We get our hands on the updated Toyota Fortuner later this month, but before it arrives in the garage, we’re taking one last look at the entry-level 2020 Toyota Fortuner GX with a slightly different lens.
As this time, hot take, I’ll put to you that the Fortuner is underrated.
The runout Fortuner GX is priced from $45,965 before options and on-road costs. At list price (MSRP) this is $3115 less than the incoming car, plus any stock dealers are looking to clear will likely be even more sharply priced.
From here, your only option is one of six colour choices with metallics (like our car’s Graphite) attracting a $600 premium. And basically, that’s where your Fortuner should stop.
The new car has improvements to the engine and driveline and an updated infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so the price jump can be easily justified, but regardless of whether you wait for an updated one, or are looking to snag a runout Fortuner, I’d argue that low in the range is your best place to look.
As a HiLux-based wagon, the Fortuner is a car which works best as a weekend getaway machine, and in its basic form, makes so much more sense. You get the core ability of a tough and reliable off-roader, but without spending money on snazzy trim and outdated tech.
|2020 Toyota Fortuner GX|
|Engine configuration||Four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||130kW @ 3400rpm|
|Torque||450Nm @ 1600-2400rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||61.3kW/t|
|Drive||Four-wheel drive (dual range)|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle)||8.6L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||80L|
The GX isn’t as base as it once was either, the UN-spec steel wheels are now 17-inch alloys and the car even comes standard with side steps and adaptive cruise control. The ‘modern, if it was designed in the ‘80s' moon-buggy styling, isn’t handsome, but the overbite-nose and quirky rear quarter windows contribute to an almost funky look that kind of grows on you.
Before I get into why and where I think the Fortuner works well, let's deal with the elephant in the third row; the terrible – there’s no other word for it – seven-seat packaging. It’s honestly a puzzle as to why Toyota has persisted with the side-hinge third-row setup, as it has the rare honour of working poorly when the seats are in place, and being even worse when they are stowed.
For the uninitiated, the rearmost seats fold forward then flip up to be ‘hooked’ along the side of the car, all but totally obscuring your rear quarter vision. For mine, it’s easier and more practical to drive with them flipped forward so that the boot space (200-litres / 716-litres / 1080-litres) is still functional.
I understand the flexibility benefits of having a seven-seater, but the compromises made to the load bay in terms of storage and visibility when the rear-most jump seats are folded and manually hooked to the side of the car is the Fortuner’s biggest flaw.
Luckily, the seats can be removed with a 14mm spanner and a bit of patience. Worth noting that plenty have gone before you, and there are some great step-by-step guides online, though rules around doing so can vary by state. With the space freed up, weight saved (probably close to 30kg with both seats out), and rear quarter vision restored.
|2020 Toyota Fortuner GX|
|Entry angle / departure angle||30 degrees / 25 degrees|
|Boot volume (min/max)||200L / 716L / 1080L|
|Towing capacity (braked/unbraked)||750kg / 2800kg|
|Tare mass||2095 kg|
|Wheels/tyres||17-inch / 265/65 R17 Yokohama Geolander AT|
With that issue solved, what’s the rest of the Fortuner like?
The 7.0-inch media system is very basic and the screen itself quite hard to use. This generation of Toyota software isn’t intuitive or user friendly, and there is no integrated navigation, smartphone projection or digital radio. If this is a deal-breaker for you, hang out for the new car as it receives a new 8.0-inch system which as noted above, supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
That said, the six-speaker sound system in the current car is still quite good, Bluetooth audio streaming works just fine, and the audio controls on the steering wheel are ergonomically functional.
There are a USB and 12-volt outlet in the dash and another 12-volt between the front seats. You get a phone storage tray under the center stack, but the cover for the cup-holders flips up and covers access to this, so ah, don’t pop a coffee in there if you need to get your phone or keys in a hurry.
It’s little things like this that really make me wonder if the Fortuner skipped ‘usability testing’ day. Strange head-shake moments, let's not even start on the giant remote door-unlock ‘plipper’ and separate key, that are countered with well-designed and useful additions like the twin gloveboxes.
The rest of the cabin works well, if you like purple.
Not everyone loves the burgundy-brown seats (I don’t mind them), but they are comfortable and there is reasonable room in the second row (assuming you aren't making legroom allowances for anyone in the back-back). There is a central armrest and roof-mounted vents for comfort, but not much else. Again, treat the Fortuner as a low-frills adventure wagon and the ergonomic and design shortcomings play a much lower role that the rugged hardware underneath.
Powered by Toyota’s venerable 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, the runout car has 130kW and 450Nm available, both of which are improved (150kW/500Nm) on the new car. Where this engine feels small and underpowered in the LandCruiser Prado, the 2095kg Fortuner (about 200kg less than the Prado) manages well enough.
Response on the highway is decent, with the low peak torque band (1600-2400rpm) giving you enough oomph to manage overtaking as well as comfortable 100km/h cruising. It is tractable in town too, and most importantly, quite economical.
Toyota claims 8.6L/100km for a combined cycle and we were never far from that. A day of touring and low-range off-roading, which are opposite ends of the fuel-use scale, resulted in an average of 10L/100km. The 80-litre tank promising a stop-free cruise between Melbourne and Sydney as a benchmark indication of touring range.
As noted earlier, the GX includes adaptive cruise control and speed limit recognition, meaning adjusting from 100-to-80 and back again as you travel through changing zones is easy and ergonomic, by using the stalk on the steering wheel.
|2020 Toyota Fortuner GX|
|Options as tested||$600|
|Warranty||5years / unlimited km|
Ride comfort while touring is good, especially considering the ladder-frame chassis setup, and while you do tend to feel that longitudinal ‘rocking’ inherent with a more stiffly sprung off-roader, it's certainly more comfortable than a HiLux, particularly in the back, over the same stretch of road.
The thing is though, as decent a tourer as the Fortuner is, it’s the capability it has once you leave the highway where it really shines.
You can slip into high range 4WD while on the move thanks to the rotary switch on the dash. Stop the car, pop it in neutral and engage low-range, and even throw the diff lock on while you’re at it, and the Fortuner is pretty unstoppable, even in standard form.
Mild-duty trails can basically be covered in high-range, with the Yokohama Geolander AT tyres well suited to muddy and rocky-clay surfaces.
With Miss 11 and a friend on board, we engaged on some device-free adventuring up steep fire trails in the Toolangi State Forest, and the Fortuner boldly went forth, even as the incline surpassed 30-degrees. There’s enough power, response and agility to work through moderately challenging off-road obstacles by using the car’s standard hardware.
Bouncing over uneven terrain is the Fortuner’s forte, with squeals of delight from my pint-sized companions cheerfully drowning out the ‘tap’, ‘tap’, ‘tap’ of the comically oversized remote key fob bashing against the steering column each time we bounded ahead.
It’s very capable going up, and just the same going down, but the lack of an automated hill-descent control function on the GX puts the responsibility and management of traversing a steep decline back on the driver. You can lock the rear differential to better control traction, but it’s a strange exclusion given other Fortuner and HiLux models have this.
This is what the Fortuner was meant for, and in this environment, it is an absolute beast. As a $40k-ish truck, totally out of the box, it handles some pretty gnarly trails. Stop trying to consider this as a Prado alternative, and forget paying over $60k; Toyota should simply push the Fortuner as an affordable off-road lifestyle machine.
Fun over, and the Toyota switches back to comfortable and efficient tourer to head back to town and re-engage with urban life as easily as if you had never left.
As per the Toyota diesel playbook, the Fortuner has 6-month (10,000km) service intervals and a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty. While each service in the first 3-year period is capped at $250 (for a total of $1500), subsequent services go up to an average of $500 with visits to Dr Toyota running to a total of $3537 for a five-year or 100,000km run.
The new car, with more power, better tech and a fatter price tag, answers some of the issues we’ve had with the HiLux-based wagon since it launched in 2015, but while the Fortuner’s packaging issues haven’t been addressed, there’s plenty of capability to like even in the runout model.
I maintain that Toyota should take more of a light-hearted approach to the Fortuner, by slapping on some retro-inspired decals and reviving the ‘4Runner’ or ‘HiLux Surf’ nameplates, even if only by way of a special-edition or trim-level.
As at its core, the Fortuner is a very capable go everywhere machine. The get-in-and-go nature of the proven Toyota hardware, generous off-road equipment and 1990’s future-inspired design makes this a hard-working weekend warrior, ideally with five-seats and a boot.
Some of the exclusions feel like unnecessary penny pinching (looking at you again, ridiculous key fob), but use that as a negotiation point with the dealer to perhaps drive even sharper value.