Based on the Toyota Hilux pick-up, the Toyota Fortuner is an affordable Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that has always charmed our writer, Peter Mutimba. Below, he shares his expereince after test-driving a face-lifted 2012 version.
The first time I saw this car, I was deeply impressed by its character. It does not look like the old one you have seen for a while, and there is a reason for that. This is the 2012 version. A face-lifted, beefed up model with a 3.0 litre straight four diesel engine. Toyota built the first one from scratch, so they have carried on the lessons to this one.
Now the use of the word character might seem odd, so let me attempt an explanation. If you think about it, how many machines can suffer the kind of abuse we subject cars to, and still manage to serve faithfully?
Children, overloading, horrible singing, the ever present clouds of dust, children, mud, petulance, boda bodas and children. And then there is that neighbour that slams your door with a brain rattling crash every time you give them a ride….Patrick, I am looking at you. Also, at one time or other, someone will give birth in the back seat, yes. Really!
Character and presence
They take this, day in, day out for years. They never go on strike or walk away from you in disgust. Now try asking your phone, or your precious iPad to take that kind of abuse. It will rise up in revolt, break up with your girlfriend, and send threatening messages to your friends. Then it will break into your house and eat your children for good measure.
This brings me back to my first point. Cars have character. Well, not all of them. Some are forgettable in every sense of the word. But this new Fortuner definitely has character. There is a certain presence about it.
I could not decide: Rugged or stylish. I will go for a balance between both. It is like a wrestler in a three piece suit. It makes a statement. I was reminded strongly of the G Class AMG.
This car is of a very solid build quality. You notice as you get in, that it is built to take any kind of mistreatment you throw at it. The doors close with a very gratifying thud. The seats are comfortable, yet unmistakably solid.
The space inside has been cleverly utilised because it appears to cocoon you in a protective shell. You have airbags front and side, an anti-lock brakes system (a story for another day), a reverse camera for parking assist and a host of safety features. You get a very definite feeling you’re safe in this thing. You know that if something goes wrong it is not going to mince you.
Edwin Muhumuza, the sales analyst at Toyota Uganda refers to it as a utility vehicle that attracts mainly corporate clientele. I can see why. This is a no nonsense 4x4 that does exactly what you ask it to do. Let me give you an example. The first time you step the accelerator, nothing prepares you for the way it propels you forward.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I drive a 1994 Hilux. Powerful pickup, but at times you have to coax it a bit to get the kind of power you want. The Fortuner would eat it for breakfast. Experience and common sense made me jump off the power almost immediately. This is an Olympic sprinter getting off the blocks with purpose.
On the road
Once you get used to the responsiveness of the engine however, it becomes highly entertaining. The Fortuner is the kind of car that encourages you to mash the accelerator to the floor. It is stable, balanced and you do not get that uncomfortable feeling that if you go any faster you might fly. You have confidence going into corners.
And once you are done playing with all the buttons on it and decide to do some actual driving, the steering wheel is pretty responsive. You get loads of grip from those massive tyres, and you have to push really hard if you want it to misbehave. There is more too.
The engine produces some glorious symphonies. You may have to turn off the air conditioner and the radio if you want to listen to it, because the engine is very quiet. But by my goodness, that low sounding growl is immensely gratifying. It is almost hypnotic. Basically, if you enjoy driving, you will be looking for a good straight to unleash the monster. It is immense fun.
I could talk about the Fortuner’s shock absorbers: Something called an independent double wishbone suspension, but every time I try to explain this concept, someone goes to sleep. But here is the gist. It is really good. The potholes will not break your back, and if a hump materialises out of thin air, you will not need a new spine. I am deeply impressed. It is fast, safe, practical, exciting, reasonably priced and the ride is comfortable. For $59,000 (about Shs148m), Toyota Uganda gives you a car on the road with 1,000km service and two year membership to Automobile Association of Uganda (including free roadside assistance such as towing).