Which is exactly what it is. Whereas the V6 petrol-only Toyota Kluger is little more than a large wagon (with an optional on-demand AWD drivetrain), the Fortuner, like the Landcruiser – Prado and 200 Series – is designed and built to tackle any road, track, riverbed or desert crossing.
But it’s also a seven-seat SUV. One that can take you and your family up any those tracks or riverbeds, and with a trailer or caravan hitched behind.
Much cheaper than the Prado, but sharing the same 2.8 litre turbo-diesel engine and capability, and cheaper than Ford’s Everest (which is priced against the Prado), we’ve driven the Fortuner range off-road and been impressed.
But this time around we’re taking the entry-level Fortuner GX manual for an extended, mainly urban, spin. Is it really, we want to know, a diesel alternative to the Kluger?
Vehicle Style: Large 4×4 Wagon
Price: $47,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 130kW/420Nm 2.8 turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.8 l/100km | tested: 9.4 l/100km
While Mitsubishi, Nissan, Holden and Isuzu beat Toyota to market with their own ute-based seven-seaters, the Fortuner is not Toyota’s first outing on this particular dance floor.
Remember the 4Runner? Many do with a fondness for its go-anywhere capability, rugged style and roomy interior.
When it left the market it left a hole that Mitsubishi, Isuzu and Holden have since been very happy to fill with the Challenger (now Pajero Sport), MU-X and Colorado7 – each, like the original 4Runner, based on 4X4 utes.
But now Toyota is back with the Fortuner. And like that original 4Runner, it is just about all 4X4 HiLux underneath.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5
- Standard equipment: Independent front and rear air conditioning, power windows, cloth upholstery, cruise control, reversing camera, trip computer, 3 X 12V power, dusk-sensing headlamps.
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touschscreen display with AM/FM/CD/USB/AUX audio and six speakers. Bluetooth telephony with audio streaming and voice commands also standard on GX.
- Cargo volume: 252 litres in 7-seat mode, 654 litres in 5-seat mode, 1080 litres to the window line with second and third rows folded.
Soft upholstered surfaces and a unique dashboard give the Fortuner a cabin that’s distinct from its workboots progenitor, the HiLux, but there are aspects of it that aren’t quite as civilised as some of its rivals.
For example, the hard-wearing brown cloth upholstery looks it will hide stains well, but it isn’t the most appealing colour choice. Couple that with a fair swathe of plastics, of reasonable quality nonetheless, and it’s clear that this isn’t the plushest cabin in Toyota’s SUV stable.
Key touchpoints however are upholstered either in padded cloth or vinyl. The steering wheel and gearknob are urethane, but this Fortuner GX is the base model of the range.
Front seat comfort is quite good, and the tall seating position gives as good a view over surrounding traffic as, well, a HiLux. The steering column adjusts for both reach and rake, which is a plus for a car based on a commercial platform.
The second row enjoys plentiful legroom, enough width for three adults, a reclining backrest and with roof-mounted separate airconditioning controls for the second and third row (which we really like).
But while the second row is roomy and user-friendly, the third row ain’t.
For starters, access from the kerb side is hampered by the roof-mounted second-row centre seatbelt, which must be disconnected to tumble the two leftmost seats forward.
Then there’s the issue of deploying the third row. Thanks to the spare wheel being housed under the boot floor, the third row is split down the middle and hinged at the side, flipping up against the rear windows like an old LandCruiser.
And it’s a fiddly operation to get them down (but not before removing the plastic covers for the hooks recessed into the boot floor). Once deployed, you will then discover that these seats are not for adults – legroom and footroom there is limited.
So the Fortuner’s third row is not its greatest feature, it’s there, and your kids won’t object to using them as jump-seats, but you’ll find them a pain to stow and unfold on a regular basis. (Not to mention the compromise to cargo space and over-the-shoulder vision).
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4/5
- Engine: 130kW @ 3400rpm, 420Nm @ 1400-2600rpm 2.8 litre turbo-diesel inline four.
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, selectable 4WD with low range and locking rear differential.
- Suspension: Double A-arm front, live-axle rear with coil springs.
- Brakes: 338mm ventilated discs with 4-piston calipers at front, 312mm ventilated discs with two-piston calipers at rear
- Steering type: Hydraulic, 11.6m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 750kg unbraked, 3000kg braked
There’s a lot of mechanical carry-over from the HiLux here, from the engine to the six-speed manual’s gear ratios to the selectable 4WD driveline. It’s all the same.
The biggest beneath-the-skin difference is the Fortuner’s rear suspension, which, though still a rugged live-axle design, uses more compliant coil springs rather than the HiLux’s leaf springs.
But while more compliant than the HiLux, it’s still fairly firm at the rear. The reason for that is obvious – it’s designed to carry weight back there, rather than operate with little to no load over the rear wheels.
The result is that while the front-end is well-sprung, the back axle tends to jitter over bumps – even with those big balloon-like Dunlop Grandtreks wrapped around its 17-inch steel wheels.
It is not as ‘jittery’ as any of the twin-cab 4X4 utes when unladen, but is certainly not as settled nor as comfortable as the softly sprung Kluger.
So, if you rarely, if ever, head off-road, or rarely if ever tow a heavy load, perhaps you need to look further across the showroom at the similarly-priced Kluger.
Of course, if your plans extend to equipping the Fortuner with storage drawers, an extra spare wheel or just plenty of cargo for an extended stay in the bush – or if there’s a couple of hundred kilos pressing down on a towball – that ride will be transformed.
With a maximum towing capacity of 3000kg the Fortuner is an adept load hauler – even more so than its popular brother the Prado, which, though it uses the same 2.8 litre diesel engine, is rated at 2500kg on a braked trailer.
Note, however, that the Fortuner’s 3000kg tow rating only applies to manual-equipped variants. Go for the automatic, and 200kg is lopped off the max tow capacity.
A big SUV with a manual transmission may sound like a daunting thing to drive for the average suburbanite, but the Fortuner’s six-speeder has a light clutch and well-defined – if a little notchy – shift gate. It doesn’t like to be hurried through the gears, but it’s no truck.
Need more grip? Twist a dial on the centre console to actuate the transfer case and take drive to all four wheels. If you get really stuck there’s low range and a locking rear differential to help you out – no ESP-based pseudo-4WD here.
The engine is well-behaved too. There’s a good spread of torque down low (a maximum of 420Nm between 1400 and 2400rpm) and 130kW of power at your disposal. And the Power button at the base of the gearshift really gives things a lift if you need to ‘get out and around’ for rapid, safe overtaking.
There’s plenty of diesel grumbling under load, but it hushes up during light-throttle cruising. Refinement is good for an SUV with commercial ute lineage, and, at highway speeds both road and engine noise is very low.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – this model scored 33.95 out of 37 possible points in ANCAP testing.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, traction control, stability control, hill descent control, three-point seatbelts for all occupants and seven airbags (front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee) are all standard on the Fortuner GX.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The ute-based wagon niche has seen a resurgence, with the Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport (which replaces the Challenger) and Ford Everest recently joining the Isuzu MU-X and Holden Colorado 7.
The larger, bigger-engined Everest is the most expensive (but compensates with more power, space and towing capacity), and the MU-X/Colorado 7 aren’t quite up to the same level of finish as the Toyota, making the Fortuner GX’s best rival the $45,000 Pajero Sport GLX – which, incidentally, deserves a very close look.
- Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
- Ford Everest
- Isuzu MU-X
- Holden Colorado7
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
So, the “affordable diesel alternative to the Kluger”? Not really, the Fortuner is quite a different kettle of fish.
The GX’s $47k pricetag may be enticing, but, in reality, the Fortuner is built to be more at home in the bush than the ‘burbs.
Where the $44,990 Kluger GX AWD is the better option for the suburban schlep, the Fortuner’s more natural habitat is in cruising Australia’s highways with a couple of tonnes hanging off the towbar, or heading up some some distant firetrail.
But it is, as Toyota claims, an affordable option for those who “aspire to own a Landcruiser”. Off-road, we rate it as among the best. It will go anywhere the ‘Cruiser will go, and, the GX manual in particular, has ‘tow vehicle capability’ to rival the Prado.
Its 500kg of extra towing capacity means you can tow horse floats or caravans with ease, and still have seating for seven should the need arise.
The execution of the Fortuner’s third row is perhaps its greatest shortcoming, but if you can live with its oddball side-hinged seats then it is indeed worth considering against its rivals from Mitsubishi, Isuzu and Holden.