While the Fortuner is the most obvious rugged off-roader in the Toyota stable, you might not have considered the manual gearbox. Perhaps you should.
The question of why you’d buy a 2018 Toyota Fortuner GX isn’t at issue here and now. Rather, why would you buy the 2018 Toyota Fortuner GX with a manual transmission? The price is probably the easiest answer, which we’ll get to in a minute.
You’re a tough as nails off-roader? Well, you’d also need to be happy knowing that your mates in automatic 4WDs are going to be more capable and more effortless in the rough stuff too, so your ego had better not be fragile. The good news is that if you’re buying one just because you love manual gearboxes, the Fortuner has one of the better examples in the rough and tumble off-road world of ‘proper’ 4WDs.
That surprised us too, so let’s get down to it.
On that subject of price, the Toyota Fortuner GX starts from $42,590 before on-road costs. Next up, there’s the GXL, which starts from $47,490, and lastly the Crusade (auto), which starts from $56,990. That’s a sensible and broad model spread across the range, with the GX appealing to the buyer on a tighter budget who might – heaven forbid – actually want to take it off-road.
Strangely, the Fortuner shares an engine with both the HiLux and Prado – not so strange in the case of the HiLux with which it has plenty in common, but in the face of competition that would warrant a V6 under the Prado’s bonnet, you could see the Fortuner being the interim step.
The top of the range Fortuner is a stretch, when you consider you’re already in Prado territory price-wise near 60 grand. While the Fortuner platform is familiar to HiLux owners, there is of course a coil-spring rear end in place of the more rudimentary leaf-spring rear end of the HiLux. The manual Fortuner tested here will tow 3000kg against the auto’s 2800kg.
Under the Fortuner’s, ahem, sharp snout, there’s the familiar 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, but instead of the automatics we’re so used to testing, there’s a manual here. There’s 130kW at 3400rpm and 420Nm between a low 1200rpm and 2600rpm, and the ADR fuel claim is just 7.8L/100km. On test, largely around town, we averaged 10.5L/100km in a vehicle that wasn’t even properly run in yet, so expect that figure to drop into the high nines quite easily – as we see with most Toyota 2.8-litre engines.
Standard equipment for this base model includes: 17-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, LED tail-lights, cruise control, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, seven seats, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, cloth trim and rubber floor mats. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which again begs the question why Toyota would provide older-style infotainment systems in lieu of a dumb screen that delivered smartphone integration – especially at $40K plus.
The Fortuner’s off-road focus is catered to with 4H and 4L 4WD options as well as a locking rear diff – it’s RWD around town only. Where the Fortuner continues to surprise is the way in which it hides its commercial roots – it is, after all, largely a HiLux under the skin.
The cabin, the seating, the dash design and comfort levels all exceed the HiLux regardless of specification. There are some hard plastics and touch surfaces, but that’s par for the course on much more expensive 4WDs, let alone at this end of the pricing spectrum. You’d be more inclined to take the Fortuner bush bashing than a vastly more expensive vehicle, let’s put it that way.
Fortuner owners will probably head off-road, they will almost certainly do some touring, and that means long stints behind the wheel with partners or family in tow. The front seats are comfortable, but the base infotainment and driver’s gauges are pretty average with very little in the way of information or inherent quality.
It’s worth making the point here again – boring I know – but a screen that catered to a proper smartphone connection would be far better than the system that Toyota has employed here. The switchgear is basic but looks like it won’t fall to bits without serious abuse, and the interface between driver and vehicle feels pretty workmanlike.
All four doors have bottle holders, but our manual test vehicle doesn’t have the cupholders you’ll find in automatic Fortuners. There’s also a USB and 12V socket up front. The centre console bin is devoid of padding, meaning your elbow will have frequent arguments with it – especially off-road.
You’ll find with the third-row seats folded up and out to the windows – like the 100 Series used to a lifetime ago – rear visibility for the driver is impeded, and you’d be far better off with a system that folded down into the floor. Forward visibility is excellent, though, and there’s storage for a smartphone ahead of the shifter, but not much other useful storage, with small door pockets and a small centre console bin. There’s only one 12V socket and one USB socket as well.
There’s more than enough room for family buyers in the second row, but again only a 12V socket and no air vents. If you plan on taking the billy lids out on longer touring trips, for example, this could be a factor because they are going to want airflow on a hot day and power for their various devices.
There are two ISOFIX mounts in the second row and three top-tether points as well, and while there’s a broad enough second row, the seat base is a little on the high side, cutting into head room for taller occupants. Leg room is okay, though, as is shoulder width.
The third-row seats should be more ‘occasional’ than ‘regular’ use for anyone older than early teens, and with those seats in use, there’s not much luggage space to speak of. With them folded up, there’s enough room for normal daily duties, but if you plan on loading the Fortuner up for a long trip and you don’t need the third row, we’d recommend taking them out permanently.
The high ride height makes loading and unloading the luggage area a little harder than it otherwise would be, and there’s not as much useable space overall as the exterior size of the Fortuner might lead you to believe either. There’s 200 litres only when the third row is in use, but 1080L with them folded up.
Why did the manual gearbox surprise us? Well, we’ve tested manuals in the HiLux and Prado, and neither were as smooth or enjoyable to operate as the Fortuner. In fact, this manual is one of the better examples I’ve tested in any rugged off-roader. The clutch pedal is beautifully weighted, the shift action is smooth enough and not too long, and it’s a ridiculously easy vehicle to drive smoothly. Some manuals get properly tiresome in heavy traffic, but not this Fortuner. You can get off the mark snappily too if you need to, and it never gets on your nerves.
The match between manual gearbox and engine is excellent too, with the 2.8 feeling like it generates its torque peak right where you need it for daily driving duties. Once up to highway speed, you can select top gear and stay there without needing to downshift unless the hill is particularly long or steep. Even then, it will need to be quite steep to require selecting a lower ratio.
You’ll be able to crawl around town in traffic in second gear most of the time too, minimising the amount of rowing you need to do on the shifter in traffic. There’s an Eco mode available, but we didn’t find it made any kind of discernible difference to fuel usage, so don’t bother with it. The brakes feel solid too, with better pedal feel than the Prado we tested back-to-back with the Fortuner.
The ride is near-perfect around town too, with the Fortuner – like its Prado brethren – floating over rubbish surfaces with consummate ease and comfort. There’s almost no register of how poor the surface is beneath the tyres, such is the competence of the suspension system. While the Fortuner comes into its own off-road – and we know that from previous testing – it’s a perfectly serviceable daily driver around town too, which is where owners will spend the majority of their time.
The Fortuner isn’t the immediate and most obvious choice for buyers who spend more time around town than they do heading off into the great unknown out of the city limits. That’s Kluger territory really in Toyota-speak. However, if you do plan on doing some exploring, there’s no reason not to have a look at the Fortuner. In fact, it surprised us so much in manual guise, we’d even suggest testing the manual and auto back-to-back before you make your decision.