When a new Toyota Fortuner is launched, you do something special to test it. So we went absent without leave (AWOL) to Mozambique to see the masters of easy going in action.
Google is used by billions of people every year, which means it has a unique insight into what people are thinking on a large scale. Every year it releases its ‘Google Trends’ research on various topics and, in late 2014, this included an infographic on the most searched car brands by country. Guess who came out tops in most African countries?
The fact that Toyota is the most searched-for brand in Africa shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who lives here, especially if you regularly travel outside the confines of the city and into the more rural parts of our country and beyond. The reasons for this are well-documented legendary reliability and a massive dealer network. A town may be but a speck on a map but it will always have a liquor store, NG kerkie and a Toyota dealership with a Hilux on the floor. As such, a new Toyota 4×4 is always a big deal. We’re fairly used to people coming up to us at a petrol station to talk about a new car, but we haven’t seen this kind of interest since, well… forever. Not that it was all good, though, but more about that later.
Last dip in the drink
A trip to Ponta do Ouro had been on the cards for ages, and with the arrival of the new Fortuner, the timing proved to be perfect. We’d have the opportunity to drive the Toyota on several surfaces, including highways, pothole-infested rural roads and soft sand. This would give us a comprehensive insight into the new model, which aims to be all things to all men a luxury SUV for commuting and family duties, as well as a tough-as-nails 4×4 for those odd holidays to rural destinations.
Ponta do Ouro just happens to be the most rural place within 1 000km of Johannesburg. It’s only accessible by 4×4, but the main reason it feels so far removed is the amount of time and effort it takes to get there. As Uri Adventures’ Eben Delport famously says: “It’s not so far, but it’s quite a distance.” With that in mind, we set off while it was still dark and nobody paid us any attention. But then the sun slowly rose up over the horizon and suddenly we were exposed.
At first it was nothing more than Frikkie excitedly bouncing around in the front seat of his Hilux or older Fortuner and pointing out the new model to his uninterested wife. But then a police officer on a motorcycle pulled alongside and indicated we should pull over, just outside Piet Retief.
Knowing that we weren’t doing anything illegal, we obliged and started fishing for a licence so the delay would be over and done with as soon as possible. “I’m not interested in your licence,” said random policeman. “I just want to see inside the new Fortuner.” “Be our guest,” said we. “Haibo, it’s nice hey,” said random policeman after a minute of inspection.
It sure is. The new Fortuner is much closer to the Prado than it is to the Hilux. The interior houses the same touchscreen as the Hilux, but it’s nestled between two soft-touch leather pylons. The seats are also shod in the same brown leather, as are the armrests on the doors.
The Fortuner feels expensive. Much more expensive than it actually is. We were 300km into the drive, but showing none of the telltale signs of driver fatigue. So it definitely is comfortable. Once random police officer was finished looking, he reluctantly got back on his bike, but gave a friendly enough wave as we set off again.
Our run in with the officers at the Kosi Bay border was not as enjoyable. With our passports stamped, we jumped back in the car and pushed the start button (it has a keyless start system), but before we moved an inch, an omie with a flashlight came stomping determinedly out of the office in our direction. “Stop that car!” he shouted at the border officials hovering around us.|
In a heartbeat, we had about five guys with assault rifles standing between Moz and us. “Run the plates while I check the chassis and engine number,” he said to one of the officers, who promptly disappeared inside the makeshift office building nearby. “You!” he said, pointing directly at us, “Get out!” Gulp.
“What are you doing with this Toyota?” he asked, sternly. “I haven’t seen one of these before. Where did you laaities get this car?” We told him about the new Fortuner and he simply stared at us in disbelief. We suggested he check out the tail of the SUV as the name ‘Fortuner’ is neatly stamped on a shiny bit of plastic.
He stomped over to the rear of the Toyota and suddenly it dawned on him. His demeanour changed almost as quickly as when he had stormed out of the office earlier.
Now deeply excited, he asked whether he could quickly check where the engine and other numbers were, so he would know if a new Fortuner ever dared to cross his path again. His tone was friendly, which resulted in the other officials relaxing the grip on their firearms and slowly dispersing, having lost interest. After a brief lecture on Toyota engines, the omie told us that he had nothing but respect for Toyota’s diesel engines. He had been inspecting engines for a number of years and according to him, they are the best. Ja-well, okay then.
We finally reached our destination, right on the doorstep of the Indian Ocean. It was only the first day with the new Toyota, and we already had plenty of stories to tell.
Early morning encounters
The first item on our list of things to do was watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. To get to a suitable viewing point, we had to navigate a short and narrow off-road course through the thick forest. The previous generation Fortuner 4×4 derivatives featured a permanent four-wheel-drive set-up, with a Torsen centre differential in the default mode. The centre diff could be locked for a 50/50 distribution between the front and rear wheels, and there was also the option of 4WD low-range. This drivetrain was one of the characteristics that separated the Fortuner 4×4 from its Hilux cousin.
The new Fortuner, however, shares its drivetrain with the latest Hilux. So it’s a part-time set-up with a dashboard dial that offers selection between 2H, 4H and 4Low. With 4H selected, we set off in the soft sand, the drive split 50/50 between the front and rear axles. The new Fortuner is fitted with active traction control (ATC) and, unlike we’d normally do in sand, we left the system on to see how it fares. Essentially, ATC sends power to the wheel or wheels with the most grip, adapting to conditions and it does such a good job in the sand, we leave it to sort out the details.
Eventually the new ‘Tuna sailed through a sharp, soft climb over a dune. We used the paddles behind the steering wheel for the climb to lock the six-speed auto shifter in gear. For the steep downhill sections we used hill descent control (HDC), and it also works a charm. The reward is zero drama and a moving sunrise. To shuffle between our tented camp at Wakene and Ponta do Ouro, we used the main road, which we affectionately dubbed the N1. On this sandy stretch the ATC cut in every now and again, but instead of cutting the power, it rather sent more to the wheel that had traction. The electronic nanny did a really good job, and is a major improvement over the system in the previous generation Fortuner.
Using 4H and a slow and steady pace, it took 30 minutes to complete the 10km journey. We left the low-range option in reserve for when things got really tricky, but in the end the Toyota handled all the sand in its stride. If things turned bad, however, we always had the almost 280mm claimed ground clearance, that low-range selection and a differential lock for the rear axle at to fall back on.
Our first stop was the one and only Italian restaurant, which happened to serve the best – and only – pizza in town. Unfortunately, the chef was not there. The owner told us he was AWOL, but that she would phone him quickly. After a quick argument, she handed us the phone and told us to place our order. He told us it would take him an hour to get there and another 45 minutes to make the pizza.
So we skipped the pizza – but soon found out that being AWOL was quite the trend here during the off-season. The dive master who was supposed to take us snorkelling? AWOL. The lifeguard at the beach? AWOL. Even the police station seemed to be deserted. We found out a few hours later that ‘the law’ was looking for miscreants on the beach – while lying horizontally under the safety of a makeshift shelter.
The original AWOL nation
Year after year, Denmark is announced as the happiest country on Earth, but only because those researchers haven’t been to Mozambique. Those guys know how to sit back and take a load off. To a Jozi inhabitant this is deeply troubling. We’re used to a fast-paced environment, but in Ponta do Ouro, you seem to check in whenever the mood strikes. We had two options: leave, or join.
We settled on joining. It meant more time behind the wheel of the Fortuner and the opportunity of hanging with the locals who turned up for their barman jobs. Bar hopping seems to be the main tourist attraction. You’ll find a bar every 50 metres and every bar has some sort of activity connected to it. Examples include bar and driving range, bar and quad bike hire, bar and cellphone store, and bar and dentist. That last one is made up, but you get our point.
We stuck to Sparletta Marongo soft drink as we were still driving, but we soon tuned into the local rhythm and drove the Fortuner from bar to bar. The locals seemed quite taken with the Fortuner more selfies were taken with it than we cared to count. Anyway, this bar hopping and subsequent soft-sand driving turned into quite an enjoyable excursion. Unlike some other SUVs in the segment, the Fortuner does not get a fashionable terrain response-type system. Instead, it relies on more basic 4×4 credentials to get along just swimmingly. Less fancy tech also means less rands in the asking price.
The Fortuner’s ability to be a luxury vehicle most of the time, while still retaining its predecessor’s aptitude for dealing with Africa’s rural roads, is deeply impressive. It had proved that it’s everything a Fortuner should be, and more. With our mission completed, it was time to head back home.
The real test
The true worth of any vehicle can be found on the journey back home. The excitement is over and it’s back to the grindstone. It’s especially depressing when you return home from a place as relaxed as Ponta do Ouro…
At least we’d get another shot at assessing the Fortuner in what will likely be its natural habitat, the open road. As a replacement for the three-litre D-4D, the 2.8 GDS is epic. It’s more powerful, more refined and can feature either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox, both of which do a grand job in this application.
The Fortuner cruises happily at 120km/h, with enough power in reserve for swift overtaking manoeuvres.
Our mixed driving resulted in a fuel consumption figure of 10.0l/100km, which included the extended sand driving in Moz. The ride quality, and maybe more importantly, the ride composure, represent a massive leap forward in the latest Fortuner. It has double wishbone front suspension and four-link coil spring at the back, along with reinforced suspension towers and large diameter dampers. The ride quality in the old Fortuner was, at times, choppy. The new ‘Tuna’s ride quality is on par with the Prado. So it’s a huge improvement.
In town, the Toyota is comfortable and quiet. The NVH levels are also Prado-like and standard specification is exceptionally generous. Some folks have bemoaned the fact that the third row of seats doesn’t fold into the rear cargo floor as is the modern trend, but frankly it’s hardly a deal breaker in our books. Even with those seats in place, the boot is still big, and if the seats prove to be tedious, one can simply remove them. For the record, they are better suited to children, but for short journeys, a pair of full-size adults will certainly survive the seats, too.
As for the off-roading, let’s just say that we came nowhere close to exploring its limits. It did the entire journey without us even having to adjust the tyre temperature, which means you could realistically drive it off the showroom floor to Ponta do Ouro. That makes it part of a very exclusive club indeed. We have no doubt that the new model will pick up the sales leader baton from its predecessor. It’s everything the Fortuner used to be, but better in every conceivable way.
Mozambique was colonised by Portugal in 1505 and gained independence in 1975. It’s definitely worth learning a few basic Portuguese words before going there, as only a few locals speak English. Even though it has extensive natural resources, Mozambique ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world. The Ponta do Ouro district relies mostly on tourism to get by. It is the 35th largest country in the world.
Mozambique is made up of 10 provinces. Maputo is one of them, and the city of Maputo is a province all by itself. Given the heavy Portuguese influence, most of the dishes available in restaurants are doused in peri-peri sauce. Other delicacies include prego rolls and battered shrimp.
Wakene Residential Estate
Wakene is the proverbial tropical paradise, and is situated 10km north of Ponta do Ouro, which means it should be as relaxing during peak tourist season.
There are numerous options available, ranging from campsites with electricity, to two beach villas situated less than 100m from the beach. Our tented camp was the mid-range option, but it offered three luxury tents (enough room for 12 people, or three families), separate bathrooms and showers, fully equipped kitchen and a view that will take your breath away. It’s also affordable, with our tented camp costing R3 000 for the whole unit. Split three ways, it’s a relative bargain.
A private beach is within walking distance, as is an on-site kiosk with all the basic necessities. Activities on offer include snorkelling, quad biking and fishing, but all of these need to be booked well in advance if you’re planning on going in the busy season.
If, however, you’re planning a quiet week away, Wakene Beach Estate comes highly recommended. It’s the ultimate place for those in search of beauty and serenity.
More information: Tel: 082 494 1047; (035) 562 0630;
Toyota Fortuner 2.8GDS 4×4 AT
Engine Four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Capacity 2 755cc
Power 130kW @ 3 400r/min
Torque 450Nm @ 1 600r/min
Gearbox Six-speed automatic
Suspension (front) Double wishbone
Suspension (rear) Four-link
Driving aids Part-time four-wheel drive, downhill assist control, traction control, stability control, rear diff lock
Ground clearance (claimed) 279mm
Warranty Three-year/100 000km
Service plan Five-year/90 000km
Price R589 400
Toyota Fortuner range
R436 400 2.4 GD-6 Raised Body Manual
R453 400 2.4 GD-6 Raised Body Automatic
R429 400 2.7 VVT-i Raised Body Automatic
R513 400 2.8 GD-6 Raised Body Manual
R571 400 2.8 GD-6 4×4 Manual
R531 400 2.8 GD-6 Raised Body Automatic
R589 400 2.8 GD-6 4×4 Automatic
R633 400 4.0 V6 4×4 Automatic