Press the PWR button though, and the response becomes sharper and the changes of the six-speed automatic box faster.
Calling the Toyota Fortuner a South African institution probably rates as something of an understatement given how it has made the body-on-frame SUV segment its own over nearly two decades.
While it remains open to debate why Toyota never felt the need to bring the immortal, and darling of the grey market import scene, Hilux Surf/4Runner to South Africa during the SUV boom of the 1990s, the locally built Fortuner has rated as the default option in a fashion similar to not only the Hilux, but also the Corolla with sales often eclipsing those of the latter by a healthy margin.
As dramatic has the revealing of the current second generation was five years ago, the unveiling of the facelift model earlier this year attracted arguably more interest as it coincided with the debut of the heavily updated Hilux on which it is based, and a more potent version of the 2.8 GD-6 turbodiesel engine.
Well before the wraps were taken off though, an extensive model reshuffle not only saw the end of the 4.0-litre V6 petrol model, but also the six-speed manual gearbox on the 2.8 GD-6 and the return of the Epic nomenclature that last featured in 2014. Destined to spawn more special editions until the refreshed model arrives, the Epic that arrived for the weeklong stay came in the form of the new range-topping model, the Epic Black.
Compared to the now discontinued ‘regular’ Fortuner, the additions to the Epic are mostly cosmetic and includes a new front skidplate, side steps and an Epic branded nudge bar and tow bar while the Black ups the ante by receiving murdered-out 18-inch alloy wheels, black mirror caps and roof rails, and its most prominent feature, a Glacier White paint finish contrasted by a black roof.
As small as the tweaks have been, the Fortuner, arguably, looks even more imposing than it already was as the addition of the black elements adds a certain type of machoism to a package already hugely improved from the original.
The switch from ‘standard’ to ‘Epic’ meets with far less enthusiasm though on the inside. Despite the inclusion of black leather upholstery and Epic branded floor mats and door sills, the brown leather on the doors won’t be to everyone’s taste, while the imitation wood on the centre console appears downright nasty and feels cheap. It is somewhat of a disappoint as the texture of the materials are generally plush and the design of the cabin tidy with lots of leather surfaces, decent plastics and piano key black detailing.
Upgraded last year, the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system still looks outdated in the graphics department and while it appears neatly integrated into the facia, some of the on-screen icons are still too small. Worth noting though is that it now comes with satellite navigation as standard along with Bluetooth, USB and the Toyota Connect in-car Wi-Fi with complimentary 15GB data bundle, but still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The biggest point of content with the Fortuner though is an all too familiar one and involves the third row of the seven-seat arrangement. While easy to fold up and down, the latching on the walls of the C-pillar robs the boot of side space with the mounts on the floor likely to impede the moving of bulkier items even more. With all seven seats up, the boot is humongous but on the downside, accessing this takes a while due to the painfully slow opening electric tailgate.
On the flip side, head and legroom for those seated in the second row is sufficient although the mentioned third row will be a bit of a squeeze for taller passengers. On the specification front, the Black boasts dual-zone climate control, LED headlights as well as daytime running diodes, an electric driver’s seat and reverse camera, keyless entry, electric mirrors, push-button start, Down Assist Control, a 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster display and cruise control still activated by the rather awkward looking stalk protruding from the steering column.
Press the start button, the 2.8 GD-6 engine fires-up with a rather agricultural soundtrack that always lingers, even when on the open road. However, the 130kW/450Nm it produces is more than adequate and comes in a linear fashion rather than in one single lump.
Press the unassuming PWR button though, and the response becomes sharper and the changes of the six-speed automatic box faster. In ‘everyday mode’, the tranny is relatively slick, but under sudden acceleration, becomes a tad flustered and would change down to the detriment of the revs soaring. Fortunately, and for going off-road, gear shift paddles are provided.
On the road, the Fortuner’s Hilux underpinnings stood up well to the various imperfections and broken surfaces, without sacrificing too much comfort. Throughout the seven days, which consisted of running errands, a spell of highway driving and a bit of off-road, which didn’t require the use of the low-range ‘box, the Fortuner recorded a best consumption figure of 10.6 L/100 km, well off of Toyota’s 8.6 L/100 km claim, but still impressive for a vehicle of this kind.
As crude as it might sound, the Fortuner, despite worthwhile opposition from the Ford Everest and to a lesser extent, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Isuzu MU-X, appears unlikely to be knocked off of its throne anytime soon, even before the updated model touches down. With a price tag of R753 900, the Epic Black bolsters an already accomplished package, but if the two-tone effect and exterior trimmings are not needed, and four-wheel-drive not required either, then consider the standard Epic at R80 700 less.
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