The Toyota Fortuner is a four-wheel drive wagon based on the top-selling HiLux ute. It was first released in late 2004 at the Thailand International Motor Expo and went on sale the following year.
It quickly rose to popularity across south-east Asia and established itself as a comfortable and practical vehicle.
Originally the Fortuner was identical to the HiLux from the B-pillar forward, with the rear featuring a wagon body sitting on coil suspension (as opposed to the HiLux’s tub and leaf spring set up).
Whilst the fully-coiled wagon configuration remains, the Fortuner now sports a slightly different looking front to its sibling.
I have fond memories of seeing an early Toyota Fortuner back around 2006 when filming in the Philippines. It had been blessed with a solid front axle swap and was running 35-inch extreme terrain tyres.
The proportions and aesthetics were incredible and its HiLux DNA left no doubt it was an adaptable, capable, practical 4×4 that would be ideally suited to Australia.
Sadly it would be a further decade before the Fortuner reached Australia. Apparently Toyota didn’t want to compete directly with the well-established and popular Prado. Thankfully, the Fortuner made it to Australia in 2015.
By design the Fortuner aims to fill a gap between the Prado and the RAV4 – although I find that classification misleading, as the Fortuner is more akin to the Prado and nothing like a RAV4 in regards to performance.
Compared to the incredibly tough and capable Fortuner I spotted back in 2006, the current shape and look seems to have lost some of its off-road edge.
Let’s get the 2021 Toyota Fortuner onto the dirt and see how well it goes.
The signs this is not just a glorified SUV couldn’t be clearer. The vehicle is armed with a dual-speed transfer case and a rear differential (diff) lock like the HiLux. The side steps are deep and low, negating clearance, but they afford easy entry for kids.
The addition of well-designed grab points make entry into the vehicle a snap.
As we get rolling the improvements to the steering are noticeable and there’s that typical feel of strength from the full ladder chassis as you encounter irregularities in the terrain.
Unlike a HiLux, the Fortuner sports a full-coil rear end that offers improved comfort, articulation, and off-road ability. It sits, tracks, and climbs far more easily, and gives you plenty of confidence and feel in the rough stuff.
Pedal feel is quite good with improvements to the engine making noticeable gains. On difficult climbs when you do eventually run out of suspension travel, backing up a touch and giving a little kick to the right pedal stirs the engine into life and the Fortuner rises to the challenge.
In fact, the combination of low-range, power delivery, and coils all round provides a stable and capable drive that makes the Fortuner a reasonable ride, on- and off-road.
Over rocky terrain the Fortuner was nimble and sure-footed, with its shorter wheelbase working well across the broken terrain. Hillclimbs, as mentioned above were tackled with confidence. Conversely, the shorter wheelbase meant a touch more momentum (as well as the rear diff lock) was required.
The 700mm wading depth is mid-range but on a positive, the front number plate remained on the vehicle during river testing. We can’t say the same for a number of other vehicles we tested recently.
At speed off-road the shorter wheelbase is light and easy to manoeuvre, and the vehicle feels agile without any excessive loss of control.
The rear diff lock goes a long way in backing up the vehicle’s capabilities but – and it’s a big but – the rear diff lock engagement suffers from the same delay, lack of response, or inability to engage Toyota factory diff locks are notorious for.
80 Series LandCruiser owners know this issue. If other manufacturers can get it right, there’s no reason Toyota can’t. In such a modern, well-appointed, highly-featured, and safety-packed vehicle, we’re left sitting at the bottom of hills waiting for the diff lock dash indicator light to stop flashing.
It’s frustrating and undermines your confidence in what’s actually a fairly decent off-road base.
Another plus for the rear diff lock is most of the reactive electronics are disabled once it’s engaged, but a negative is that it can only be engaged when low-range is selected.
As mentioned above, the fact you do have low-range and a rear diff lock means this vehicle can actually go off-road and handle its fair share of challenges… which it did during our testing, comfortably and easily.
We’ve mentioned the engine a little already. This vehicle is powered by Toyota’s uninspiring 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, albeit in slightly refreshed guise.
It has just enough improvement in its output to make a noticeable difference. Fortunately a well-engineered and re-tuned six-speed automatic ensures the torque is put to the right tasks at the right time.
It’s worth noting the transmission in the Fortuner does such a good job it warrants asking why the Ranger Raptor requires a 10-speed transmission?
That said, the engine is reliable. A lot of the bad engine’s reputation stemmed from the injector issues of earlier iterations, and more recently the DPF situation, which Toyota claims is sorted.
So with improved mechanicals, greater power output, and better torque curves – along with a decent gearbox – the Fortuner’s turbo-diesel donk and six-speed auto are a reasonable combination.
With so many similarities to the HiLux, getting gear to pimp your Fortuner is easy. Industry leaders like ARB make it simple with a raft of high-quality accessories specifically designed for the Fortuner.
There are multiple options for suspension, a choice of bull bars, underbody protection, recovery points, side rails, driving lights, roof racks, winches, and plenty more.
Aftermarket tyres would be a big improvement over the factory highway rubber and adding a front diff lock would complete the traction package.
The reworked engine is a winner for power and torque but, as always, reliable and proven engine enhancements like the DPChip-X and Plug N Go Pedal Chip both offer performance and throttle improvements that are plug and play.
Like any 4WD, accessories will greatly improve the handling and performance of the vehicle. Just make sure you get the right advice and gear.
In my book the Fortuner is a winner. If you don’t want to pay top dollar for a Prado but still want Toyota build quality and reliability, along with a fully coiled 4×4 wagon, then it has to be up there as a serious contender.
Why aren’t sales figures stronger? I think the Fortuner is underrated by consumers and possibly overlooked.
That could come back to Toyota’s marketing. Nonetheless, the Fortuner definitely has a place within the Aussie market and there are sales to be stolen from other manufacturers.
Given the right circumstances, I would take up the opportunity to own a Fortuner and kit it out with everything I could to make it a tough, reliable, and capable off-roader with the comfort and performance of front and rear coils, the adaptability of seven seats, the capability of a true 4×4 with low-range and a diff lock, and the agility of a mid-sized four-wheel drive.
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