TACKLING THE ROUGH WITH THE SMOOTH
Toyota's next big thing - literally - is the seven-seater Fortuner. It's rugged, but also surprisingly refined.
By Colin Yong
From CarBuyer, Issue 30
It says a lot about the strength of the Toyota brand in Singapore that some 300 orders were placed for one of its new models even before test drive units were available.
Especially when you consider that the vehicle in question is not one of the mainstream sedans that the company does so well in, but an all-new Thai-built Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).
You can see why these buyers had no qualms about parting with their money, though.
The Fortuner may cost less than $100K with COE but in terms of on-road presence, it easily puts far more expensive SUVs in the shade. Its 1.85m-tall body is neatly proportioned, with the flared wheel-arches, protruding fog lamps and chunky tyres adding extra visual muscle in all the right places.
The Fortuner is one of five models conceived under Toyota's ambitious Innovative International Multi-purpose Vehicle (IMV) project, with the others being three Hilux pick-ups and the Innova minivan.
IMVs are designed to be robust yet affordable, so they are built on a ladder-type chassis that puts simplicity ahead of sophistication. The question is, does this compromise the car's performance or refinement?
First impressions are good-the 2.7-litre VVT-i engine may have only four cylinders but it's a smooth operator that's blessed with plenty of low-end torque.
It pulls cleanly from low revs to haul the 1.8-tonne Fortuner up to speed with decent vigour, and the four-speed automatic gearbox co-operates by shifting to a lower gear without hesitation whenever extra acceleration is required.
While the all-terrain tyres hum a little at higher speeds, overall noise levels in the cabin are extremely low for a vehicle of this type.
Don't expect limo-like ride comfort, though. Passengers will get bounced about on poorly-surfaced roads as the heavy-duty suspension tries - not always successfully - to keep body movements in check.
Tight corners also demonstrate the Fortuner's preference for the straights, with the low-geared steering translating to lots of arm-twirling on the driver's part to point the car in the desired direction.
The side steps running the length of the doors on each side aren't there for show - unless you have a vaulting pole handy, there's no easy way to get into the car without using them.
The body-on-frame construction that gives the Fortuner its toughness also makes the cabin floor higher than usual. This isn't a problem for passengers in the first two rows, but adults relegated to the rear will find themselves sitting with their knees at chest level.
Unlike the third-row seats in most MPVs, those in the Fortuner stow away to the side instead of into the floor, with simple pull-out hooks securing them onto the roof-mounted grab handles, an easy, if not a particularly neat method of arrangement.
The chairs are fairly light and the folding mechanism works smoothly, though, so there's no risk of throwing your back out each time you need to fold the seats for extra boot space.
Up front, there's a stylishly curved dashboard with the highlight being the Lexus-style Optitron dials set in individual housings.
Build quality is typically superb but the real surprise is how the grade of materials used is one step above that of any Thai-built Toyota before this one, Camry included. From the driver's seat, the Fortuner looks and feels far more expensive than it really is.
DOLLARS AND SENSE
At $98,888 with COE, the Fortuner is a lot of car for the money. Not only does it have size on its side, it's also very well-equipped, with a multi-function trip computer, digital climate control, steering wheel controls for the stereo, factory-fitted parking sensors and a rear air-conditioning system all being on the standard equipment list.
If things sound too good to be true then there usually tends to be a catch hidden somewhere, and in the Fortuner's case it's the higher running costs of a 2.7-litre engine that you have to take into account. The annual road tax works out to $2,591, or $1,044 more than that for a 2.0-litre car, although fuel consumption isn't too bad, hovering between 7 and 8km per litre under normal driving conditions. As it is with similar cars, if you intend to carry a full load of passengers and cargo very often, then budget for more visits to the pumps.
The Fortuner shouldn't be viewed as a substitute for seven-seater MPVs like the similarly-priced Honda Odyssey and Nissan Presage, or even Toyota's own Picnic and Previa, which are all more sobre choices.
Rather, the car's appeal lies in its rugged good looks, extra-high driving position and go-anywhere ability rather than interior versatility or car-like handling.
Those who have their minds set on an SUV, on the other hand, will be thrilled that they can now get their hands on one that's reasonably priced, solidly built, well-equipped and, as a bonus, offers space for seven. For these people, good fortune has indeed come their way.
NEED TO KNOW
Model Toyota Fortuner 2.7
Engine 2,694cc, 16V in-line 4
Max Power 60bhp at 5,200rpm
Max Torque 241Nm at 3,800rpm
Gearbox 4-speed automatic
Top Speed 180km/h
0-100 km/h 12.2 seconds
Price $98,888 with COE
Warranty 3 years / 100,000km
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