Like a boss! If that’s how you like to roll on the Indian streets, you can either opt for high end luxury sedans or look at butch SUVs. But not everyone can spend a crore right? So what can one buy to pamper their ego while on the run? Well, SUVs are a fast growing category in India and are now being used as daily commuters than their actual purpose of going off-the road for some extra fun. Back in the day, Indian customers had very few options such as the Tata Safari & the Mahindra Scorpio. None of these cars managed to deliver the snob value & reliability which one expected. Then, when Toyota launched the Fortuner in 2009, the game changed. People were suddenly willing to pay over 2 million rupees for an SUV from the ‘T’ badge. Known for delivering reliable products, Toyota hit the right cord with the Fortuner. Soon after it was launched, the Fortuner dominated the D2 segment sales. Till date, in the price range of Rs. 20 – 30 lakh, the Fortuner is the most popular product beating some very competent sedans which actually offer much more on paper as well as on the road.
Also known as the Toyota SW4, the Fortuner is considered as a mid-sized SUV in global markets. It is brought to India via CKD kits and assembled at Toyota Kirloskar’s production facility at Bidadi in Karnataka. Initially, Toyota had the capacity of producing up to 500 units of the Fortuner / month which was later increased to over 900 units / month. Selling 1,685 units in the month on March 2015, the Fortuner is the most popular product in the D2 segment by a huge margin. There are other products in the segment as the very well equipped Hyundai Santa Fe, the robust Mitsubishi Pajero Sport & the petrol-powered Honda CR-V; still, nothing comes close to the sales figures of the T-Fort. Toyota has already commenced testing of the next-generation Fortuner which will be launched at the 2016 Indian Auto Expo. The Fortuner 3.0L 4×4 AT is the brands final attempt to keep the product looking fresh till the new model makes it through to the showrooms. So what is it that makes the Fortuner unbeatable? Is it just the reliability? Is it just the looks? Or is there more to this Japanese monster? We took it for a 500 km spin to find out…
While the Fortuner was first launched in 2009, the model we currently have on sale is the facelift version which was introduced by the end of 2011. One look at the Fortuner and the sheer size of this SUV is what attracts most buyers. A big car like this can pamper your big ego. It looks butch & ready to tackle anything you throw at it. Most of the rivals feature new-age and radical design, but the Fortuner with its big flat lines is rather boxy, and that is what we like about it. It doesn’t try to hard in the design department but still manages to attract buyers to the showrooms.
This particular model, the Fortuner 3.0L 4×4 AT was introduced in January 2015 and is again identical to the other variants in most of the mechanical & cosmetic department. The front fascia carries the same wide chrome grille with 3 horizontal slats. Headlamp design is identical and gets a smoked out effect. Projector headlamps have now become the segment standard and the Fortuner had it ever since 2009. Even the fog lamp is the same round unit. What’s changed though is the fog lamp housing which now gets a chrome accent on top. Indian buyers love chrome don’t they? And manufacturers aren’t shy of throwing in more bling at all.
Side profile of the Fortuner again remains unchanged with no body panels being touched or redesigned. The same old tall SUV with body cladding poses well even in today’s date. Although the age is starting to show a bit, it still does a decent job of standing out amongst competition. The only difference when viewed sideways is that this 4×4 AT version gets alloy wheels painted in dark grey, as opposed to the silver ones on other variants. This grey paint has a matte finish, hence, one needs to keep them clean or it turns to a dust magnet. This small change in colour of alloy wheels however makes this particular variant distinct from other Fortuner variants.
Come to the back and changes are again limited. This is not really a facelift and just a new variant, hence we do not expect too much to be new either. The tail lamps are of the same design. Although some might miss this, the chrome element inside the tail lamp is now replaced with black. This smoked out effect is now similar to the aftermarket tail lamps. On the tail gate, you have the engine & transmission badges slapped which mention – 3.0 D-4D, Full Time 4WD & Automatic. There is a Toyota logo under the rear windscreen and Fortuner is etched on the chrome number plate garnish.
At an ex-showroom Delhi price of Rs. 26.49 lakh, does the Fortuner really look like a 3 million rupee car? Well, not really. But does it still fend off premium competition? It does, very well.
Step inside the Fortuner 4×4 AT and the biggest change is the interior colour change. While the Fortuner used to be available in a brown & beige interior colour scheme, the latest variant gets black & grey interiors. While this darker shade adds a lot more to the sporty feel, it does feel a bit claustrophobic at times.
The dashboard is seen in all-black with black glossy wood finish around the head unit. The same dark wood finish is also used on the steering wheel & door handles. The touchscreen head unit of the Fortuner offers USB, Bluetooth & Aux-in connectivity. It also features DVD playback along with working as a display for your reversing camera. While the functionality was decent, the touchscreen wasn’t really very intuitive. There was some lag and the touch & feel was about average. Sound quality from the OEM stereo is decent, but purists will feel the need for an upgrade. Below, the automatic climate control unit is the same like previous versions and looks dated. The age is starting to show inside the Fortuners cabin with bare bones creature comforts and old-school design. Yes, it is functional, but lacks the wow factor by 2015 standards.
Instrument cluster also does not see too many changes. It continues to be backlit in the white & blue combination and is easy to read even under the harsh sun. Next to the temperature & fuel gauge; you have the gear-select indicator. Here, you will find P, R, N, D, D4, D3, D2 & L stacked vertically to point out the selected ratio. While driving, you do not get a real-time gear display and it only mentions D. Gear stalk also gets the dark wood insert and falls in your hand perfectly. What’s a big let down is the plastic panel used around the gear selector. The silver plastic looks outright cheap quality and doesn’t sit well with the image of a 3 million rupee car. A separate 4WD ratio selector is placed ahead of the AT gear stalk. Cruise control is a separate stalk placed to the RHS of the steering column.
Driver seat is electrically adjustable and will keep the taller as well as shorted drivers happy with the range of motion. The driver gets steering mounted audio controls, well spaced brake & accelerator pedal, a centre armrest to make his drive comfortable. A dead pedal is also provided to rest your left foot. Ergonomics are spot-on and not too many would complain.
Seats are wrapped in black leather upholstery and so are the door panels with contrast white stitching. Black seats will be very easy to maintain with a simple wipe doing the job most of the times. The floor carpet is also seen in black, which will again be easy to maintain. Dust stains however are easily seen.
Storage options at the front are plenty. A retractable cup holder ahead of the AC vents, bottle holders on the front doors, another bottle holder next to the gear lever with a cubicle behind. An average sized glovebox, storage under the armrest and the roof mounted sunglasses holder come in very handy. There are two more cubby holes on either side of the AC controls.
Jump to the 2nd & 3rd row and there is no change at all. Apart from the black leather upholstery, the Fortuner remains identical at the back. The Fortuner was always a spacious SUV in the 2nd row and continues to offer good legroom & headroom. Seat recline angles are acceptable and will keep occupants comfortable. 3rd row is a bit cramped and best suited for kids. Storage options for the rear occupants include bottle holders on the doorpad, 2 cup holders behind the front armrest & front seat-back pockets.
Roof mounted AC for the 2nd & 3rd row works well. Vents are the same as seen in the Innova & other Fortuner variants. The best option is to use the secondary AC on speed 1 or 2, since it gets fairly audible on higher blower speeds. On a hot sunny day, it is advisable to have the rear AC on even though there’s just one or two passengers in the Fortuner as the SUV tends to get a bit hot with the generous amount of greenhouse.
With all 3 rows up in place, there is very little space available for luggage. The 3rd row gets a 50:50 split and the seats fold upwards, hanging from the assist grips. The 2nd row gets a 60:40 split with tumble down function.
Engine, performance & handling:
Powering this variant is a 2,982cc, D-4D, 4-cylinder, turbocharged with intercooler, DOHC diesel motor producing 171 PS of power @ 3,600 RPM and 360 Nm of torque @ 1,400 – 3,200 RPM. Engine is matched to a 5-speed automatic gearbox with Full-Time 4WD.
Although 171 PS sounds brilliant, weighing 2 tonne, the Fortuner 4×4 AT doesn’t really feel quick. Fire up the Fortuner and NVH levels are not really up to the mark. If you compare it to the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Fortuner sounds rather truck-like. The engine is fairly audible inside the cabin, and by 2015 standards, sounds very, very coarse too. Yes, it is reliable and will go the distance without too many niggles; but you will have to hear it go the entire distance and it is not very comforting.
With the Fortuner 4×4 AT; things are almost like point & shoot. With power being sent to all-wheels, all the time, there’s ample traction available to play around. Don’t get us wrong though. If you approach sharp turns over a gravel patch; the 2 tonne monster would understeer and continue to move straight regardless of your steering input. Driving the Fortuner now becomes effortless with the automatic gearbox. Slot it in D, and the Fortuner performs well on almost any terrain. Only on broken patches do you need to shift to the lower ratios. There is no shift-on-fly; a manual 4WD gear selector has been carried over on this variant. Within the city, at crawling speeds, the engine holds on to the 1st & 2nd gear for most distance. This is not the butter smooth DSG gearbox like the Volkswagen & Skoda’s, hence, expect a decent lag while the gearbox changes a ratio.
Cruising on the highway, the 3.0L engine has enough punch. Not really a fast Japanese, the Fortuner touches the 100 kmph mark in over 10 seconds. While there’s some lag with the gearshifting, there is no engine turbolag. This makes up in the performance department and one can enjoy his drive. With all the weight the Fortuner carries, it stays put when on high speeds. Stability in a straight line is good, and occupants feel comfortable even at triple digit speeds.
Given the size, the Fortuner was never really a dynamically rich car. Over undulated patches, there’s a lot of shuddering felt inside the cabin and the ride quality is far from being complaint. This smoothens out as the speed climbs, but if you’re driving over rough patches, be prepared for a shaky, unsettling ride. Suspension soaks up the bumps well, but there is a fair bit of thud heard / felt inside the cabin. Body roll is very prominent and cornering is not at all the forte of the Fortuner. Although the Dunlop tyres offer good grip levels, the heavy weight of the SUV turns to loose balance if pushed hard. Steering is neutral and high speed feedback is acceptable by SUV standards. The steering weight although good for the highways, is a bit too heavy within the city.
Braking performance is poor, very poor. Compared to the pre-facelift Fortuner, it is surely better, but still not up to the mark. Coupled with disc brakes at the front and drums at the back; the Fortuner needs a generous braking distance at its disposal. This makes you nervous while pushing hard as you need to account for the braking distance at all times. Also, there is a noticeable amount of nose dive under hard braking.
Driving the Fortuner 4×4 AT off-road is quite fun. You need not worry about changing the gears and just the selected 4WD ratio and throttle input takes care of all that needs to be. Locking the differentials into low, the Fortuner is quite a noisy affair. While power is sent down to all-four wheels to get the vehicle out, the engine roar is very loud and audible inside-out. The healthy ground clearance is confidence inspiring and you can attack broken patches without having to worry about scratching the underbody.
So should you buy a Fortuner 4×4 AT in today’s date? Well, if you like the butch looks and want the sheer size, there’s no competitor which offers as much bulk to move around with. Driving inside the Fortuner, you feel safe with the high riding position. With the Toyota badge, reliability is a standard affair and you need not worry about niggles too much. But then, the ride quality is poor; equipment levels are super low, safety features again are amongst the least in the segment and yet, the Fortuner is rather over-priced. So if you prefer form over function, the Fortuner can please you and scare others on the streets quite well. For those who might be interested, the 3.0L 4×4 AT engine delivered a combined fuel efficiency number of 8.2 kmpl, which isn’t very impressive. Competition such as the Hyundai Santa Fe simply blows away the Fortuner in every aspect. But then, if you love old-school, this is still it.