Look around you. See all those new sport-utilities? You don’t need anybody to tell you that SUVs are the second-fastest-growing segment of the South African motor market: it’s obvious. POPULAR MECHANICS gets to grips with two of the latest.
If it were anybody else saying that there aren’t enough SUV models available to South African buyers, nobody would take them seriously. But this is Toyota, after all. And when the market leader says that it not only is introducing an entirely new model, but also expects to sell twice as many as the opposition, then best you pay attention.
The Fortuner (say it like fortunate, minus the T at the end) is one of five vehicles to be built on the company’s IMV – Innovative Multi-Purpose Vehicle – platform, also used for the Hilux. It’s not built or sold in Japan; models for the local market and exports into Africa come off the production line at Toyota SA’s Durban plant.
In case you’re wondering why it took so long for a wagon version of the Hilux to appear, nobody’s saying. What they will say is that, unlike what you might think, the Hilux styling is based on the Fortuner’s, and not the other way around.
Basic concept behind the Fortuner is a blend of passenger car and what the manufacturer calls a rough-roader. Here’s a surprise (not): it was benchmarked against the Jeep Cherokee. All Fortuners are 5-door 7- seaters, and there are two engine options at outset: a 4-litre V6 and a 3-litre common rail diesel. Entry-level models, costing around R286 000 at launch, have 4×2 only, with a lockable rear diff. The more expensive versions – nearly R350 000 – have fulltime all-wheel drive with a lockable Torsen centre diff.
After having driven both models for a few hundred kilometres in the type of terrain where they’re likely to be used, I came away an enthusiastic supporter.
On the tar, the Fortuner is every bit as civilised as the best of the competition. Subdued engine, wind and road noise, plus a ride on the firm side of plush, add up to a refined driving experience. That independent suspension all round really works. Interior appointments and finishes complement a thoroughly classy (if bland) image. Performance from both the petrol and diesel models is good, with high-speed overtaking anything but the white-knuckle affair it often is with big SUVs.
On the dirt, the Fortuner never feels anything less than sure-footed, and when the terrain becomes more than mildly challenging it romps along like it’s on rails. With low ratio and diff lock engaged, it ambles confidently up and down perilously steep slopes with loose, rocky surfaces. The auto versions also feature a useful lower gear lock that avoids change-ups.
According to Toyota, the Fortuner straddles the gap between the RAV and the Prado. We reckon it will steal sales not only from both of those, but also from those who’d prefer something less of a truck than the Hilux double-cab is. Not to mention those who might otherwise have considered the opposition.
For the urban cowboys among us, the “soft-roader” option provides the look, without the necessary but tiresome practicalities. Translation: more car, less truck. For 2006, the RAV is up against compact SUV competition that simply didn’t exist in its heady early days a decade ago.
Nevertheless, it remains a formidable contender thanks in part to an all-new drivetrain. The stability control system incorporates the electric steering, so that in a potential loss-of-control situation besides backing off power and braking individual wheels it can even boost steering torque.
Hill-start assist helps pullaways on steep upslopes; auto transmission versions get downhill assist control, which automatically applies the brakes. There’s a centre diff lock, too – although there isn’t a centre diff as such. Nominally fwd, the RAV seamlessly changes to all-wheel-drive under direction of a newly developed computer-controlled electromagnetic coupling.
The new RAV also provided an opportunity to try out Toyota’s satellite navigation – the first time it is being offered on a local model. After brief acclimatisation, the system turns out to be intuitive and, thanks to the multipurpose selector knob, ergonomically sound as well. I particularly liked the option of punching in lat/long co-ordinates.
Practical upgrades over the previous model include a redesigned rear suspension that allows diagonal siting of the shocks – providing more rear load space.
The RAV range kicks off with a choice of manual or auto versions around R310 000, both powered by a 112 kW/ 194 N.m 2,0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, in manual or auto. Diesels are expected midyear.