Freeway Toyota in Ormonde, Johannesburg provided me with the opportunity to test drive South Africa’s most popular SUV – the new Toyota Fortuner has shown to be the recurring choice amongst families seeking both SUV luxury and off-roading capabilities, and I was shown to the 2.8 4X4 Auto version for a trial run.

The sleek, streamlined body shape is attractive and gives the impression of sophisticated confidence in its own abilities. I personally love the way the front of the vehicle feels so familiar, yet the rear has a brand new striking shape with a more refined look that – to those unfamiliar with the Fortuner and its forerunners – pique your interests as to whether this is in fact, the ideal hybrid between a traditional utility vehicle and a luxury family van.

The gorgeous interior oozes luxury, with superior finishes and intricate stitching detail. Seats, windows and mirrors are all electronically controlled and conveniently shape to your needs; similarly, audio controls, communication devices and information display controls are situated in the steering wheel. New features mix with the standard luxuries from its forerunner – including climate control, reverse camera audio visual navigation system and 7 inch touchscreen with DVD capabilities in this variant. The boot door opens and closes at the touch of a button from the driver’s seat, and boasts an incredible amount of storage space, which expands even more with the rear seats folded down.

The engine growls to life and at take-off is wonderfully responsive. This variant has a 6-speed automatic transmission which transitions smoothly and adjusts almost intuitively to my urging. Kicking out 175 KW of power at 5000 rpm, one would assume two things: firstly, that on harsh off-road terrain this vehicle is a beast, and two, that fuel consumption would be horrific. Whilst being right on the first count, I am pleased to be informed by Mohammed Laher and his incredibly competent team, that the Fortuner averages a respectable 12 litres to every 100 kilometres. With such features as Hill Assist Control to prevent roll backs and the full scope of 4×4 capabilities, the Fortuner is more than able to hold its own in tough conditions. As for its off-roading reputation, the Fortuner holds its head high with improved torsional and bend rigidity due a redeveloped frame – this not only speaks to its off-road prowess, but also adds to the vehicles safety (which is already impressive with 7 airbags and an array of vehicle stability controls and an advanced anti-theft system).

Sitting high in the driver’s seat, I found the manoeuvring of the vehicle in and out of tough traffic to be effortless and even pleasant, with a quiet in-cabin experience and the confidence one has when reigning in a powerful engine that you could unleash when needed. The Fortuner indeed does set off with panther-like eagerness when floored, and I can only imagine that same eagerness when clawing its way up a mountain path.

Being suitably impressed with what the Fortuner has to offer, my observations were reflected back to the team at Freeway Toyota, who clearly take great pride in their fleet and handled my questions with professionalism and enthusiasm.

By Desh Pillay Bechan