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2009-02-02 07:30
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Toyota
Model Fortuner
Engine 3l, turbodiesel
Power 120kW @ 3 400r/min
Torque 343Nm @ 1 400r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual, four-speed auto
Fuel Tank 80l
ABS Yes, with EBD, BA
Airbags Six
Front Suspension Independent double wishbone, coil springs
Rear Suspension Rigid axle, four links, coils
Service Intervals 10 000km (D-4D)
Service Plan 90 000km/3 years
Warranty 100 000km/3 years

Lance Branquinho

Toyota’s wildly successful Fortuner SUV has received minor lifecycle running changes. We drove the facelift on the dunes and dirt roads of Namibia.

Based on South Africa’s best selling vehicle (Toyota’s Hilux) the Fortuner has brought a near perfect blend of expedition grade off-road ability with acceptable urban driveability to market. Hardly a surprise that Toyota sold in excess of 700 of them a month during the local market’s halcyon days of 2007.

With the facelifted model, Toyota has addressed most of the small foibles which have invoked the ire of local owners since Fortuner’s market debut in 2006.

Better comfort and convenience

The most significant changes for 2009 concern interior ergonomics and design. Mirroring its Hilux sibling, Fortuner has eschewed the traditional bakkie-based triple dial ventilation and air-conditioning controls for a rectangular arranged, push-button system.

Other thumb and forefinger actuated features include proper steering wheel mounted satellite controls for the audio system and cruise control. Taller drivers will be heartened to find the height adjustable driver’s seat is now electrically powered.

The last of the ergonomic feature upgrades concerns the dual split air-conditioning system. This now features roof trim mounted vents for the second and third row of seats (for exactly the same reason aircraft feature vents above passengers heads...) and Fortuner now cools passengers seated in the rear more efficiently.

These ergonomic improvements address many of the interior functionality issues Fortuner owners have been vocal about. Design wise though, the interior is still not where many owners would like it to be.

Trim colour is still way too light in lieu of Fortuner’s utilitarian capabilities. Toyota says the euphemistically named "Sand Beige" trim is now two-tones darker than what went before. Point is though, small children could practically dirty the light coloured trim by just looking at it, and the new colour is still not nearly dark enough to be contrast dirt proof in the bush or even in general use.

If facelifted Hilux can have a dark grey interior option - with leather seats - on top of the range Raider models; why not Fortuner?

One new trim feature, which nearly usurps the interior’s one-valet-a-week-to-keep-it-clean colour hue, is the inexplicable Japanese "teak" wood trim fascia inserts. Why Japanese manufacturers feel the need to embellish the interiors of low-range equipped vehicles with wood inlays is a mystery of epic proportions.

It looks silly, especially more so because the Hilux-sourced interior is actually one of Toyota’s better designs in terms of texture and shape co-ordination.

Why the Hilux spec silver or black trim finish could not have been carried over is beyond me. Even tuna-scale trim would have been more acceptable and less desperately Eurocentric…

Bigger tyres, automatic choices

Beyond the new headlamps front and rear, the most distinguishing exterior design change is the larger wheel. Rolling a set of 265/65 Bridgestone Duelers, the new alloys really flesh out those wheel arches, rendering a neater proportioned side profile.

On the debit side, the move to 17-inch wheels mean overlanding Fortuner owners will have to buy an additional set of 16-inch wheels and tyres for extended trips outside our borders – you just try and find 17-inch tyres well north of the Orange and Limpopo rivers, good luck to you...

Engines are carried over, whilst automatic gearboxes now abound, albeit in oddly road bias configurations.

The D-4D turbodiesel now features four-speed automatic only in rear-wheel drive, whilst the 4l V6 range adds a five-speed self-shifter in 4x4 guise, binning the manual 4x4 version.

Why Toyota chose not to offer its superb D-4D compression ignition engine in auto 4x4 configuration is beyond me; especially seeing as it now sports proper expedition range capability with its 23% larger fuel tank; rated at 80l.

The perception of two-pedal vehicles not being "real" 4x4s seems to still reside in the consciousness of product planning departments and certain groups of the off-road fraternity. I find an automatic off-roader preferable in most situations, with only long descents (when not equipped with an HDC function) showing any lesser capability to a comparable tri-pedal vehicle.

Traffic circle drifting specialists will lament the culling of the V6 rear-wheel drive, five-speed manual Fortuner.

Safer. On dirt roads too?

Let’s not evade the issue; Toyota had a veritable public relations disaster on its hands last year when rumours were circulating that Fortuner was about as stable on dirt roads as a fridge laden skateboard was downhill.

Now, with bigger (dare I say better?) tyres, comprehensive vehicle stability electronics (VSC) and six airbags, any issues surrounding Fortuner safety should be allayed. Or perhaps not?

We drove the Fortuners on dunes outside Walvis Bay, where the new Bridgestone Duelers were superb, and the D-4D torque characteristics and refinement reaffirmed its excellence.

Off-road, Fortuner is still a disarmingly easy, confidence-inspiring vehicle to drive. Though vehicle stability control electronics can hamper its ultimate off-road ability, the system automatically disengages when the transfer case is put into low-range.

Namibia abounds in dirt road routes; some good, others positively treacherous. We drove the 100km-odd route from Spitzkoppe to Henties Bay, which features a few long corners, which tighten up disconcertingly. Plenty of unsighted humps too; especially difficult to spot in the featureless Namibian terrain which is devoid of contrast.

The verdict? If you feel the need to travel at 140km/h on a dirt road – which I think is properly too fast in the first place – then you should not encounter any stability or dynamic issues (beyond possible Kalahari traffic cop speed fines) doing it in a Fortuner. We sure didn’t.

Though I dislike the audible warning bong when it engages; the VSC has the dynamic likeness of a sentinel. Despite serious throttle and steering input taunting, it was essentially foolproof, applying corrective brake force to the necessary wheel time and again.

If you remember to lock up the centre-differential in high-range, run at lower tyre pressures (it's not a performance saloon remember) and keep your eyes in the road, I honestly cannot image how you’d lose control of the Fortuner on a dirt road.

Towing? Remember to use a drop plate and do your GVM calculations properly; braked trailer towing capacity remains 1500kg.

Fortuitous choice

At a price premium of 2%, the latest Fortuner range should easily capture the 500 units a month market share Toyota’s is aiming for. I think demand should easily outstrip supply, as it did with the first generation.

Most of the interior design foibles have been addressed. Toyota’s Fortuner upholstery designers just need to turn the page of their trim colour supply guide brochure.

I would like to see a horizontally split tailgate in future, for the convenience it provides with regards to extra seating and shading when pulling up next to the road for lunch or staying over in a bush camp.

Toyota’s marketing slogan with the facelifted Fortuner is gathered from the age-old human-canine kinship - Fortuner marketing material will feature "man’s best friend" emblazoned all over.

We think it’s quite apt; considering Fortuner’s utilitarian, off-road capable appeal and improved urban comfort and convenience features all wrapped around redoubtable Hilux bakkie mechanics.

These characteristics are sure to see it become a valued member of the family; but one thing’s for certain; no matter how nicely you ask, piece of biltong in hand, it won’t roll over…


3.0 D-4D Raised Body R327 100
3.0 D-4D Raised Body auto R337 100
3.0 D-4D 4X4 R366 400

Facelift petrol models will enter the market in the second quarter. VSC is still under development for the V6 drivetrain.

Read more on:    hilux  |  toyota  |  bridgestone  |  launch  |  south africa  |  namibia

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