Fortuners in Zambia I drove this new addition to the family from Lusaka to Siavonga, a good five hours away, and was really impressed by its enthusiasm to gallop.
Like all Fortuners, the ride is good and it spite of its straight up, rather boxy profile, it handles well, even on the odd occasions when we had to swerve violently to avoid gaping pot-holes, lunatic trucks and wobbly-wheeled, over-crowded relics of yester-year.
It cruises beautifully and even at go-to-jail speeds it remains fairly well-planted to the tar.
Calvyn Hamman, the senior vice president for sales and marketing at Toyota SA, says this smaller-engined model has come to the market in response to customer demand for a less luxurious (read: more affordable) entry-level Fortuner.
The new 2.5 is only available in 4×2 configuration, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
For those who don’t like stirring the soup spoon the least expensive Fortuner available with an auto box is the 3.0-litre D-4D 4×2 RB which will set you back R406 300.
All-round, superlative family-carrier
After a splendid overnight on the 21-suit Southern Belle houseboat on Kariba we headed back to Lusaka – a six-hour journey, this time in genuine off-road territory and including a ferry crossing of the Kafue River – I drove the top of the range 4.0-litre V6 4×4 which is only available with auto transmission…. And yes, it is quite steeply priced at R466 900, but then it is an all-round, superlative family-carrier after all.
About a year ago I spent two weeks at the helm of the smaller 3.0-liter automatic on a long trek from Cape Town to the Kgalagadi and the Northern Cape and my wife and I liked it so much we quickly dubbed it our Kalahari Ferrari – a crown which I will now happily place on the head of this 4.0-litre.
In spite of its slightly soft lines this vehicle is incredibly capable in the rough stuff and although we did some ugly rock-rabbiting in Zambia not once did the big 4.0-litre bruiser even break out in a sweat. Hook low range and you get that confident feeling that it will go anywhere.
On our travels in Zambia we were three up with luggage, lots of spare kit and cool boxes yet everything fitted easily into the spacious living quarters with room to spare.
Slightly bolder, more muscular look
Unless you are a serious Fortuner fan you won’t easily spot the difference between the old and new models although the latest incarnation has a slightly bolder, more muscular look about it. But don’t expect sweaty vests, muscles and tattoos because it is as refined as ever.
Up front the grille has been tweaked with touches of chrome and the new clear headlight clusters are slightly more prominent. The bonnet line has been sharpened and given a tad more bulge and the D-4D models now also sport new, centrally mounted air intakes. The bumper has been squared off and is kitted with a new fog light design.
Look lower down and Hilux owners will probably recognise the new engine cover under the Fortuner’s bumper, designed for improved air flow underneath the vehicle and to improve steering and stability.
Quite a nice feature on the 3.0-litre and 4.0-litre models is the addition of privacy glass on the rear passenger and luggage compartment windows.
The side mirrors are electrically retractable and now house side indicators. All models now also have a roof mounted spoiler with built-in LED stop light.
In the living quarters the instrument panel has been jazzed up with chrome touches, more detailed gauges and blue-accented graphics.
Safety features, plentiful
The top models are kitted with a display audio system with touch screen which gives info such as iPod cover art and USB track listings and all models have a USB/iPod jack and audio-in connector. The entry level has manual aircon and the 3-and 4.0-litre models feature climate control with separate air con for the rear passengers.
The steering wheel is smarter across the range with silver accents and audio and multi-info controls.
The Fortuner made a name for itself with its seven-seater practicality, with the second row splitting 60:40 and unclipping to tumble forward. The third row can slide, split in 50/50 configuration and fold away to the sides for more packing space.
Safety features are plentiful and include driver and passenger airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), emergency brake assist (BA) and vehicle stability control (VSC).
There are seven models with a good selection of power band and clambering ability to pick from. The newcomer’s 2.5-litre engine pushes out 106 kW and 343 Nm of torque; the 3.0-litre turbo diesel produces 120 kW and 343 Nm and the big daddy 4.0-litre churns out 175 kW and 376 Nm of torque.
The two-wheel drive versions are armed with a lockable rear diff while the four-wheel drive versions also have a heavy duty transfer case and lockable rear differential.
The 4×4 models are permanently in four-wheel drive mode and the driver also has the choice of using the transfer case to switch between 4WD High and 4WD Low.
More hauling power
The upgraded Fortuner now also has more hauling power, thanks to the same programme that was recently implemented on the Hilux range which gives the 2.5-litre the muscle to haul 1 715 kg and the 4×2 3.0-litre is now capable of lugging 2 075 kg..
Just like Springbok star Francois Steyn whose Samson locks recently made way for a softer, more stylish perm for the World Cup, the new Fortuner has also been given more fashionable looks but just like the sparkling Bok youngster it remains as formidable as ever after its fashionable makeover.
Besides its solid reputation for quality, practicality, ride comfort, off-road abilities and reliability the Fortuner is sold with appealing peace of mind features such as a five year/90 000km warranty (which can be extended to six years/ 220 000km), a service plan that can be extended to seven years/220 000km and a roadside assistance programme which covers the entire South Africa as well as Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.
Spruced up and one family member richer the Fortuner clan remain formidable pack leaders. Others may be yapping at the Toyota’s rear bumper but it is going to take a lot to unseat this king of the SUV throne.
The models and prices are:
•Fortuner 2.5 D-4D VN 4×2 RB – R325 500
•Fortuner 3.0 D-4D 4×2 RB – R395 000
•Fortuner 3.0 D-4D 4×2 RB AT – R406 300
•Fortuner 4.0 V6 4×2 RB AT – R422 300
•Fortuner 3.0 D-4D 4×4 – R439 800
•Fortuner 3.0 D-4D 4×4 AT – R451 200
•Fortuner 4.0 V6 4×4 AT