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OFF-ROAD TEST: Toyota Fortuner 2.8GD-6 4×4 AT

19 December 2016

  • The latest Toyota Fortuner may no longer be a permanent 4WD, but it is fitted with an impressive array of electronics that have ensured that the Toyota hardly bats an eyelid on a rough 4x4 track.
  • The cabin is a luxurious affair, with all the controls located in a very simple-to-use, Toyota way. The infotainment LCD screen is more neatly integrated in the Fortuner’s centre stack than it is in the Hilux.

The real 4×4 deal?
The latest Toyota Fortuner features plenty of refinements. From a Prado-like ride quality to a modern new jacket and a luxurious interior. Has the new Fortuner gone softer in the 4×4 department, too? We put the 2.8GD-6 4×4 AT through its off-road paces.

THE previous-generation Toyota Fortuner was a formidable off-roader. The 4×4 models featured a selection between the default permanent 4WD system (with a Haldex central differential), 4HIGH lock (50/50 split between the front and rear axles), and 4LOW (50/50 split). It also got a rear differential lock as standard. Add good ground clearance, ample approach and departure angles and the dependable, big-on-low-rev-torque D-4D turbodiesel engine to the game, and you had one capable (out-the-box) 4×4.

The new Fortuner is a part-time 4×4. It uses the same part-time system as employed in the Hilux, so you have a selection between the default 2WD, 4HIGH (50/50 split between front and rear axles), and 4LOW (also 50/50 split). The latest Fortuner also gets a plethora of the latest traction, stability and safety systems. These include ATRC traction control and stability control, and both systems represent a huge step forward over the previous generation model’s systems.
In the older Fortuner, the electronics were much more rudimentary, and invasive. If the stability control was activated in the older model, you knew all about it, with flashing lights and noisy alarms, and a very obvious intervention of the drive system. It always felt as if the electronics were added as an afterthought.

In the new Fortuner, the electronic driving aids are more smoothly integrated, and operate – like most of the Fortuner’s rivals – without the driver even knowing that they are actually working. Which brings us back to the fact that this Fortuner is only rear-wheel driven in default mode, versus the permament 4WD of the older Fortuner. Thanks to the improved chassis and refined suspension set-up, as well as the subtle intervention of the electronics, you hardly notice the absence of a permanent 4WD system, truth be told. In fact, the gains in the ride quality and comfort and composure departments far outweigh any perceived negative impact having only rear-wheel drive versus 4WD.

What about the rough and tough stuff?
On paper, the new Fortuner’s picture looks rosy: a claimed 279mm, which is, by all accounts, quite extraordinary. However, Toyota Australia has revised that initial 279mm claim to a more conservative estimate of 225mm, which does seem more realistic. Either way, it has plenty of clearance for most Joe Soap 4×4 applications. The front approach angle (29 degrees) and rear overhang (25 degrees) are also adequate; it’s not like your average Fortuner owner will tackle extreme 4×4 trails.

In a rough and tough off-road environment, low range is easily selected via an electronic twist dial, with the automatic gearbox in neutral and the Toyota stopped. The ATRC traction control system remains active in low range, too
(unless you switch it off manually) and it does an excellent job of maintaining forward momentum, braking wheels and sending power to other wheels with more traction. The traction control, apparently developed specifically for tough 4×4 conditions, is so effective and foolproof, we wonder if there’s really any need for the standard rear differential lock.

If nothing else, the latest Fortuner makes off-roading all the easier. Even novice off-roaders will feel like seasoned Camel Trophy drivers when they take the Fortuner off the beaten track. The automatic gearbox also plays its role here, requiring the driver only to point the Fortuner, and to modulate throttle and brake. Remember, there’s 130kW and 450Nm living under the bonnet, the latter peaking from a low 1 600r/min, so there’s no shortage in the power department, either. For steep downhills there’s down- hill assist control, or DAC. Activated via a button on the dashboard, the computer manages the speed on a decline effectively. Overall, the latest Fortuner certainly can go the off-road mile. Avid 4×4 purists may frown upon all the (effective) electronics though as the computers have taken some of the challenge out of off-road driving.

Okay, but what about the rest of it?
On the road, the Fortuner is comfortable. The powerful four-cylinder GD-6 engine has plenty of power and it is certainly more refined that the older 3.0D-4D motor. Combined with the six-speed automatic gearbox, it offers superlative cruising ability. Less positive is the six-speed automatic gearbox’s tendency to gear down on downhill sections. This, in itself, is a good thing, as it uses the engine to brake the vehicle. What was unusual was that it sometimes selected one gear too low which means you’d be heading down a steep section and the engine would be revving at a high 4 000r/min.

For the rest, the driving experience is really well sorted. One of our testers even mentioned that he prefers the Fortuner over the Prado in the ride department. It’s a big improvement over the previous model. The cabin is luxurious, yet simplistic, in a very Toyota way. The LCD screen is neatly integrated into the centre stack (unlike the Hilux), and all the controls and buttons are simple and easy to use. Passengers in the second row have it good, too, with plenty of space and their own climate control panel.

The third row of pews folds up and away, and not into the floor, as is the norm in most modern SUVs. Some think Toyota missed a trick here, but we reckon it’s much of a muchness and owners with no need for that last row can simply remove the seats and utilise the cavernous boot.

So does it really deserve to be as popular as it is?
Yes, it does. Consider that this model retails for R614 000. That’s only marginally more than most high-end double cab bakkies. Also, take into account the huge leap forward over the previous model, and the fact that the latest Fortuner is actually comparable to the brand’s own Prado, and it’s no surprise that Toyota can hardly build enough vehicles to satisfy the demand. It really is a great all-rounder SUV.

Engine 2 775cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power 130kW @ 3 400r/min
Torque 450Nm @ 1 600-2 400r/min
Gearbox Six-speed automatic
4×4 drivetrain Part-time (2H, 4H & 4Low)
4×4 driving aids ATRAC, stability control, hill start assist, downhill assist control, rear differential lock
Ground clearance 225mm
Fuel tank capacity 80 litres
Range (@ 9.3 litres/100km) 860km
Price (standard) R614 800
HP per month R12 900