I can only imagine what the brief must've been for designing and developing a new second generation Toyota Fortuner. Hiroki Nakajima, the Chief Engineer assigned to the project and his team would have had one mandate, and one mandate alone - take a bestseller and make it even better. In a nutshell then, Nakajima san and his merry bunch have done just that. The first impression I want to put down for you is that the new Fortuner is indeed a better, more refined and better-finished car. And while it has taken its time to get to India, I am glad it is finally here and Toyota has launched the new Fortuner at Rs 25.92 lakh for the petrol and Rs 31.12 lakh for the diesel.
The location Toyota selected for the India drive of the Fortuner was a surprise - Kochi and not Bangalore! The idea was to test the car through Kerala's teeming state highways and up into the tea estates to Vagamon - a little over 100 kilometres from Kochi. The route was not always ideal to test the highway character of the car, Kerala's always busy state highways - dotted with constant habitation - provided for much experience in traffic manners and manoeuvrability. It will not matter what road you have to deal with though - highway or city, high or low speed - you will instantly pick up on how much better the car's ride quality and handling have gotten.
That is primarily down to the fact that it is a completely redesigned stiffer chassis on the new TNGA platform. The idea was simple - take previous benchmarks and strengthen them. So the chassis has been bolstered with more solid side rails and new cross members. The suspension is also all-new, and I have to say that Toyota has thoroughly surprised me. The new Fortuner uses a most stiff and well configured chassis which makes it hard to believe it is ladder on frame and not monocoque. Bravo Toyota engineering! And what that means is the car is extremely well balanced, maintains its composure, no matter what you throw at it. So whether it was high speed cornering or darting in and out of chaotic city traffic - the new Fortuner does it with aplomb! The massive body roll and shudder that the previous car used to be identified with have gone, and the bouncy ride has been replaced with a more planted feel. The car also feels wider and tends to offer a better stance when on the road. This to me stands out as the chief USP of the second generation. Watch our first impression video on the Fortuner as well.
Oh I should mention that I began my drive with the 2.8 litre diesel mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. The brand new engine is a beast and is shared with the other TNGA platform babies - the Hilux pickups and the new Innova of course. But unlike the Innova (and the new Fortuner that's already gone on sale in SE Asia) we aren't getting the 2.4 litre, 149 bhp diesel, which is a surprise. Let me quickly say that even though Toyota denies that engine will ever be offered on the Fortuner in India, given it is made here in India, it may show up at some point on a lower specced future variant. But I am getting ahead of myself here! Let's instead focus on the 2.8, which has a generous 173.4 bhp on tap and delivers 420 Nm of peak torque. That the peak torque comes in between 1600 and 2400 rpm bodes well, and you will never fall short of torque driving this car.
But while the Fortuner is quick and powerful, it lacks alacrity. And I have to say that is truer of the automatic. The gearbox is not sluggish, but is slow - and in typical Toyota fashion has long ratios. The alternative is to use the new paddle shifters - a great new addition - which do make upshifting much faster. But here too, the transmission takes a second to respond and so you do need to get used to its behaviour before accurately anticipating how it will react. This also means that while nice and growly, the engine tends to sound too noisy and loud - and almost laboured on occasion. That is a shame really since otherwise NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels are definitely down.
I realised that all of that carries over to the automatic on the petrol side too, when I switched cars. The petrol is a new 2.7 litre motor that churns out 162.6 bhp and 245 Nm of torque. The petrol engine though comes across as very refined. Its running is smooth, but does tend to also get noisy when trying to suddenly drop a gear and accelerate. The weird thing also on both cars I drove was the display for the gear indicator. Even at standstill I could apparently put the car in 6th gear according to the display and it would move without a hitch. Clearly that is a display issue and has been communicated to Toyota. That happens on both engine variants as I said, and also in regular Drive or Sport modes that the auto box offers.
Toyota has done well though by now providing a lighter steering. Some may find it too light, but I'll take it any day over the arduous steering on the previous Fortuner. The 4 wheel drive system is only an option on the diesel engine variant. You can get either fuel type in rear wheel drive though. We didn't really have much a chance to test the 4X4 capabilities of the car, but the few stony, muddy bits we drive through on a mountain trail, I managed just fine in 2WD mode! So rest assured, the car's SUV status is very intact.
Safety features are all standard - 7 airbags, ABS (anti-lock brakes), stability control, Isofix child restraint system. The automatic gearbox variants get the hill-hold function, while and on the 4X4 you also have the hill descent setting. The Fortuner also gets two buttons placed between the driver and front passenger - Eco and Power. As the name suggests they either offer optimally efficient running for the engine, or give you an instantly higher output to be able to push hard. I found this more obvious on the diesel (power mode). But the takeaway from the drive on both engine types is how refined the product is now. The car comes off as better built, better engineered and smoother all round.
And that then fits its new looks. The new Fortuner is a touch longer and wider than the outgoing car, though maintains its wheelbase at 2745 mm (yet the added width helps create a greater sense of space inside). You'd be forgiven for passing one in the street and thinking it's a new Lexus model. Yes it is a much more upmarket design, and much to the delight of many of you packs a mean chrome punch! Here I must make the point that this means the butch, 'typical' and brutish SUV looks are gone. The new Fortuner is prettier and swankier looking, though very heavy in its flanks and bumpers. And so the design may be quite polarizing. That is to say you will either love it or not. Check out our picture gallery of the car's exterior design and interior layout.
The new projector headlamps have a swept back, narrow organic design. They come adorned with a strip of crystalline LED daytime running lights or DRLs - standard across variants (how refreshing!). The nose protrudes out into the wind, and accommodates a large chrome grille in a V shaped pattern that melds into the bumper. Here you find almost overdone chrome bezels housing the fogs. A chrome garnish runs along the window frame and notches upwards as the metal rises where the rear window ends - to offer a design signature and yet provide a bigger glasshouse for the cabin. The body seems to sit higher - and that is deliberate. The wheel wells accommodate 17" wheels (18 inchers in the 4X4) but maintain a gap above the tyres to offer the visual height the designers wanted. There is a side step to afford easy ingress and egress though.
The taillights sweep around the rear corners and are the prettiest element for me, as they organically swoop back to offer a wonderful pattern of red sinew. The chrome garnish at the rear has the model name embossed into it in big bold letters. But this chrome I like! The car has no external badging to indicate the engine type, though the trim/variant is mentioned on the tailgate. That by the way is now electric - another great addition by Toyota. It has the memory function so can we 'trained' to stop at 3 different positions. A tad painful if you don't know what you're doing! Toyota is offering 7 colours - two whites, a black, a deep metallic brown (both our test cars), a gold, grey and silver. Yes nothing bright and vibrant sadly!
The cabin is way better finished and more sophisticated than on the first gen car. The dark tones, leather and wood finish all come together well. It is not as luxurious as the German SUVs, nor as pretty as the Santa Fe. But it boasts good material quality and layout. The central console dominates and houses a touchscreen infotainment navigation system with USB/Bluetooth connectivity options, and climate control - all standard - and in the 4X4 also has the on-the-fly 4 wheel drive shifter and hill descent control button. The steering wheel is also replete with buttons - everything from voice command to buttons for operating the music. And even buttons to toggle to a very rich new information screen on the instrument cluster - that has multiple screens with all kinds of trip and vehicle information. The screen also prompts the next upcoming navigation command in case you miss what the voice guidance has said.
So it is an ample package indeed. The good news is that like any new generation this one improves on the old one - and in heaps. The worrying part for me is how across segments benchmarking pricing continues to go up. I think here it has taken somewhat of a leap. The Fortuner when it first arrived in 2009 was pegged at Rs 18 lakh and upwards. Now at Rs 25.92 lakh it becomes a very premium contender. And while it gives you mostly everything you want, it will seem rough around the edges when compared to say BMW X1 or Audi Q3. But it is a lot bigger and more butch. Amongst its immediate rivals though, the Ford Endeavour looks like better value now and the Hyundai Santa Fe will look prettier. You can read how the three cars measure up against each other here.