CAREFUL PRICING SEES TOYOTA’S HIGH-RIDING 4WD WAGON SETTLING INTO A COMFORTABLE PLACE IN THE KIWI MARKET, SAYS COLIN SMITH
A sideline to the SUV sales boom has come from an unexpected direction — new high-riding 4WD wagons developed from the latest generation utility platforms.
Just when it looked as if car-like crossovers would be the future, the Holden Colorado 7 came along, followed by the Ford Everest, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner.
Diesel engines are a common theme along with low-ratio four-wheel-drive ability, heavy duty tow ratings and the fact that each of the quartet rolls out of the same Thai factories as the utes they are based upon.
Fitting them into the Kiwi market is a price-sensitive equation as relativity is sought alongside high-spec, double cab 4x4 utes and a large number of family and luxury SUV models.
That’s been a work in progress over the first half of 2016.
In Toyota’s case the Fortuner strategy began with finding room to slot its new Hilux-based, seven-seat wagon between the V6 petrol Highlander (priced from $60,990) and the LandCruiser Prado (starting at $78,490).
Toyota even prepared the ground for the Fortuner by trimming its choice of Prado models. And this wasn’t the last bit of trim-to-fit, because, since the February launch, each of the three Fortuner models has had $10,000 lopped from its price tag.
It creates the situation where the entry level Fortuner GX automatic tested here is now $62,990. Ford still has a $75,990 window sticker on its Everest Trend, while specials start the Mitsubishi and Holden alternatives at $49,990.
So rather than fitting between Highlander and Prado, the Fortuner is positioned as a Highlander alternative with Toyota offering two SUV alternatives — a car-like V6 petrol crossover or a ute-based diesel wagon.
The DNA of the Fortuner is shared with the latest Hilux and the new name extends the tradition of Hilux Surf and 4Runner wagons that had been built on previous Hilux platforms.
Like the Hilux, it’s built in Thailand and shares Toyota’s new 2.8-litre, four-cylinder global diesel engine and also the six-speed automatic and manual transmission choices.
The Hilux wheelbase is shortened by 340mm and the leaf spring ute rear suspension is swapped out to a multi-link coil spring design to settle the ride quality for Fortuner occupants.
The bonnet and doors are the only sheetmetal that Fortuner shares with Hilux and the front end is differentiated with slimline headlights, a deeper apron and more chrome. There’s a stepped waistline and glasshouse, blacked-out rear pillars and lavishly chromed rear treatment.
Even at entry level GX grade the Fortuner is smartly dressed with 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, black side steps, rear privacy glass, chrome door handles and silver roof rails.
The 2755cc 1GD-FTV engine is a 16-valve design and develops 130kW at 3400rpm with 450Nm of torque from 1600-2400rpm when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission (420Nm in the manual version). The smooth shifting auto helps to keep the engine working in its strongest torque range.
But the six-speed automatic seemed reluctant to use top gear on a highway cruise. Often it used fifth gear at 1800rpm and even a tap on the shift paddles couldn’t find top gear. Run a little above 100km/h and it’ll slip into sixth and then stay there with the engine ticking over at just 1500rpm when it settles back at the speed limit.
With the automatic transmission, the Fortuner’s claimed combined cycle fuel consumption is 8.6L/100km and my road test averaged 9.2L/100km. The suitability for some adventure is assisted by an 80-litre fuel tank.
Coil spring rear suspension assists with settling the highway ride quality and the Fortuner isn’t as bouncy as a lightly loaded ute. But at lower speeds across lumpy surfaces the Fortuner still has some abrupt responses and there’s the impression the shortened wheelbase (compared with Hilux) offsets some of the calming benefits of the coil springs.
The 12-spoke style, 17-inch alloy wheels have chunky treaded Bridgestone Dueler A/T radials in 265/65 R17 size to put a secure footprint on the road.
For off-road work there is low ratio four-wheel drive, an electronic rear diff lock and Hill Descent Control. The Fortuner is rated to tow up to 2800kg with the automatic transmission (manual 3000kg) which gives it an advantage over the in-house Prado (2500kg) and Highlander (2000kg) alternatives.
In GX grade the Fortuner specification includes dark brown cloth trim seats, manual air conditioning with rear cooler, smart key and push button start, cruise control, a reversing camera and rear park sensor.
The next step to GXL grade introduces LED headlights, a powered tailgate, leather seat trim, satellite navigation and automatic air conditioning as part of the $3000 price step.
The roomy cabin provides the basics to suit a busy family lifestyle with twin glovebox storage — the upper one can be cooled — along with 12-volt outlets in the front and rear, a large centre console box and useful size door bins and bottle holders.
The driver’s seat has manual cushion height and slide/recline adjustments but no lumbar adjuster. The cushion seems a little short but there is good side bolster support.
Passengers sit up high in the second row with good kneeroom and headroom. A 60/40 split fold backrest and sliding mechanism tumbles to allow access to the third row. Two Isofix attachments and three tether hooks provide the second row child seat options.
The 50/50 split third row chairs fold up and stow to the side of the load area held by straps.
The Toyota Fortuner has rugged styling, seven-seat versatility and the diesel grunt, ground clearance and low ratio gearing that is important for those SUV drivers who want to make use of four-wheel-drive capability.
With pricing now closer to the Highlander than to the LandCruiser Prado, the ability to tow more than either and a price point $7500 below a Hilux Double Cab SR5 Limited diesel ute, the Fortuner seems to have settled at a more comfortable place in the market than where it started in February.