- Tough and durable build quality
- Strong new diesel works well with manual
- Classy interior shared with new HiLux
- Diesel bellows under acceleration
- Navigation only on the top model
- Third row eats up boot space
Australians have totally embraced SUVs as the family car of choice. The car brands are responding to our massive appetite by expanding their SUV ranges to cover all the important niches. One of the hottest of these niches right now is the off-roading seven-seater. These cars aren't new to Australia—we've bought ute-based trucks in the past. Think of models like the old Mitsubishi Challenger or Nissan Pathfinder.
However, it's the new crop of ute-platformed wagons that are reinventing the segment. The Toyota Fortuner is one of them. This 4x4 is a seven-seater based on the new eighth-generation HiLux—the two models share engines, cabin elements, and off-roading kit. The Fortuner name has been popular in Asia for years—and in the face of stiff new competition, Toyota are banking on moving plenty of them down under.
So what's the stiff new competition? Well, this class of four-wheel-drive is expanding at a canter. There's the new Ford Everest, which is based on their Ranger ute platform. There's the new, Triton-based Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. And the existing Isuzu MU-X continues to kick on, previously enjoying a near-monopoly on this hard-edged section of the SUV market.
All of these cars are being marketed as more driver- and family-friendly than ever before. In the past, cars like these were horrendously uncomfortable, with primitive suspension setups and bad interiors. Now, the Toyota Fortuner aims to lead this pack, with a refined new diesel motor, a slick six-speed manual, and car-like dynamics: all while retaining the impressive off-roading prowess that these cars aim for.
While it's based on the eighth-generation HiLux ute platform, the Fortuner offers better driving dynamics than its utility cousin. Where the HiLux's rear, leaf-spring suspension needs to cope with a one-tonne rating, the Fortuner doesn't have this requirement. Ride quality is significantly improved thanks to the rear five-link suspension package which vastly reduces the jitters that enter the cabin in the ute.
That said, the Fortuner is still a vast truck with a body-on-frame chassis. Ride quality is more civilised than any commercial Toyota, but the dynamics are still more ponderous and trucklike than a car-based SUV like a Kluger. It is difficult for a car like this to eliminate the slightly ponderous quality that the separation of the chassis and the body causes.
This effect requires a slower and more deliberate driving style but once you've mastered that, the Fortuner is an easy car to drive.
Toyota's new 'global diesel', shared with the HiLux, is a significant improvement. It has downsized to 2.8 litres in capacity, but it feels more sprightly than its 130kW would suggest. The standard manual gearbox brings 420Nm of torque, which feels punchy enough, but the $2,000 automatic option adds an additional 30Nm which you will want for towing.
In GXL and Crusade trim the manual has an 'Intelligent' feature which automatically rev-matches downshifts. It is an incredible development for stick transmissions that makes them much smoother to drive, particularly when off-roading (when you have plenty to manage already, besides revving under a downshift).
The Fortuner's steering is a big improvement on the seventh-generation HiLux, with better driver feedback and a greater feeling of connection to the front wheels. It's now easy to point this wagon through corners and get the result you are after.
Under acceleration the Fortuner's diesel gets very rowdy—much noisier than the Mitsubishi—but once you are up to speed the cabin is quiet with little road or wind noise intruding.
Sharing a cabin with the eighth-generation HiLux is no bad thing for the Fortuner. Refinement has taken a great leap over the old HiLux ute. We drove the top-of-the-range Crusade model, but the base GX and mid-spec GXL both benefit from the solid bones of this cabin.
The upright dash reminds us of the Corolla, and all the key controls fall to hand. The set up is based around an seven-inch colour touchscreen which runs Toyota's newest app-based software – all models get this good screen. Pairing a phone with Bluetooth is easy enough, and audio quality is above-average when streaming music. It's stingy of Toyota that navigation is only standard on the Crusade: the GXL deserves it too, given that it's a mid-$50,000s car.
The Crusade's seats are leather-accented and available in tan or dark brown—but not black strangely enough. On the other models, hard-wearing cloth is the order of the day. The seats aren't the last word in comfort but we found them supportive over a 150km loop, with decent side bolstering to keep you in place while off-roading. The steering wheel is also now tilting and telescoping, which makes it easier to find the right driving position.
Your passengers in the back are well looked after. The three-seater bench slides to adjust legroom, and the bench is comfortable enough. The kids will appreciate the standard-size Australian power outlet back there (or you might choose to put a portable fridge back there - it's convenient for that). Plus, back-seat passengers get their own air conditioning controls, which is a generous touch.
The third row is standard, and it's great to have the extra practicality of seven seats. Space is pretty tight back there, though, so limit it to the kids unless your run with a packed car is pretty short.
We're labelling this class of car the off-roading wagon, as opposed to seven-seat SUVs or crossovers. Cars like the Fortuner (and the Everest, the Pajero Sport, and so on) are built to head off the beaten track first and foremost. They're not generally as practical and as easy to live with as their car-based, road-focussed siblings, but they come close.
We also think that the off-roading abilities of the Fortuner represent a different type of practicality, which is why the model scores well in this department. For family camping trips, the Fortuner will get you much further than a Kluger—almost as far as a LandCruiser, but at half the purchase price. The off-roading features, like low range and lockable differentials, provides a healthy serve of usability if your family is the adventuring type.
If you're not the adventuring type, it's a better idea to stick to something like a Kluger or a Territory. Those cars have more storage space inside—notably, more usable boots.
The Fortuner's boot isn't small but because the third row folds up and to the sides, it creates a narrow, tall space. The seats are also extremely difficult to remove. So even though the Kluger's boot is 100 litres smaller, it's a better shape.
Despite this problem the Fortuner will still be more attractive to many families than the Pajero Sport, which doesn't get a third row in Australia, or the Everest, which has a smaller boot in any configuration.
In the cabin, there are a smattering of storage spaces to store everyday clutter, including a decent-size central bin and glovebox.
Parking the Fortuner is made much easier thanks to the inclusion of a reversing camera on every trim level. That's a commendable move by Toyota. However, it's only the GXL and Crusade that get beeping sensors.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Capped price servicing is included on the Fortuner. Toyota's Service Advantage programme covers the first six scheduled services over the car's first three years on the road. Each of the six services will cost $180, bringing three years of normal maintenance to $1,080. Contrasted to $1,390 for the Ford, and $1,540 for the Mitsubishi, servicing the Toyota represents great value.
The other major running cost is of course, fuel. We observed about 9L/100km in combined driving over a week with the Fortuner. That's about average for the class and very similar to the competition. The 80-litre tank isn't cheap to brim, but the manageable economy will remain pleasing both now – when fuel is inexpensive – and in the future.
Like the Pajero Sport and the Everest, the Fortuner is built in Thailand where these are exceedingly popular. These ute-based models are big in Southeast Asia and India, but not many other places require their levels of durability. The construction doesn't feel Australian- or European-solid, but we found no squeaks, vibrations or other quality concerns over our week.
All of the Fortuner models tick the key safety boxes of the class: seven airbags, a reversing camera, stability and traction control, trailer sway control, hill-start assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and five seatbelt reminders are standard across the range. We'd like it if the full suite of active safety features – including active cruise and blind spot assistance – became available in the future.
ANCAP have evaluated the Fortuner, where it performed well. The Toyota received a five-star crash rating with a score of 33.95 out of 37: 13.45/16 for frontal offset crashes; 16/16 for side impacts; 2/2 for pole impacts; and good ratings for whiplash and pedestrian protection.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Three grades are available on the Fortuner, within a relatively thin pricing scheme that sees the Toyota span $47,990 for a GX manual to $61,990 for a Crusade automatic. The automatic transmission, which is 7% torquier, is a $2,000 option.
All cars from the GX upwards get a number of key features, including air conditioning, cruise control, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, the touchscreen audio system, automatic headlamps, and a full-size spare.
Stepping up to the GXL costs an extra $5,000 but upgrades the GX's cheap plastic steering wheel to leather; it brings the Intelligent Manual mode which we liked; and it adds downhill assist, parking sensors, a better trip computer, keyless entry and push-button start, plus power windows.
The Crusade is a further $7,000, which we find hard to justify. It adds leather and navigation, a digital radio, LED headlamps, a power-operated boot door and the power point.
We recommend the GXL in either the manual or automatic transmission, depending on your preference; both are solid choices and the mid-range model represents the best value.
The Fortuner GXL looks particularly attractive when contrasted against the Ford Everest Trend, which is similarly-equipped but is $6,000 more expensive and automatic-only.
Ford Everest Titanium ($76,990): the industry has widely received the Prado-like pricing of the Everest as a significant misstep by Ford. The Everest is the classiest-looking ute-based wagon, but it remains ute-based. A strong five-cylinder diesel and hints of Territory in the driving experience help the Everest's case—but it needs a $5,000 cut before the pricing is close to fair.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed ($52,750): the price leader of this pack, the Pajero Sport impresses with very strong driving dynamics. Its 2.4-litre diesel does not pull as strongly as the Toyota's, but the Mitsubishi is much quieter and more refined under acceleration. A classy interior, comfortable seats, and Apple CarPlay make it the better day-to-day driver. The lack of a third row is hard to look past.
Isuzu MU-X LS-T ($54,000): based on the truck-like D-Max makes life hard for the Isuzu, but its different and very durable image continue to attract buyers. The interior, like the Colorado, is pretty basic but its three-litre four-cylinder diesel tows well.
Holden Colorado 7 LTZ ($51,490): the Colorado's 2.8-litre diesel packs 500Nm of torque, which makes it the most potent hauler in this group—it's a good engine. The Colorado is also a competent off-roader, though the interior desperately needs a complete redesign. It's currently a very basic place to be.
|Power||130kW @ 3400rpm|
|Torque||420Nm @ 1400-2600rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||62kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||7.8L/100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Four wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||654L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||1080L|