Toyota’s family favourite has been hard to get. But not for long

A cursory glance at the latest top ten South African new car sales figures may have you frowning at first. What, no Hilux? And where’s Fortuner? Oh yes, the floods…

It took an Act of God to topple South Africa’s favourite bakkie and family SUV from their eternal perches, and allow some other models the glory of being top sellers for once. But Toyota being Toyota, their time is almost up. The Prospection plant is almost all mopped up following that biblical deluge and soon, things will start returning to normal.

The Art of Throwing Mielies

So, to celebrate the fact, and to whet the appetite of the many faithful Fortuner buyers now waiting so patiently for their new steeds, we spent a few days with the flagship 2.8 GD-6 4×4 VX AT on a recent upcountry sojourn. Which just happened to be square in the middle of mielie country. Appropriatly enough, Fortuner is the kind of car that makes the Afrikaans phrase ‘gooi mielies’ so much easier to explain. Mielies of course being maize. And gooi meaning throw. Kind of the South African version of give ‘em carrots, a good old racing phrase meaning to thrash the opposition.

So, with that all out of the way, to say that the Toyota Fortuner is ready to gooi mielies again, is a bit of a rhetorical statement. Fortuner of course needs no introduction. South Africa’s most popular SUV resonates beyond well with local lifestyles. Not just because it so effectively delivers those old Toyota chants of quality, dependability, and reliability. But also, because Toyota South Africa continuously responds to customer feedback and their ever-evolving needs in the pursuit of producing an ever-better Fortuner.

Remember that Fortuner is not a global platform. Initially developed in Thailand by Thai and Japanese engineers as part of Toyota’s Project IMV, it has been built in that Prospection, Durban plant ever since. Toyota sells a different sport ute in that neck of the woods in the ‘States and some other markets. And while the car is also available in several Eastern markets, it just happens to fit South African tastes better than most. The first AN50/AN60 Fortuner took the local market by storm almost 20 years ago. Facelifted twice in 2008 and ’11, this second generation AN150/AN160 followed in 2015.

VX a Tribute to Unwavering TOYOTA Advances

Throughout its life, Toyota South Africa has consistently fettled Fortuner to keep in line with South African wants and needs and recently quietly ushered in a few more specification enhancements and adaptions. So, with Fortuner’s disrupted production about to come back on stream, what better that to sample that latest spec in anticipation?

Let’s begin with the upgrades. First things first, our VX benefits the added convenience of dual-zone climate control. It’s standard across the 2.8 litre turbodiesel range. This flagship VX also gets a cool new selectable view Panoramic View Monitor and an 11-speaker JBL Premium Audio upgrade system. The old onboard satellite navigation has been axed. Nobody needs that with a better navi on your smartphone. Just link to your Fortuner via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and voila, off you go!

That’s in addition to Fortuner’s existing Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Apple Music, JOOX, Spotify and Sound Cloud. Speaking of Toyota’s ever-evolving infotainment system, that eternal attention to detail has turned the dreadful old original touchscreen only device into an intuitive and easy to use system. It now finds itself toward the front of the human to car interface pack. Toyota Connect telematics adds Wi-Fi and 15Gb complimentary data for the MyToyota App.

Fortuner VX Now Even Safer

Fortuner also recently gained an enhanced security Smart Entry system. This VX adds more Toyota Safety Sense functionality to the existing integrated pre-collision system. It flaunts a lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and road sign recognition. And steps up to Blind- Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. That in addition to the existing full array of airbags, ISOFIX child seat restraints and seatbelt pre-tensioners and auto hold electric parking brake. Add active stability and traction control, ABS anti-lock with electronic force distribution and emergency assist braking.

Fortuner’s high quality full leather interior comes with a hide-clad tilt and a telescopic multi-function steering wheel. It brings audio and cruise control settings to your fingertips. Traditional blue dialled instrumentation gets white needles, there are one-touch power windows and multiple convenient power outlets and cup holders. It’s a fine quality cabin featuring many a creature comfort, solid controls, and a superior finish.

But it’s not perfect. Lagging old Fortuner habits include steering adjustment that’s hardly telescopic. The third-row seats still hang off the side of the boot compartment, stealing space and blocking out the rear quarter windows. It really must move into the floor. And is it necessary to sound a symphony of chimes every time you open a door or turn the car off? While also dealing with dodgy central locking logic?

Living with the Legend

So, what’s Fortuner like to live with? Well, despite seeming large and cumbersome, it’s easy to drive. The missus will be happy with that. Improved ride quality courtesy of the previous upgrade is also a boon. The creamy current spec 150 kW 500 Nm GD6 turbodiesel has sufficient power and torque and remains well matched to its six-speed automatic gearbox. Did you know that the six in that GD6 nomenclature denotes the number of ratios in the box?

Fortuner’s bakkie heart still delivers a slightly noisy ride and the engine is a tad rowdy and relatively thirsty versus some smaller, perhaps less versatile SUVs at the price. Performance and fuel economy is however right in this class ballpark and Fortuner is powerful, cruises with total ease and feels well connected to the road. It can be noisy while accelerating, but the cabin is quiet when cruising.

An all-rounder of note, Fortuner VX packs a 3.3 tonne braked towing capacity. That’s more than ample. Click it into 4×4 mode. take on a desert dune, a muddy mountain pass or a rocky riverbed, and Fortuner is unstoppable. A 29-degree approach, 25-degree departure and a decent break over angled, a 219 mm ride height and 700 mm wading depth make it as good as pretty much anything.

Fortuner VX Majors on Toyotaness

Backed by Toyota’s full 3-year 100 000 km manufacturer’s warranty and 9-service or 90 000 km service plan, the Fortuner does demand a small premium. But that’s more than well justified by its ’Toyotaness’.

All of which leads us to conclude that Toyota still has it very much taped with Fortuner. Now it’s just the matter of the little more time needed for Toyota to ramp production up again following those disastrous floods. And all those buyers who have waited so patiently for that to happen, and many new Fortuner owners, will soon be driving their dreams.

No doubt about it, the Toyota Fortuner is just about ready to gooi mielies again. That could not come soon enough. – Michele Lupini

Test & images: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Toyota Fortuner 2.8 GD-6 4x4 VX AT
Engine: 150kW 500 Nm 2.8-litre turbodiesel I4
Drive: 6-speed automatic 4x4
Braked Trailer:   3300 kg
0-60 km/h:        4.26 sec
0-100 km/h:       9.79 sec
0-120 km/h:       13.24 sec
0-160 km/h:       24.36 sec
400m time:        16.7 sec @ 136 km/h
80-120 km/h:      6.50 sec
120-160 km/h:     11.12 sec
VMax:             180 km/h
Fuel:             7.9 l/100 km
CO2:              209 g/km
Warranty/Service: 3y 100K/9s 90K km
LIST PRICE:       R870K
RATED:            8
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