First drive: 2013 Toyota Fortuner 2.7 in the UAE
There we were, a Ford Raptor in our parking lot, and the only logical thing to do was to venture into the desert wilderness. So we were on the lookout for a rental 4×4 as a backup vehicle for desert-testing something as big as a tank, in case it needed to get pulled out! While we were looking for nothing less than a powerful V6 at least, we ended up with a 2013 Toyota Fortuner 2.7, thanks to the ridiculously ill-informed staff of an international rental agency.
The Toyota Fortuner is, and always has been, among the most affordable offerings in the off-road capable mid-size SUV segment. Now hailing from Indonesia, the Fortuner shares its underpinnings with the Toyota Hilux and the Toyota Innova, and even looks and feels similar to those, despite Toyota’s attempts to distinctly style each model. In its second facelift, the exterior design now adopts an edgy new front-end while retaining the rounded profile of the Fortuner’s previous iterations.
The interior is a hard-plastic tub, as is the case with all other pickup-based SUVs, although everything appears to be tightly fit. There is good legroom and headroom for both the front and second-row passengers, while the side-folding third row seats are clearly not meant to seat any adults. The mildly-bolstered seats are comfortable though, unlike the hard seats in its Thai-built rival, the Chevy Trailblazer. Also better is the rather strong a/c, with separately controlled rear-vents for the second and third row seats, that easily kept up with the scorching summer heat. Wind noise is audible over speeds of 100 kph, and the ride borders on being firm, though still slightly smoother than the Trailblazer, despite its coil-sprung live rear-axle setup.
Interior features are limited to power door locks, power mirrors, 4-speaker audio system with USB, AUX, and iPod connectivity, steering controls for audio system, and nothing more, at least in our test car.
Unlike the previous Fortuners, the steering in the new model seems more precise, and offers moderate feedback. Sudden left-to-right steering inputs are handled by the Fortuner with surprisingly well-controlled body motions. There is enough stopping power from the brakes, and response from the controls seem good. On the safety front, the features are limited to only a couple of front airbags and ABS.
The significant power deficit that plagues the four-cylinder Fortuner became readily apparent as we started rolling, although whatever juice it had was evidently coming from the lower rev range. Cranking out a whopping 158 horses and 241 Nm of torque, the Fortuner made us wonder about our possibilities of traversing the hot sands in the desert without getting stuck. Our dreaded experience with the Chevy Trailblazer in only the previous weekend, and the fact that we are going as a backup vehicle of all things, bothered us even more. But things weren’t as bad as we’d thought.
The 2.7-litre engine in the Fortuner is mated to a 4-speed automatic gearbox. The V6 variant gets the better 5-speed gearbox. In the merciless July weather, our four-pot Fortuner crawled from 0-100 kph in a painful 13.7 seconds. Fuel efficiency, as manually calculated by us due to the lack of a trip computer, was a dismal 14.3 litres/100 km, even if that included our off-road jaunt, and harsh throttle inputs to attain highway speeds quickly enough to avoid the faster trailer-trucks from rear-ending us.
The Fortuner, like most SUVs from Toyota, has all-time four-wheel-drive with a lockable centre differential and low-range gearing. The transfer-case in the Fortuner features an old-school manual shifter, unlike the electronic knobs in most other vehicles these days. The six-cylinder model offers a rear diff-lock as well, for tackling extreme situations. The suspension articulation is great, and the live axle in the rear helps things further, especially in rocky scenarios. While the V6-equipped Fortuner is definitely the off-roader of choice, we were surprised at how well even the four-cylinder Fortuner handled the loose sand.
Expecting the worst for the day, we deflated the tyres and drove off into the same desert area where we had tested the Chevy Trailblazer. But the Fortuner murdered our skepticism by taking on the loose stuff with ease. Granted it lacks the guts to take on those 20-storey dunes. But traversing through the desert sands with the Fortuner was rather effortless despite the poor power-to-weight ratio, thanks to Toyota’s clever choice of gear ratios. With an underpowered engine, we were still using only the second and third gears most of the time, to negotiate mild and even some moderately-inclined dunes. There is always the low-range gear, should the going get really tough. Even with a puny engine, this Fortuner can still go many places, if you know what you’re doing.
The entry-level 2013 Toyota Fortuner is a hit in this market, despite its cheap plastic interior, firm ride and lack of power. The 2.7-litre version is a fairly capable offroader too, but it instead became popular here thanks to Toyota-infatuated family men who want an SUV to ferry their kids to school, and maybe fleet sales to utility companies and rental agencies.
Photos by Vivek Menon and Mashfique H. Chowdhury
For UAE/KSA prices and specs, visit the Toyota Fortuner buyer guide.