Knysna - It's been less than a year since Toyota launched its flagship bakkie and SUV. In November 2016, the automaker is already updating its Hilux and Fortuner.
The Hilux bakkie was launched in South Africa in February 2016 and the Fortuner SUV in March this year.
Needless to say, these two models are a huge success for Toyota, topping the sales charts in their respective segments in a manner rivals can only dream of.
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Despite the successes these models are enjoying, Toyota SA is not planning on resting on its laurels.
The automaker says it brings a "refreshed version" to market every year as apposed to its traditional roll-out every three year.
Keeping it fresh
Since its launch, the new Hilux has been nothing but a growing success for Toyota.
Between January and October 2016 this bakkie averaged 3150 units finding new owners every month - equating to a total market share of 34% And surprisingly, the majority of Hilux sales are the top-of-the-range models.
The Hilux’s three SRX derivatives - one for the double cab, extra cab and single cab - are 55mm wider than the current models, with front and rear treads also extended. Steel wheels are swopped for alloy ones and the indicators move from the front fenders to the side mirror.
The Fortuner, throughout 2015, averaged 699 units finding new homes, but the new generation, even though it’s only been here for a few months, is averaging 1236 so far. It is far outselling the Ford Everest and Chevrolet Trailblazer and is also the best-selling SUV in SA.
READ: Top-selling vehicles sales in SA: Ranger, Polo lead the way
The 2.8 GD-6 and 4.0-litre derivatives receive new 18” wheels and the entry-level 2.4 and 2.7 receive leather cladding opposed to cloth as standard.
Toyota SA also mentioned that it will expand its overall range of vehicles equipped with automatic gearboxes and that a number of new vehicles will be launched in early 2017.
Tell me your Fortune(r)
The first-generation Fortuner may have been a success for Toyota from a sales’ perspective, but it was not the very best of a driver's vehicle. A jittery ride was one of the SUV’s biggest critiques.
Then came the new model and Toyota addressed the shortcomings of the outgoing model; including the ride quality. The new model has better dampers to handle road imperfections, a more compliant ride and a suspension setup that is at home both on tar and gravel.
READ: Fortuner favours the brave: We drive Toyota's new 4x4 in SA
The model we drove on test, the 2.8 GD-6 4x4, was really thrown into the deep end with what the Old Knysna road - better known as the Seven Passes - had to offer. Exiting George we made our way through one of the two real rain forests in SA. Low trees, gravel and dongas galore were littered across the road. And to make matters worse, a torrential downpour came into play and turned the already slippery road into a vicious skidpan.
Before the rains came down, the Fortuner handled the gravel with aplomb. The roads are not of the best and the slippery gravel with its shaky characteristics is enough to unsettle any driver and car. Yet sound insulation, bump absorption and decent steering feedback allowed the Fortuner to transcend the road without any hassle.
Handling the downpour
When the downpour arrived and the gravel took on the personality of a UK rally stage, the SUV remained stable and composed. When my driving partner got the tail of the Fortuner to step out a bit, the stability control kicked in and regulated wheel spin in the wet to allow for decent acceleration out of a situation.
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In normal mode the engine and automatic gearbox get along in harmony, but when ‘power mode’ is engage, the engine stays in the red for too long a period. And even when the next gear is selected with the paddles behind the steering wheel, it would not engage the next gear.
At times I’d be in third or fourth gear, driving at a leisurely pace, opting to engage the next gear and nothing would happen - even if the dial shows that the next sequence of gears have been selected.
How high, Hilux?
My time behind the wheel of the Hilux was limited and the route less adventurous as the Fortuner’s but it gave enough time to get acquainted with the SRX double cab. The same, familiar interior of the other Hilux derivatives are found inside the SRX but the new addition serves as a fresh reminder of what makes the Hilux a hit.
READ: Toyota's Hilux is back! We drive SA's most popular bakkie
On the N2, en route from Knysna to George, the Hilux took on various mountain passes in the rain.
The 2.4 SRX 4x4’s manual gearbox’s first gear is a bit of a stretch - literally - as it is more inclined to rev freely to the redline. Gears two to five provide the oomph needed to execute a passing manoeuvre. Sixth gear is there for cruising and to conserve fuel.
Though this stretch of the N2 is relatively devoid of any undulations and imperfections, the SRX offered a proper drive that never felt boring. The steering weight of the bakkie might be a bit too light for some, but I found it to be ideally suited to a market that is very focussed on a leisurely lifestyle.
The increase in size also helps the Hilux SRX to offer a slightly more planted feel around corners and bends, which should put it in good stead in this highly competitive market.
Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Given that they were only launched a few months ago, the Hilux and Fortuner probably do not need any updates or refreshers. Their name alone will ensure that sales figures remain top of the class. And though Toyota realises this, it is exactly because of it that these successful model ranges are expanded to give consumers a greater range of choices.
The Fortuner and Hilux will both continue to dominate their respective segments - no need for a crystal ball - but the additions added to the ranges will add value to these vehicles.