Tuned up: Why the Toyota Fortuner is South Africa’s most loved SUV
Some thirty years ago, there were already signs that the normal three-box family sedan would soon meet its match as more and more people started gravitating towards a new type of niche automobile known as the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).
At the forefront of this rapidly moving trend, the Toyota Land Cruiser had carved out a niche for itself as one the originals which culminated in it being described as the king of Africa and Australia for its reliability and durability in some of the harshest terrain on earth.
By 1980, the Land Cruiser had grown substantially over the original, gained more power and became more expensive, which put it out of the average buyer’s price range. The desire to have something smaller but just as robust, resulted in the creation of the Hilux Surf three years later.
Sporting an enclosed rear body and based on the very pick-up that shares its name, the Surf, also known as the 4Runner in the States and Australia, became one of the vehicles at the centre of the SUV boom in the early 90s as sales and popularity skyrocketed.
With each passing generation, it became more luxurious and technology driven, yet continues to amass a loyal following to this day.
In spite of its international sales success, the 4Runner / Hilux Surf remained forbidden fruit for South Africans despite the use of Hilux running gear and rising popularity of SUV’s.
At the time, Toyota fielded three SUV’s; the compact RAV4, Land Cruiser Prado which, although using Hilux engines and sporting eight seats, was viewed as a more upmarket off-roader, and the Land Cruiser 100 which was already retailing at close to half-a-million rand.
Not long after the turn of the century, Toyota had started development of a global vehicle platform, known as Innovative Multi-Purpose Vehicle (IMV), with the aim of introducing five different models on a single platform.
In mid-2006, the first IMV result made its local debut in the form of the seven-seater Fortuner SUV, a vehicle which not only served as the 4Runner / Hilux Surf’s spiritual doppelganger in South Africa, but turned the new vehicle market completely on its head.
With sales regularly exceeding 1 000 units a month, the Hilux-based Fortuner became the country’s best selling SUV month after month and year after year – a position it still holds today.
Having always been a massive 4Runner / Hilux Surf fan, and following brief encounters with both diesel and petrol models, I had a rough idea of what to expect when a Glacier White Fortuner 3.0 D4-D RB Raider 4x2 auto arrived for testing.
A mid-life facelift in 2012 saw it receiving a range of cosmetic tweaks, which included new headlights, chrome grille, clear rear taillights, electric mirrors with integrated indicators and new alloy wheels. Optional extras fitted comprised of the nudgebar, chrome sidesteps and towbar.
As with the Hilux, the biggest change was left for the interior with fitment of a new touchscreen infotainment system. Our test model also came fitted with a black leather interior, as opposed to the previous beige hue, and spotted optional red stitching on the seats and door cards.
Interior build quality mirrors that of the Hilux and feels unashamedly robust but solid, with all of the switches feeling chunky and well put together. Standard spec includes Bluetooth with USB / aux input, electric windows all around, rear passenger air-conditioning controls, diff-lock, reverse camera, six airbags, ABS with EBD, VSC and BAS, cruise control and steering mounted audio controls.
Although automatic transmissions have never tickled my fancy, we specifically asked for a self-shifter due to a recent spike in popularity. Mated to Toyota’s trusty 3.0 D4-D turbodiesel engine, the four-speed auto proved to be slick without the sudden kick-down each time a cog got dropped. Likewise, the use of a Multilink rear suspension made for a comfortable ride-setup with noise levels only being offset by a smile each time a prod at the accelerator brought the turbo whine to life.
Its introduction might have been a gamble, but the results delivered by the Toyota Fortuner, have been nothing short of spectacular. With all the usual traits that made the Hilux the country’s best-selling new vehicle annually since 1998, the Fortuner’s ranking as South Africa’s top selling SUV comes as no surprise.
To book a test drive, visit Algoa Toyota Newton Park at 347 Cape Road, Port Elizabeth, or contact them on 041 111 0020.
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