Breaking free from conventions with the Toyota Fortuner

Breaking free from conventions with the Toyota Fortuner

The Toyota Fortuner is a beast. It’s a pity that so many of them that we see lurking in our cities or ploughing down the highways never be put to proper use. And by proper use, I don’t mean rolling up to the lobby of a five-star hotel, but heading out off-road. Just look at the trail it was gobbling up for its Sunday brunch — it would have left most SUVs with smashed bumpers and bruised egos. And yet, this thing just relentlessly clambered over everything.

The ordinary

I bullied my way out of town — the Fortuner’s imposing stance makes lesser vehicles scurry out of its path. It made me feel like Moses parting the Red sea. It’s a true-blue SUV — the tall bonnet, strong shoulder-line and large wheels shod with high-profile rubber adding to its stance. The steel lamps combined with the massive bumpers make it look real mean. I usually get out the way when there’s one in my rear-view mirror, but today I’m the one pushing!

“The large 2.8-litre diesel engine has solid midrange grunt and coupled with the automatic gearbox, you just have to floor it and worry about nothing else.”

Out on the highway, the Fortuner covers ground with pace. The large 2.8-litre diesel engine has solid midrange grunt and coupled with the automatic gearbox, you just have to floor it and worry about nothing else. The nose lifts and it claws in the horizon every time you get on the gas, with small bumps in the road doing nothing to faze it. You can hear the diesel engine roar, with the subdued hiss of the turbocharger working hard to help it breathe better. You’re sitting high above the road, and the commanding view ahead gives you even more confidence behind the wheel. The start of the trail I was to tackle was a good 50km out of town and the Fortuner made quick work of it.

Being behind the wheel gave me enough of a chance to explore the interiors. The Fortuner treads the fine line between utility and luxury with such ease. It’s got everything you’d want of a hardcore utility car — a chunky steering wheel, large supportive seats and grab handles on the A-pillar. You get all that while cocooned in luxury. You’ve got a feature-laden touchscreen infotainment system, climate control and, new to the mix, expensive-feeling beige leather draping the dash and the seats. It’s a world of contradictions on the inside, but it blends in so well together to give you one complete package. Fit and finish levels are everything you would expect of a Toyota. Add to that the ability to carry seven in absolute comfort — there’s very little to fault.

“You know the drill — slot the car into 4WD, raise your seat to get a better view of the outside (electrically adjustable ones on the Fortuner make this a breeze) and grip the steering wheel.”

The extraordinary

Get four wheels off the tarmac, and all the attention I was giving the insides are back outside. When you’re off-road, you need complete focus on your surroundings and lapses in concentration can prove costly, regardless of how skilled you are and how capable your SUV. You know the drill — slot the car into 4WD, raise your seat to get a better view of the outside (electrically adjustable ones on the Fortuner make this a breeze) and grip the steering wheel with your thumbs outside so they don’t snap if the ’wheel hits a rock and snaps in your hands. The trail starts off easy — just a gravel road with a few bends. Two-wheel drive would have actually sufficed, but four-wheel drive gives you additional grip and confidence.

Slowly but surely, the trail gets harder. The path disappears, and you’re left to navigate with a compass and from memory. The undulations become larger and the rocks more threatening. I shift to 4-low. Ideally, you want to have a spotter on a trail like this and today those duties are being covered by shutterbug Rohit. No matter how simple a trail looks, it is always best you walk it first so no nasty surprises catch you off-guard and there is someone outside the car keeping an eye on where your wheels are. Between clicking photos of the car in action and telling me which way to go, he regularly let rip a few expletives every time the Fortuner climbed over another seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

On the inside, things were quite the opposite. It was calm. The automatic gearbox wasn’t leaving much for me to do — just feathering the throttle and the brakes to the instructions being called out to me, and revelling in the comfort that I was surrounded in. The Fortuner is a great reminder that go-anywhere ability doesn’t need to come with compromises like a canvas roof and no infotainment. It has such an endless breadth of abilities, and you realise that when you’re using its articulation to the max while clambering through the trail.

Breaking free

Ability is one thing, but the confidence the Fortuner lends its driver to take it beyond the ordinary is what makes it special. You can have the best tools in your hand, but if you aren’t willing to use them, they are futile. The Fortuner is a tool that coaxes you to go that extra mile. It feels so solid and tied down under you, so connected to the surface when you’re tackling the tough stuff that you can push it further and consequently go beyond anything else. It’s no coincidence that the Hilux, that shares its platform with the Fortuner, is enlisted into so many armies around the world. The combination of the body-on-frame construction, torquey motor and Toyota’s bulletproof reliability make it the go-to vehicle for venturing out into the unknown. The Fortuner isn’t an SUV that will simply take you deep into the wilderness, it will also bring you back home.

As the sun approached the horizon, I approached the end of the trail. The tough bits were over and now it was a question of navigating through a sea of rocks. It is the height of summer and the lake’s water level has receded a fair bit so I had to navigate through this mess on the lake bed to make it to the camping site. Dusk turned to night and the only light I eventually had was from a tiny bonfire and the Fortuner. Thinking back to the day gone by, it’s so hard to believe that an SUV can make you feel so liberated. But that’s exactly what the Fortuner does. It frees you off the shackles. It gives you the ability to go so far beyond the ordinary that you forget ordinary exists. It gives you the confidence to stand up to the constant bludgeoning of society and live life on your own terms.

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