‘Style plays rough.’ If I had not seen photos of the second-generation Fortuner when it was revealed early last year, I would have dismissed this catchline as mere PR hyperbole. ‘Rough’ was an explicable trait as the body-on-frame construction and the four-wheel-drive set-up are shared with the very adept Hilux pick-up, but ‘style’ was never a word you’d use in a sentence with the first-generation Fortuner’s name. It was as bland and slab-sided as they come.
However, Toyota seems to have focused quite a lot on the midsize SUV’s styling this time around. With the latest iteration, it’s expressly seeking to rope in a whole new set of customers other than the ‘very specific demographics in the SUV market’ the first-gen Fortuner catered to for a decade.
Whether new clientele will be lured in or not, the all-new Fortuner is a considerably more sophisticated vehicle than the one it replaces and sits longer, wider and lower. Solid, tough and tastefully sculpted, the exterior design does a commendable job of visually distancing the SUV from its commercial vehicle underpinnings. Every detail from the trapezoidal grille and sleek LED headlights to the chunky, creased profile and the completely redesigned rear add to the Fortuner’s belligerent good looks.
Thanks to a slightly lower ground clearance along with wide side steps and grab handles, getting in and out is easy for the driver and passengers irrespective of their size or height. The cabin itself has been redesigned and has been clothed in faux leather and good-quality plastics. While most carmakers nowadays highlight their ‘driver-oriented cockpits’, Toyota has made no such effort here as the dashboard is strikingly upright and aloof from the driver. I thought this was good in two ways, though; firstly, the vertical orientation of the console ties in well with the overall rugged theme of the Fortuner, and in addition frees up an impressive amount of legroom in the front. Practicality isn’t compromised either, as there are two gloveboxes – of which one is cooled – apart from several cupholders and door pockets.
However, there are a few things that could have been better thought out. The absence of physical buttons for the audio system’s power and volume controls is a drawback, as having to use the touchscreen for these is counter-intuitive. The faux-leather seats are great and settling into a comfortable driving position is easy, with decent visibility overall, except for an irksome blind spot to the left.
The middle row will seat two grown-ups easily, with enough space to squeeze in a third for shorter journeys. As is typical in this class, the last row is best reserved for little ones. Although turning the chairs in the middle over to let third-row passengers in is a two-stage procedure, in our top-spec VXR trim tester it’s a three-stage one as the headrest gets stuck on the rear entertainment screens, requiring you to slide the seat way back as well.
But Toyota has made sure passengers in all three rows are kept cool thanks to four ceiling-mounted air vents for the rear. With the third row in place, there is still a decent cargo volume of 200 litres, which expands to 716 litres with the rear seats folded up and goes all the way up to 1,080 litres with both the rows up.
Powertrain options remain the same as before, with the base EXR variant powered by a 164bhp 2.7-litre four-cylinder engine, and the GXR and the VXR getting a 4.0-litre V6 good for 235bhp. Paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox, the latter does a great job on and off the road. Smooth and refined at cruising speeds, the six-pot’s 376Nm of twist comes handy when you play it rough on off-road trails. There are paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, but not once did I feel like using them in the Fortuner.
I remember the previous model having been wobbly at highway speeds, but thanks to a new rigid frame structure, double wishbone front and four-link rear suspension, and an additional rear stabiliser, the Fortuner is noticeably more stable and planted on the road. The steering feels a bit vague, though, with a trace of understeer; however, things are not any better with any of its rivals. Where it really shines is off road, as the four-wheel-drive system with high and low range options, and a locking rear differential, help it make short work of dunes, bumps and mounds.
All the essential safety features are standard, such as ABS, EBD, airbags including one for the driver’s knee, as well as seat belts with emergency locking retractors. However, it would have made for a more complete package if Toyota had added features like a head-up display and blind-spot/lane-departure warnings to the Dh139,900 VXR trim at least. You can also get the Fortuner with the same V6 engine but with a few less goodies in GXR trim for Dh12K less. The four-pot variant is available for Dh105,900.
With the latest model, Toyota has added substantially more style to an already capable utility vehicle. As an off-roader, the Fortuner makes for a persuasive alternative to more expensive SUVs like Toyota Prado, and a much more elegant substitute for ageing 4x4s like the Mitsubishi Pajero.