Whatever floats your boat: The exterior of the latest Toyota Fortuner takes its design from a catamaran’s twin hull and the interior has been updated. Image credit: Toyota SA & Lerato Matebese
Initially launched in 2006, Toyota’s Fortuner has managed to answer a question no one was asking at the time: “Would you like a body-on-frame, seven-seater SUV loosely based on its Hilux bakkie sibling?”
“No, but can I see what it looks like and, maybe, just maybe, take it for a spin and see?”
The rest is history. Here we are in 2023 and the fabled Fortuner continues to fly out of dealerships faster than a politician’s pre-election campaign promises. Actually, strike that — nothing’s that fast.
As I meander through the Swartberg Pass in the Western Cape, at the wheel of the updated Toyota Fortuner, I’m pondering why this model continues to sell like hotcakes, in spite of a slew of newer competitors.
Launched in 2016, the locally manufactured second generation of the Fortuner has managed to remain incredibly buoyant, selling in the region of 900 units a month — accounting for 40% of the market share — which is testimony to its unwavering popularity.
The model got some cosmetic updates in 2021, which included the addition of the flagship VX specification, replete with plusher finishes and a more sophisticated JBL audio system, among others.
To stave off the competition, Toyota has given the Fortuner more improvements this year — an exterior design inspired by a catamaran’s twin hull and even more refined cabin appointments, including two-tone, burgundy and black leather pews across all the 2.8 GD6 models.
These go well with the optional two-tone (black roof and white body) exterior. At a R10 200 premium, this comes highly recommended as it is the most obvious visual update and simply looks ace.
In addition, the front valance is now kitted out with LED driving lights and dynamic indicators, while 18-inch alloy wheels are standard across the range. The rear has also been given a once-over, sporting a remoulded bumper with integrated L-shaped reflectors.
At the launch, we drove the flagship 2.8 GD6 VX 4X4 model that puts out 150kW and 500Nm through a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The drivetrain exhibited good levels of performance and refinement, making light work of both on- and off-road traverses.
Both the steering and suspension seem to have been upgraded somewhat. The former feels less nervous and jittery over scarred road surfaces than the outgoing model, while the latter’s unwanted shimmy has been dialled down, all while notching up the ride polish.
Headroom, particularly in the second row of seats, remains the model’s Achilles heel. This is also true of the third-row, side-folding seats, which obscure over-the-shoulder blind-spot visibility.
According to a company spokesperson, buyers will have to endure this setup in the current model due to the design platform, which prohibits a more versatile floor-folding seat configuration. This will probably be addressed in the next-generation Fortuner, which will arrive in Mzansi in 2026 at the earliest.
Being the oldest model in its segment, the Fortuner has valiantly managed to fend off newer rivals, thanks to constant improvements, not to mention a wider after-sales network, which makes it a default choice among buyers.
Yes, it is getting long in the tooth in most aspects, and its packaging remains compromised compared to its rivals, but this has not deterred the almost 1 000 buyers a month who continue to vote for the model with their wallets.
Seven years into its life cycle, the Toyota Fortuner’s latest updates seem just enough to keep it ahead of rivals in the form of the Ford Everest, Isuzu mu-X and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport in this popular, mid-size, seven-seater SUV segment.
Pricing remains relatively keen and this could be sufficient to keep the model’s sales leading in earnest.
You might be wondering whether any hybrid models are in the pipeline. Well, according to the firm, this will be the case in the next generation of the model as part of its electrification strategy.
For now, however, the Fortuner’s incremental updates seem to work in its favour in the midst of fresher rivals vying for its crown.
Pricing has seen an average 6% hike over the outgoing model:
• 2.4 GD-6 RB MT R653 500;
• 2.4 GD-6 RB AT R677 500;
• 2.4 GD-6 4X4 AT R709 800;
• 2.8 GD-6 RB R794 600;
• 2.8 GD-6 RB VX R837 800;
• 2.8 GD-6 4X4 R873 500 and
• 2.8 GD-6 4X4 VX R915 400.