Drives: Toyota Fortuner, Range Rover Evoque convertible
THIS ONE FAVOURS THE BOLD
Toyota has learnt not to mess with a winning formula. In the case of the bestselling Fortuner, familiarity breeds… admiration.
This is probably self-evident, but let's say it anyway: if Toyota's legendary Fortuner were a dog, you would have heard about it by now. Still with canine analogies: if you don't shortlist the Fortuner when shopping for an SUV, insist the faithful, you're barking mad.
Leaving aside peace of mind and near-fanatical loyalty, it's worth knowing that Toyota has sold nearly 18 000 current-generation Fortuners, of which our test vehicle, the 2.8 GD-6 4x4 Automatic (R624 100) accounts for 3 946 sales (correct at the time of writing). By anyone's measure, this makes it very successful indeed.
Why would you choose this 7-seater over, say, a Pajero Sport, Ford Everest or Land Rover Discovery, all of which deserve your attention? Evidence suggests the answer lies in a heady mix of versatility, affordability, off-road capability, perceived reliability and that deliciously illogical factor we call emotion. All these vehicles are impressive, and a couple are arguably more stylish, but hey, only one of them is a Toyota.
We covered over 1 000 km during our week with the Fortuner, giving us plenty of time to explore its features and capabilities and we liked it very much. It works for family holidays, weekend getaways, off-road adventures and just about any other application you can imagine, with the possible exception of a daily commute; unless, of course, your workplace is somewhere remote and rugged.
How different is it from the previous model? Not very. It's longer, wider and a little more refined, with all the features that elevated its predecessor to recordsetting sales levels, but that aside, it's reassuringly familiar and therein, we suspect, lies its appeal.
Powered by Toyota's new-generation 2,8-litre 4- cylinder turbodiesel, the Fortuner is a pleasure to drive at highway speeds, when the powerplant barely raises a sweat and the 6-speed auto transmission shifts cogs with nary a hiccup. Even in “Eco” mode, it delivers enough grunt to permit overtaking without noise or drama. The paddles on the steering column are a nice if somewhat puzzling touch: you can press the downshift paddle a couple of times if you're in a hurry, but the response is so leisurely that you might as well use your right foot. In “Sport” mode, of course, everything becomes more vigorous, but at the expense of economy.
As spacious and economical family transporters go, the Fortuner does rather well. Our Garden Route adventure occurred mostly on tar, with a couple of short forays into the rough stuff, but with the 80-litre fuel tank filled to the brim and our inner hooligan reined in, we covered over 850 km before chickening out and pulling over for a refill. That's with four people on board and the rear compartment packed to the rafters with suitcases, bedding, cooler boxes, booze and other essentials.
Standard features include a diff-lock, hill descent control, a very efficient aircon with separate rear-seat adjustment, seven airbags, cruise control, electric driver's seat adjustment, cup holders where you need them, a double glove compartment (part of which is cooled by the aircon), lots of storage space, and enough rearseat legroom to keep everyone happy. The middle-seat row can slide, which helps.
Although the GD-6 4x4 Auto features a good-sized infotainment touchscreen and an extremely useful reversing camera (a boon when exiting a parking space with the rear view blocked by luggage), we found the absence of integrated satnav and a remote tailgate opener a bit weird. These features are included with the flag- ship V6, but then again, that derivative sells for R670 500.
For the record, this is a proper off-roader. Simply by pressing a button, you can venture just about anywhere and be reasonably certain of arriving without incident. We took the Fortuner into deep sand and deliciously gooey mud, climbed mildly intimidating gradients and explored a few places not designed for SUVS (or any other vehicle, for that matter). When we returned it to Toyota a week later, it was in perfect nick and they had to prise the ignition key from our vice-like grip. Put simply, the Fortuner works.
With room for big families (and big objects) plus a generous list of creature comforts, the Fortuner is a long-standing favourite.