COMMERCIAL BENEFIT

HILUX DNA WORKS BOTH FOR AND AGAINST THE FORTUNER

THE FORTUNER arrived in Australia in late 2015 literally off the back of the then all-new eighthgeneration Hilux. See, the Fortuner is effectively a Hilux with a wagon and coils rather than leaf springs rear. The engine, gearbox(s), 4x4 system, front suspension and all, but the tail end of the ladder-frame chassis, are all straight Hilux. This saves development costs in designing and building a 4x4 wagon and is a common ploy used by manufactures in gaining an incremental benefit from their strong-selling utes.

WHATíS IN A NAME?

FORTUNER as a Toyota model name only arrived in Australia in October 2015, but the Fortunerís predecessors were here as early as 1984 badged as 4Runners. Like the Fortuner, the 4Runner was a wagon made from a Hilux ute, initially by doing not much more than slicing off the rear of the uteís cabin and adding a fibre-reinforced plastic canopy on the tray. Even the rear leaf springs were retained. The second-generation 4Runner, introduced in 1989, moved much closer to what we have now in the Fortuner with the introduction of an all-metal body and coil springs at the rear.

If Ford didnít do Everest off Ranger, Toyota may not have bothered with the Fortuner. But it felt Everest could trouble Prado sales-wise as Ranger has troubled Hilux, so the Fortuner for Australia became a goer. And it was an easy decision to make given this new Fortuner had undergone development in Australia and was already slated for south-east Asian markets and elsewhere. Deciding on what name to use was probably more of an issue given Toyota could have revived the well-regarded 4Runner badge as used on Hilux-based wagons sold here from 1984 to 1996.

Following indifferent sales for the first two years, the 2018 Fortuner range saw the prices slashed by at least $5000 and equipment added. Most notably the base GX model gained alloy wheels in place of the black steel wheels shared with Hilux, the mid-spec GXL gained satnav, while the top-spec Crusade gained heated front seats and an 11-speaker premium audio system.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE FORTUNER shares its 2.8-litre diesel, or at least most of it, with the Prado. Unlike the variant of this engine in Prado there are no balance shafts to help smooth out the typical four-cylinder vibration.

Not that it needs it as the engine is almost as smooth in the Fortuner as it is in the Prado. Itís also generally more enthusiastic, given it powers a smaller and 200kg lighter vehicle. A shorter action throttle also makes the Fortuner feel lively compared to the comparatively lazy Prado. Also, thereís more engine noise in the Fortuner compared to the better insulated Prado.

If the Pradoís performance is adequate, then the Fortuner is adequate, plus a tiny bit. Thatís even despite the fact it shares the same flexible and willing character of the Pradoís version of this engine.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

THE FORTUNER doesnít ride as smoothly or as quietly as the Prado, but itís still not as bad given that the latter does ride-quality refinement very well indeed. If youíre used to a dual-cab ute, however, or at least an unladen one, the Fortuner will feel like heaven in terms of ride quality.

Compared to the Prado, the Fortuner also feels smaller, more nimble and it has better steering feel when pressed hard. On tight roads it definitely feels the sportier of the two, if that is what you want in your 4x4 wagon.

On the downside, the Fortuner is a little more twitchy and unsettled on bumpy roads at higher speeds than the Prado with more noticeable bump steer from the rear live axle. On some roads you can actually feel the Fortunerís commercial DNA come through where the Prado feels more polished and passenger-vehicle like.

OFF-ROAD

Surprisingly the coil-sprung Fortuner has less rear-wheel travel than the leafsprung Hilux from which it is derived. Where the Hilux boasts a class-leading 520mm the Fortuner has 440mm, which is 25mm less than a Prado even without KDSS. Thereís less wheel travel at the front of the Fortuner, too, compared to the very supple Prado.

In most situations the Fortuner can do what the Prado does, even if it works a little harder to get the same job done. However, it does come with a little more clearance and better vision from the driverís seat, so thereís really not much in it in difficult off-road conditions.

All Fortuner models come with a driverswitched rear diff lock, but like the rear locker on the Prado, this cancels the electronic traction control on both axles. Thankfully the Fortunerís traction control has a specific off-road tune and is noticeably quieter than the relatively clunky-sounding system in the PradoÖ a case of the Fortunerís ETC being a generation newer?

WHAT YOU GET

ALL FORTUNER models come with seven seats, tiltand-reach steering wheel adjustment, a cool box, auto headlights, reversing camera, rear parking sensors and a rear diff-lock. Over and above the GX, the GXL adds Ďsmart keyí entry, push-button start, sat-nav, a seven-inch touchscreen, roof rails, front fog lights and rear parking sensors. Leather and electric adjust driver and passenger seats are available as an option on the automatic GXL.

The Crusade has leather and electric-adjust/heated front seats as standard and adds a premium JBL audio system, climate control, power tailgate, 220-Volt socket, 18s, LED headlights and DRLs. Prices start at $42,590 for the GX manual, $47,490 for the GLX manual and top out at $56,990 for the Crusade. GX and GXL models come with the option of an automatic gearbox (adds $2000) while the Crusade is auto only.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

CLIMB into the Fortunerís cabin and it feels narrower and lower than the spacious Prado. Still, itís easy enough to get comfortable thanks in part to the Fortuner having tiltand-reach steering wheel adjustment, which is something missing from most ute-based wagons, Everest included.

The Fortunerís third row is tighter for shoulder and headroom than the Prado, but is similar in legroom and has a more comfortable middle position. Thereís easier third-row entry and exit than the Prado, but once in place the Fortunerís third-row seat isnít as well suited to bigger kids or adults.

Unlike the Prado whose third row folds into the floor, the Fortunerís third-row folds up against the side windows, which gives a deeper, but narrower load space. No tie-down rings in the luggage space of the Fortuner is an annoying negative compared to Prado.

PRACTICALITIES

THE FORTUNER matches the Prado for practicality for the most part, but has a much smaller fuel tank (80 litres v 150 litres) than the Ďstandardí Prado models. New Prado variants (now in GXL, VX and Kakadu) with the spare wheel under the vehicle and a separately opening tailgate glass have an 87-litre fuel capacity.

As an automatic, the Fortuner has a 2800kg towing capacity, which is 200kg less than Prado automatic. As a manual, however, the Fortuner matches the Pradoís 3000kg and betters the Prado manual by 500kg.

Fortuner has the same practical wheel and tyre spec as Prado, a similar air-intake for the engine and thereís also room for a second battery in the engine bay, even if the available space isnít as much as it is with Prado.

TAKING STOCK

BEFORE its significant 2018 price reduction, the Fortuner made a less convincing Ďbuy-meí argument against the Prado than it does now. And how you judge the two against one another is dependent on whether youíre a featuresdriven buyer or one more concerned with a vehicleís inherent core value.

No doubt the Fortuner makes its best case as the entry-level GX, especially now Toyota has ditched the very ordinary looking black-painted steel wheels. The Fortuner GX manual undercuts the Prado GX manual by $10K and comes with third-row seating as standard, something not available with the Prado GX manual at all. If you want a GX Prado with seven seats you first have to opt for the automatic gearbox (+$3000) and then the third row is an additional $2550. All of which means you can have a Fortuner with seven seats for $15K less than a sevenseat Prado. The auto option on Fortuner ($2000) is also cheaper than the Prado, although the auto box in the Prado brings with it a raft of additional safety features and a higher 3000kg tow rating.

The higher-grade Fortuner models also make a good argument featureswise against the Prado given a Fortuner Crusade is a similar price to a five-seat Prado GX automatic. What the Fortuner canít match, however, is the fact that the Prado is inherently a better vehicle. Itís bigger, quieter, more refined, more composed at higher speeds on bad roads, marginally better off-road, has near twice the fuel capacity and it offers the considerable benefit of full-time 4x4.

The choice is yoursÖ