Words by Vince Pornelos Photos by Jerel Fajardo
For nearly 11 years, the Toyota Fortuner has been the undisputed benchmark in its category. Can its heir show the competition how it’s done one more time?
There was a time, not too long ago, when nearly every customer who walked into a Toyota dealership asked the salesman only one thing: the Fortuner. I know; I was one of the latter.
The first Fortuner was the perfect storm, really. Good looks, good equipment, seven seats, a new range of common rail turbo-diesels (and a gasoline option), the Hilux’s capable chassis, and brand’s reputation for reliability made it such a winner for Toyota on the rare occasion that you saw one on the showroom floor.
But the times have changed. The Fortuner’s reign at the top of the SUV food chain for sales was challenged by other automakers, the most successful of which was Mitsubishi with the Montero Sport in 2008; the latter even supplanted the Fortuner as the top-selling vehicle in its class.
Technically speaking, the Fortuner is classified as a pick-up-based Passenger Vehicle (PPV) in its native Thailand where it is built. The launch of the original Fortuner in 2005 served as the pinnacle of the International Innovative Multi-purpose Vehicle line (IMV), a trifecta built on a single platform that included the Hilux pick-up and the Innova MPV. The vehicle was conceived as an affordable entry point for true SUV ownership as opposed to crossover ownership, and people found that irresistible.
Unusually enough, the story of the Fortuner didn’t actually just start in 2005. It goes back much further than that, tracing its beginnings to the Toyota Trekker; a 1981-83 single-cab Hilux that was converted by Winnebago (yes, the RV manufacturer) to become a wagon with a rather rudimentary bench at the back, all done with Toyota’s blessing. That vehicle then inspired the three-door Hilux Surf (AKA: 4Runner) in 1984, followed by a second generation model in 1989 with a 5-door variant. And that would be the key factor.
While the 5-seater Hilux Surf was marketed primarily abroad (Japan, USA, et. al.), it was successful enough that Toyota Thailand decided to develop their own version and called it the Hilux Sport Rider in 1998. The SUV featured a 2-3-2 seating arrangement with a 50/50 third row and a rear bench seat. The vehicle was marketed in a limited capacity in some ASEAN countries, but not ours. When it was discontinued in 2004, Toyota was already introducing their IMV line, the culmination of which was the Fortuner that we now know so well.
And now we come to this: the second generation Toyota Fortuner. The model re-emerges amidst fierce competition from a field of all-new competitors, and now it’s up to us to figure out whether lightning can really strike twice.
For style, Toyota really outdid themselves as the new Fortuner looks good both in photos and in the flesh. Or metal.
The look certainly isn’t conservative, and it starts off with that rather intricate front end. What catches the eye is the lower bumper; it seems to be inspired by the Toyota Mirai with those triangular slots for the foglamps and the overall attention to detail. The grille is smaller than before, but it accentuates the vertical chrome bars and the much slimmer LED headlamps.
When viewed from the side, you’ll see that Toyota has worked to break up the normally slab-sided nature of SUVs. They widened the fenders (without the use of plastic cladding), made the wheelarches more squarish, and fitted a handsome set of 18-inch, 12-spoke alloys. What really drew the eye, however, is the greenhouse. The beltline appears higher (giving the impression that it rides above all), the B-, C- and D-pillars are all blacked out to create one continuous greenhouse around the car, and there’s an unusual little upward kink below C-pillar. The back has likewise been stylized, this time with slimmer wraparound taillights that seamlessly integrate themselves with the rear chrome garnish.
Overall, the new look seems more liberal, more sophisticated, and more upscale, and there really are quite a few details to look at; quite remarkable given how conservative Toyota has been with their designs. And still, the Fortuner had more surprises in store.
Sitting inside, I can tell that the Fortuner really leveled up. Before, it used to be a game of spot-the-difference when comparing the cabins of the Hilux and the Fortuner, as both had the same dashboard with slight changes in the color scheme and accent panels. Such is not the case anymore, as the dashboard and inner door panels are completely different from the pick-up. The new Fortuner continues its trend of a predominantly black interior with light gray on the pillars and ceiling, accented by some details like metal trim pieces such as the Fortuner-branded button for the upper glove compartment and the satin finish (faux) wood on the shifter panel.
What looked really nice was the black leather used on the primary controls (steering and shift knob) and the premium brown leather upholstery for all seven seats. If anything, it echoes a more modern interpretation of the interiors of models like the Land Cruiser Prado, though it has been spiced up with details that you’d expect in a Lexus like the font on the gauges and the LCD.
Being the top spec variant, this one ticks all the available boxes for features. DVD? Check. Navigation? Check. Climate control? Check. Power seats? Check. Push-start with a keyfob transponder? Check. What’s new for the Fortuner is the stability control, the power tailgate, the color LCD screen for the multi-info display and trip computer, as well as the Power and Eco modes for the automatic gearbox, but we’ll get to that last one later on.
Like before, the Fortuner is still a seven-seater with two in front, three in the middle and two more in the back. The front seats feel far more comfortable than before, and same goes for the 60/40 middle row with improved contouring on the backrest. The cupholders that were previously at the base of the center console have now migrated to the fold down center armrest.
But really, the huge improvement is in the third row. The overall position of the seats are better for adult occupants, though the best bit is that the third row can be more easily stowed up for maximum cargo space. The 50/50 third row seats are actually spring loaded, meaning that if you fold and disengage them from the floor, they pop up halfway by themselves. All it takes is a little effort to fold them up the rest of the way and fasten them onto the new D-pillar hooks as opposed to the grabhandles like before. This means the vertically-challenged amongst us (i.e. myself) can easily fold them up for more space without having to climb up to do it.
What they could have improved on was the retention mechanism for the spare tire. It appears to be the same and Fortuner owners will know that unless they install their own security chain and hardened padlock on it, the spare tire on the Fortuner can very easily be stolen.
Now it’s time to get beyond the cosmetics and fancy features and go into the meat. The Fortuner, like the Hilux, gets a much beefier frame than the predecessor, further enhancing overall durability and rigidity. But that said, Toyota also reworked the coil springs and dampers for the double wishbones up front and the four-link suspension in the back to lean towards the comfort side of the spectrum, something that we’ll test later.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, the first thing that those familiar with the Fortuner will notice is that the hood scoop is gone. The reason for that is simple: the intercooler that was fed cold air by the hood scoop is no longer on top of the engine. It’s now larger and placed up front ahead of the radiator and A/C heat exchanger.
Ironically, the larger intercooler lowers the temperature of the turbocharged air for smaller displacement engines across the diesel range. These new generation GD engines are actually some of Toyota’s most advanced powerplants. A new development called Thermal Swing Wall Insulation Technology improves the overall thermal efficiency of the engine by 44%. A new variable geometry turbocharger was also developed by Toyota in-house, and it’s 30% smaller and features a new turbine and impeller.
Previous generation 4×4 models had the 3.0L 1KD-FTV, but this one has a smaller 2.8L 1GD-FTV. The decreased size belies its capability as the new engine, while 7% smaller, actually makes 9% more power at 175 bhp (previous 3.0L: 160 bhp) and 31% more torque at 332 lb ft (previous 3.0L: 253 lb ft). The same can be said for the lower grade 4×2 variants, as the prior 2.5L 2KD-FTV was replaced with the 2.4L 2GD-FTV. Power is up 4% to 148 bhp (previous 2.5L: 142 bhp) and torque is up 17% to 295 lb ft (previous 2.5L: 253 lb ft). Toyota has also retained their 2.7-liter VVT-i gasoline 4-cylinders for those who prefer that kind of engine.
Ever since 2005, both 4×4 and 4×2 Fortuners have really only been available with 4-speed automatics. That’s no longer the case, as all diesel variants get the more sophisticated 6-speed auto gearboxes. The two extra speeds will be put to good use for economy and more linear acceleration.
As a city commuter, the Fortuner has really improved. The cabin is a very nice place to be, especially with the new seats, the leather, the powerful climate control system, and the commanding view of the road ahead. In 2005, customer feedback on the Fortuner centered around the stiff ride quality, but that won’t be the case today, as Toyota softened the suspension balance out the load-carrying capabilities vis-a-vis ride comfort. The result is a proper SUV-kind of plushness, one that won’t jar its occupants every time a pothole comes up; a good quality to have since they’re quite frequent here.
As expected, the handling of the Fortuner has become a bit softer around corners given the new suspension, but that’s really not the priority. What was noticeable was the way the Fortuner shifted its weight up front under braking. The absence of rear disc brakes (still drums) combined with the more powerful discs up front make the Fortuner dive a bit under heavy braking instead of squatting; the former makes the rear go a little light and the latter holds the weight shift a bit more. Thankfully, Toyota has safety systems like ABS, brake assist, EBD and electronic stability control to keep it in check in the 4×4 variant.
The Fortuner is a nice cruiser on the higwhay as well, with little in the way of wind and tire noise permeating into the cabin. The new gearbox and engine give it plenty of go if you need acceleration or simply want to cruise at higher speeds. As expected, fuel economy is much better; this 4×5 version cruises at 100 km/h at 1500 rpm in 6th gear, resulting in 13.9 kilometers per liter on the highway. In the city it’s also quite good, able to realistically achieve 10.2 km/l in moderate to light traffic situations.
If you do wish to take the road less traveled, the 4×4 system has been significantly revamped. From 2005-2015, the Fortuner 4×4 models had a lever beside the gearstick (manual or automatic) for the shift-on-the-fly 4×4 system. Like the new Hilux, the Fortuner now gets a dial-type control knob for 2WD High, 4WD High, and 4WD Low, with a button just beside to lock the differentials. This should make off-roading much easier.
That’s not to say that the Fortuner was just made for smooth or partially paved roads, as it really can tackle the most challenging kind of terrain. The 4WD system does perform well when taken on a trail, and the paddle shifters allow the more experienced driver to maintain the right gear for the conditions. Even unmodified, the Fortuner can attack tricky inclines with 30-degree approach and 25-degree departure angles on a trail. Of course in stock form the highway, tires might be a bit of a stretch in mud or sand, but a set of A/T tires should take care of that. Crossing streams is likewise not a problem given the 700mm wading depth, and that goes for the random urban flash flood; yes, the latter is also getting a bit more frequent as well.
If you’ve noticed by now, we really had to get technical with the Fortuner. The reason for that is the expectation and importance of this model not just for Toyota, but for the many, many customers that are undoubtedly awaiting its arrival in showrooms.
Toyota really went out of their way to come up with a modern, clean sheet design, improved ergonomics, the mechanicals, engines, transmissions and more. And it wasn’t that they really needed to as the previous Fortuner, even 11 years on, was still selling very well. Despite that they chose to do a full change of the model, and the result is a very strong heir that is here and now, and not just apparent.
THE TOYOTA FORTUNER TIMELINE – Tracing the roots of Toyota’s successful PPV.
Hilux “Trekker” (Conversion, 1981-1983) – Winnebago converted the Hilux to become a compact SUV for limited U.S. release. Conversion kits were also sold.
Hilux Surf / 4Runner (Gen 1, 1984-1989) – Same concept as 3-door wagon Trekker, but now built by Toyota for other markets. Used a wide variety of engines including a 22R-TE turbo.
Hilux Surf / 4Runner (Gen 2, 1989-1995) – Toyota expands Hilux-based SUV concept with a 5-door version. Several were imported privately into the country.
Hilux Sport Rider (1998-2002) – Thailand-developed and manufactured Hilux-based SUV. Being a seven-seater, it’s the direct predecessor of the Fortuner.
Fortuner (Gen 1, 2005-2015) – Part of a successful IMV trio and a development of the Sport Rider concept. Marketed primarily in ASEAN and other markets.
2016 Toyota Fortuner 2.8V 4×4
Engine: Inline-4 Location: Front, longitudinal
Displacement: 2755cc Cylinder (Block) Cast iron / (Head) Aluminum alloy, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, diesel
Aspiration: Variable geometry turbocharger, front mount intercooler
Fuel: Diesel, Euro-4
Fuel Injection: common-rail direct injection, with pilot injectors
Max Power: 175 bhp @ 3400 rpm
Max Torque: 332 lb ft @ 1600-2400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, locking four-wheel drive system (2H, 4H, 4L)
Fuel Capacity: 80 liters
Suspension: (Front) Independent, double wishbones, coil-over dampers, stabilizer / (Rear) Rigid axle 4-link, coil springs and dampers, stabilizer
L x W x H: 4795mm x 1855mm x 1835mm
Wheelbase: 2750mm Ground Clearance: 225mm
Weight (Curb): 2135kg
Brakes: (Front) 338mm [13.3”] vented discs, 4-piston calipers / (Rear) 330mm [13.0”] leading-trailing drums, ABS, EBD, BA
Wheels: (Front & Rear) 18 x 7.5” aluminum alloy
Tires: (Front & Rear) 265/60/R18 110H Bridgestone Dueler H/T
Safety: 7 airbags, Stability control, Active Traction Control, Hill Start Assist, Trailer Sway Control
0-100 km/h [0-62 mph]: 10.2 sec. Top Speed: 210 km/h (est)
Fuel Mileage: City 10.2 km/l, Highway 13.9 km/l
Price as tested: PhP 2,141,000
+: Much more comfortable ride, well-appointed, great looks
-: Stronger rear brakes for better balance
Rating: 9.0 / 10