The kilometers buzz by in silence as we make our way down to The Farm At San Benito in Lipa for our photo shoot. Thanks to the new SLEX-STAR connector road, it’s a shorter commute than it once was, but over an hour later, we’re still stuck in provincial highway traffic. It’s no big hardship in the Toyota Fortuner, though. This is a truck that is surprisingly relaxing to drive.
Toyota supposedly did quite a bit of work upgrading the all-new Fortuner’s chassis, with reinforced shock mounts, frame rails and cross members, as well as a revised suspension setup. I’m initially skeptical of these claims, as the only visible difference upon cursory inspection are the new rear anti-roll bar and the seemingly newish subframe bushings. That said, the Fortuner does seem more settled than before.
While the tires still jiggle over high-frequency bumps, bigger body movements are well-damped, and wheel judder doesn’t directly translate into discomfort. Some credit goes to the rear antiroll bar and possibly the softer rear springs. But some of it has got to go to the chocolate-colored leather seats. They may look a bit flat, but supportive foam and good sculpting make long-distance rides bearable even over the roughest of roads. Sure, your hands and feet will be getting a workout, but your buttocks will be an island in a sea of calm. That said, with the inevitable fatigue that comes from dealing with poorly paved, tricycle-choked provincial roads, it’s a relief when we finally hit The Farm At San Benito for lunch.
While the establishment’s name might conjure up images of a Disney-esque Orwellian dystopia, the reality is more Fantasy Island. Fittingly, I’ve brought a ukulele along. Sadly, I sound nothing like Jason Mraz, and my current uke repertoire is limited to ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘I’m Yours’. I’m pretty sure the other guests were hoping to vote me off the island after the first 30 minutes of nerve-jangling music (if you can call it that).
Noisy motoring writers aside, people come to The Farm to detox, subsisting on a diet of five-star vegan food, alkaline water and energy shakes.? For the more health-conscious, the detox program—complete with massages, therapy and yoga sessions—is designed to flush all the toxins of modern life out of your system, restoring your balance and well-being, and helping you lose weight, stress and perhaps a few filthy eating habits along the way. Granted, you could do this at home with a steam bath and a fridge full of cucumbers, carrots and drinking water, but the wonderful (award- winning) ambiance and pampering aren’t as easily canned and packaged.
Exterior and interior
This brings us back to the new Fortuner, which has an ambiance all its own. On the styling front,it is a quantum leap over its predecessor. The stepped wraparound greenhouse gives it a more modern silhouette, while the taller nose evokes a feeling of power. The modern looks are punctuated by bi-LED headlights and a bone-crushing maw that thankfully stops just short of Lexus-level extroversion. The gorgeous 18-inch split-spoke wheels, wrapped in meaty 265/60 Bridgestone Duelers, are framed by square wheel wells reminiscent of the Land Cruiser. Only prettier.
On the inside, the ‘Lux Cruiser’ theme continues, with stitched leather and matte woodgrain covering every high-contact surface in the cabin. Even the upper glovebox lid is leather-padded! Behind that lid is a beverage cooler, useful for hiding canned sodas from the prying eyes of dietary counselors. The dashboard features classy Optitron gauges flanking a large four-inch digital display, while the center stack boasts a lovely seven-inch navigation-equipped touchscreen proudly set front and center.
Seating space has always been an asset for the Fortuner, and while others have gotten bigger, the Fort still holds its own in the first two rows. New ceiling-mounted A/C vents free up some elbow room for third-row occupants, but those seats are still kids-only snug. Sliding the second row all the way forward gives enough space to small adults for short commutes, but this entails some compromise in terms of second-row legroom. Back up front, in the power-adjustable driver seat (with tilt-and-telescoping steering),
I’m enjoying the meaty power delivery of the all-new 2.8-liter GD-series diesel powerplant after a day and a half of vegan living. This lighter, peppier engine is mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission. Granted, the Fort’s Mitsubishi arch- rival has two extra gears over that, but the Toyota has more low-down torque. On the highway, the Fortuner is deceptively quick. Smooth linear acceleration and seamless shifts easily mask the rate at which it picks up speed.
Selectable Power and Eco modes adjust throttle sensitivity and shifting algorithms to match your desired pace. We eventually left it in Eco, simply using the paddle shifters to deal with any overtaking situation. Unfortunately, ‘manual’ mode doesn’t allow you to lock the Fortuner in high gear while cruising. Though the vehicle will happily cruise at a mere 1,200rpm at 80kph, it kicks down into fifth gear at the slightest load or incline.
Come boogie time, the Fort doesn’t disappoint. The steering, light along the straightaway, builds weight quickly as you lean into turns. The reinforced chassis and the rear antiroll bar are most appreciated in bumpy transitions, where the rear end feels more stable and planted than in the old truck. It’s not perfect—this is still a tall, pickup- based truck. Which makes the presence of vehicle stability control and active four-wheel traction control a blessing. While I’m sad we don’t get to test the supposedly exemplary off-road abilities, in the end, this is more of an urban cruiser than an off-road warrior. Albeit one which can brave 700mm of floodwater and other road conditions that would break a crossover in half.
This newfound gentility will be an important factor in the months ahead. No longer is the midsize-SUV class a two-pony show. This year, the Fortuner will have to share the limelight with both the high-tech Montero Sport and the big bad Ford Everest. And no longer is this a war waged on the basis of brute strength or pure machismo. Buyers in this class are becoming ever more sophisticated, demanding the Zen-like luxury of an executive sedan in a high-survivability package.
I’m willing to bet that the Fortuner will be a hot seller, though probably not among the vegan crowd. It may have learned some manners to go along with its new looks, but it still tastes quite a bit like steak. (Niky Tamayo, Top Gear PH Feb. 2016)
Recommended maintenance schedule
Most modern cars are very reliable these days, with some being more idiot-proof than others. A fellow enthusiast likes to call such cars as “gas n’ go.” You put gas in the car, and you go. No doubts about whether the car will start the first time. No fears that a warning light will suddenly pop up.
1) Check the fluids every week.
Coolant, water reservoir, oil, brake fluid, power steering, automatic transmission fluid (if applicable), and the windshield washer. There should be no significant loss in any of these except the washer fluid on a week-to-week basis. If there is (for example, from full a week ago to half-full), this could indicate a leak somewhere.
Check the ground underneath the car for any telltale leaks or puddles and trace the origin (a few drops of condensation from the A/C system is normal, though). If everything’s good, you should only need to top up the washer fluid and water reservoir.
2) Follow the 5,000-7,500km maintenance schedule.
Depending on your car’s make and model, the service interval is important to your
3) Check tire pressure every week.
Tires gradually lose tire pressure after several days, but they also gain a few psi as road and tire temperature increase. These have a recommended tire pressure, taking into account your average passenger and cargo load. You’d do well to follow these guidelines (it’s usually printed on the driver’s side door panel), but one or two psi above/below the recommended won’t hurt the car and will let you tailor the ride quality to your preference.
If one full tank of gas lasts you a week, get the tire pressure checked right after you gas up, preferably while your tires are still cold in the morning. Watch out for noticeably soft tires (say, 5-10 psi below the usual), indicating a slow leak somewhere. Inspect the tire but don’t pull out the foreign object, which is usually a nail or bolt. The tire will quickly deflate if you do, and you don’t want to ruin it by running flat. Bring it to a vulcanizing shop so they can patch it up and save the tire.
4) Mind the tire rotation, alignment,
Have your tires rotated every six months or 10,000km to maintain even tread
5) Find out if you really need to have it rust-proofed.
6) Check your battery.
Depending on your usage, the battery will last anywhere from a year to two. A telltale sign that the battery is about to die is hesitation to turn over on startup. When in doubt, bring it over to a battery shop so they can check it for you.
7) Do not ignore your timing belt/chain.
This is probably the most critical item in your service manual that you don’t ever want to ignore. When this breaks, your engine will freeze and you’ll be stuck with an overhaul. The recommended replacement schedule is somewhere between 60,000-70,000km, depending on the car.
8) Know when you need a transmission overhaul/clutch replacement.
“Overhaul” is a scary word, but it’s just a routine service if you’re talking about the transmission. When your car’s gears begin to slip or refuse to engage, that’s a sign that the clutch is worn out and needs replacement. Don’t ever let a service advisor tell you that the entire transmission needs to be replaced, especially if it’s less than 100,000km old!
9) Know if you really need 95- or 98-octane gasoline.
Not really, but it helps. Unless it’s a luxury/sports car, most daily driver gasoline engines do okay with regular unleaded (93-octane), but some run better with higher grade gasoline. However, if you have a minor engine mod like an aftermarket ECU chip, some knocking may occur with 93 Octane (especially during the summer when temperatures are higher). In that case, spending several hundred pesos more for 98-octane will result in smoother operation and peace of mind.
10) Have the Italian tune-up.
Metro Manila traffic is hell on an automobile and qualifies as “extreme road conditions” because of the incessant stop-and-go that’s hard on the transmission, and the fumes ingested by the air intake. Once a week, or at least once a month, take your car to a