Toyota has finally given Indian buyers what they have been wanting for some years. The Fortuner is Toyota’s sports utility vehicle (SUV) based on its innovative international multi-purpose vehicle (IMV) project platform, which has also spawned the Innova. The Fortuner drives into India four years after its global debut: India was always meant to get it, but the launch was delayed since Toyota couldn’t initially decide whether to import it fully built or assemble it locally.
Well, now the recently upgraded Fortuner is being assembled at Toyota’s Bidadi plant outside Bangalore. This helps keep the price relatively in check. It also starts off with 30% local content, which will be increased gradually. This results in an extremely aggressive price tag of Rs18.45 lakh in Delhi. And that, frankly, is the big story for me—more than the product. I’ll explain why.
The Fortuner is a rugged, masculine hulk—everything an SUV is meant to be. So it has the proportions, the height, the technology and the brute power to go with it. It is powered by a 3l common rail diesel engine which belts out 168 bhp and 343 Nm of torque. The only transmission option is a five-speed manual and it also has an all-time four-wheel drive standard. The Fortuner’s performance is pretty satisfying. Its initial pickup has the grunt you expect, the cruising is pleasurable, the gear shifts smooth, and while the handling is not the best in class, it’s acceptable. Disc brakes in the rear would have been a good idea, but Toyota has opted for drums to help keep costs in check.
Toyota has offered what it believes are the necessary attributes of a true-blue SUV. It’s a no-nonsense approach— and one that may go down well with buyers in India because of the attractive pricing. These are the very points that expose the weaknesses of rival SUVs. Think premium SUV in India and the mind races to the more expensive Honda CR-V. The soft-roader has in many ways established the segment benchmark. Chevrolet’s Captiva has done well to take on the CR-V, thanks to a diesel engine, but it too has settled at around 200 units per month. The Mitsubishi Outlander followed and was quickly forgotten.
The main point is that these are all built on a monocoque frame, which means the body and drivetrain are supported by the same understructure. Typical SUVs have traditionally not been monocoque, and it is the same with the Fortuner. This is why its only serious competitor in the true sense is the Ford Endeavour, which is built on a pickup platform. This means that like the Endeavour, the Fortuner too has some body roll that creeps into the handling. The Fortuner is not as slick as the CR-V when it comes to cabin finish or comfort but overall, the beige cabin is typically Toyota. An in-dash music system, climate control and dual airbags are standard. There is three-row seating with AC vents at the back, though the third row is best suited for children. Toyota could have been brave with brighter colours, but has chosen to stay with the greys and silvers.
The company already claims to have booked almost 2,000 units. Add to that the pent-up demand in anticipation of the launch and it looks like the vehicle will be a runaway hit. After all, even buyers of cheaper SUVs and sedans such as the Honda Accord or Skoda Superb are waiting to see what the Fortuner is all about. The downside will be a possible waiting period of about four-eight weeks, depending on how many post-launch bookings Toyota gets.
The author is editor, auto, NDTV.
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