Fresh from the gritty streets of Bangkok is Toyota’s tough seven-seater SUV derived from the Hilux pickup.
STORY DAVID TING PHOTOS ZAPHS ZHANG ART DIRECTION MICHAEL CHIAN
THAILAND loves pickups, especially those under one million baht and with a onetonne payload. One of the most loved is the Toyota Hilux, a consistent bestseller in the Land of Smiles. Another popular vehicle that makes Siamese motorists smile even more is the Fortuner, an SUV derivative of the Hilux that’s like a much cheaper Thai Land Cruiser.
The second-generation Fortuner arrives after the very first units of the original model, which made its Singapore debut in 2005, have reached the end of their COE lifespan.
The SUV segment has changed a lot in the past decade, with crossovers now all over the place. In the local context, the parallel-import Harrier is the reigning emperor of Toyota SUVs, while Lexus has two swanky new SUVs strutting their stuff – the NX and RX, available in various flavours. All these sushi cars made in Japan are more sophisticated than this mango sticky rice SUV built in Thailand.
Casting a larger shadow on the latest Fortuner’s place in the island sun is the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS), which levies a $30,000 surcharge on the newcomer because of its high CO2 emission.
This pushes its price to almost $200,000 in Singapore, which could have bought a pair of Fortuners 11 years ago.
The new Fortuner also costs $30k more than the RAV4 (updated model reviewed on pg 68), when it should have been around the same price instead.
What you get for the S$ equivalent of 4.8 million baht is a deluxe Hilux that seats up to seven people, parks them high within the “double cab” cabin and provides the comforts needed by city dwellers.
The Fortuner looks both robust and august, with styling that’s high-luxe instead of Hilux. The theme for the exterior is “Tough and Cool”, and the execution appears to be successful.
The design strikes a decent balance between countryside toughness (butch front end, ample ground clearance, big 265/60 R18 all-terrain tyres under extended fenders) and downtown coolness (LED lamps, neat chrome appliques, nice new colours of Phantom Brown and Nebula Blue).
The interior design theme is “Tough and Gorgeous” – like a transgender kickboxer, I guess.
The apparently gorgeous parts are the chamois-coloured leather upholstery, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, attractive/ informative instrument cluster and the useful/colourful 8-inch infotainment system.
The less gorgeous parts include hard plastics everywhere, some hidden behind thin leather trim; flimsy cupholder-drawers and sunglass holder, a tacky (but interesting) zippered gaiter for the handbrake, and drab carpets.
There’s also a question mark over the Fortuner’s standard equipment. The driver’s seat has eight-way power adjustment, but doesn’t have a memory setting. The cabin has keyless entry, but only the front door handles have the necessary pushbuttons. There’s no cruise control function, but there are pointless paddle-shifters. The infotainment is up-to-the- minute, but takes about half a minute to initialise.
And the cabin needs two more pillar-mounted assist grips, for the rear passengers.
Beyond question, however, is the cabin space. In “tourist room” terms, the Fortuner is like a threestar hotel in the first row, a triplesharing motel in the second row and a backpacker hostel in the third row. But every row gets fivestar air-conditioning, thanks to highly eff ective blowers overhead.
Climb aboard to drive a “double-decker” seven-seater with amazing airconditioning that can beat the worst of Bangkok heat.
Roomy but bouncy, adequately insulated but exhaust buzz can intrude; second-row seats are wide enough for three adults.
The pair of jump-seats right at the back are rudimentary, but deploying or stowing them (against the D-pillar windows) is no trouble, and sitting on them is not torture, at least for 1.75m tall me.
Driving the Fortuner can be quite torturous, though. Its 2.7-litre petrol 4-cylinder starts up like a premium pickup and idles like a very refined diesel engine. On the go, the motor seems to generate more noise than juice and the gearbox shifts its gears like an unhappy farmer tills his land. There’s a Power button, but it makes a negligible difference in terms of, uh, power.
The 6-speed transmission allows manual override via its lever and paddles, and even lets each gear hang around at the 5600rpm redline, but this capability is as silly as bringing spiked track shoes to a muddy dirt track.
Speaking of mud, the Fortuner is no longer a 4x4 soldier of fortune, having ditched its predecessor’s low-ratios transfer case. But it still has a heavyduty ladder-frame structure (“with rigidity increased to the limit”, according to the press info) and a rear differential lock (which also disables the traction aids to prepare for off -road manoeuvres), so this truck probably won’t get stuck in muck.
Too bad it rides like a truck, albeit a plushy one. Over rough patches of tarmac, the chassis jiggles, the body wobbles, and the bodies on board might jiggle and wobble, too. Every road bump on your usual commute is experienced anew. And the low-geared steering is as ambiguous as a fortune cookie message, written by a “Chinese helicopter” with a sense of humour.
Whichever way the Fortuner cookie crumbles in Singapore, let me cook up some words of wisdom contained within said wafer on wheels: “Fortune favours the brave, misfortune follows the fearful, but enjoy this tough Thai cookie anyway.”