WHEN my mother was in her early 60s she grandly announced that she was doing away with her small, reliable, practical car and buying something with thunder (her words); something that would allow her to roar (again, her words) along the secondary road to her home close to the beach on South Africa's east coast.
Excited to show off her purchase, she Skyped us late one Sunday shielding her eyes from the sun glinting off the silver paint work. We could barely make out her small frame against the chrome bumper but it was hard to miss her wide smile.
A tiny woman, she has to hold on to the grab handles and really pull herself into the cab and even though she can barely touch the pedals, she hauls that Fortuner around like a hooligan with nary a care for the inconveniences in her path.
Years later, now, and that SUV remains a trusted ally carrying everything from the dogs to the neighbours' outdoor setting, the plume of dust announcing her arrival.
The Fortuner, which has been roaring into the hearts of so many buyers around the world, is now available in Australia in three grades and with the same 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine now driving the Prado and HiLux.
No surprise there as Fortuner shares the underpinnings of Toyota's workhorse but opting for a coil rear suspension set-up instead of the leaf springs favoured by the HiLux. It has a dual range transmission with switchable four-wheel drive and the Japanese manufacturer is hoping we will regard it as the diesel alternative to the petrol-only Kluger large SUV.
The Fortuner may be based on the HiLux but there is nothing of that commercial feel about the interior. Instead, the leather seats are rather comfortable, the surfaces soft to the touch with the dash showcasing all those niceties we expect from a passenger car.
Instruments are clear and easy to read and the blue backlight at night is almost snazzy. We liked the tablet-like colour touchscreen which offered good graphics and was easy to navigate. The volume button on the side was a bit fiddly but it was super easy to access the Bluetooth and the sound quality was hard to fault.
Leg and headroom in the second row is rather good too with the seats able to slide forward and back and easily tumbled for access to the last row. The latter, with the seats folded against the rear side windows when not in use, is comfortable enough for adults on short trips but is really best suited to children.
The Fortuner is shorter and narrower than the Kluger and Prado but is no slouch in the space department. Cargo capacity is at 200 litres with all seats in use growing to 716l with the third row folded - way bigger than the Kluger and just a couple of shopping bags shy of the Prado.
On the road
The Fortuner was tested extensively and tuned for Australian conditions and that work certainly shows in driving comfort. On the bitumen in rear-wheel drive mode the Fortuner made much calmer progress than I expected and although the ride is firm it managed to soak up irregularities with ease with none of that jiggling you would take as given.
Acceleration is steady with the torque on hand making it easy to move a vehicle of this size and it is capable around corners with the stability control kicking in quickly should you get a tad overzealous behind the wheel.
The Fortuner is easy to steer and park although the steering wheel itself can feel a bit vague with little feedback for the driver. Clearly, this is more a family wagon than a sporty sensation so the paddle shifters are a funny addition.
Off the road, in the rough, the Fortuner is assured and confident, Toyota's four-wheel drive pedigree holding it in good stead and keeping it nimble on steep rocky hills and descents and with a wading depth of 700mm, very competent at water crossings too. Towing capacity is a rather useful 2800kg (3000kg for manual) eclipsing the Kluger (2000kg) and Prado (2500kg).
What do you get?
Our top of the range Crusade had all the bells and whistles and then more still with the list including a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with reverse camera and sat nav, rear parking sensors, leather trim, digital radio, smart key entry with push-button start, Bluetooth capability, 18-inch alloys, auto headlights and wipers, 220V power point, multiple 12V plugs, air-conditioning across all three rows and auto tailgate.
Toyota offers official fuel consumption figures of 8.6l/100km but we were closer to 11l/100km during our week with the Fortuner. Warranty is for three years or 100,000km with capped price servicing for the first three years or 60,000km.
The Fortuner is not alone in this ute-turned SUV market with competitors including the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed (from $52,750), the Holden Colorado 7 LTZ (from $51,490), Isuzu MU-X LS-T (from $53,500) and Ford Everest Titanium (from $76,990).
The Fortuner is an able family carrier whether on or off the bitumen.
We liked the air-conditioned drinks box and the grab handles that allow for easy entry and exit. The powered tailgate is a nice bonus too because the kids can close the boot with the touch of a button.
Some people cannot entertain the idea of a ute-based SUV, but I quite like them. True the Fortuner is no sculpted classic or head-turning sports car but it is rugged and tough and very suitable for the purpose for which it was intended.
The Fortuner is certainly an interesting proposition. It has a powerful engine, a fair bit of space and real off-road capability: all big pluses for adventurous families and those who live on acreage. It has enough
What matters most
What we liked: Powerful engine, off road ability, value for money proposition.
What we'd like to see: Third row that folds flat, less cabin noise, ditch the paddles.
Warranty and Servicing: 3 year/100,000km warranty and capped price servicing for 3 years or 60,000km.
Model: Toyota Fortuner Crusade.
Details: Five-door four-wheel-drive large ute-based SUV.
Engines: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel generating maximum power of 130kW @ 3400rpm and peak torque of 450Nm @ 1600 - 2400rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 8.6 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on roads: from $61,990 (entry GX from $47,990).