Buyers after a rough-and-tumble off-roader with seven seats have plenty of options to choose from, and in the Toyota stable there are a few models that tick those boxes, too.
Here is one of them – the most affordable of the bunch – the 2017 Toyota Fortuner, which starts from just $47,990 (all prices plus on-road costs). But that’s not what you’ll be paying if you’re looking at the version on test here, the Toyota Fortuner Crusade, which is a $61,990 proposition.
For that sort of money you might also consider a low-spec LandCruiser Prado. Or, if you’re not actually going to venture off the beaten track, then you might think about the Kluger – unless you’re dead-set keen on diesel power.
So, being the top-spec model you’d expect it would come loaded with kit – and the truth is that it’s not quite as flush for gear as you may expect at that price point.
You get niceties over the GX and GXL models including leather trim, LED daytime lights, brilliant Bi-LED headlights that are fantastic for those who do a lot of night driving, and LED rear lights, as well as 18-inch wheels with highway rated tyres (Dunlop Grandtrek PT 265/60) rather than the 17-inch alloys or steelies of the lower-grade models, which have all-terrain rubber fitted.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen media system is better than the lower-spec cars, too, with in-built satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio reception, but it still doesn’t have the latest in-car connectivity by way of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirroring tech.
It has a single USB port, as well as Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, but as we’ve found with numerous Toyota products in the past, the system is frustrating in that it won’t allow you to dial contacts or use the keypad at speed, which makes it impossible to check your messages, for example. You can’t use the navigation while the car is moving – another dumb blocking function, we reckon – but the screen is quick to connect and reconnect to your phone.
The Toyota misses a lot of the safety equipment you can find on high-spec versions of its competitors. For instance, you don’t get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assistance, surround-view camera, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking or digital speed readout. You can get some or all of those items on the range-topping versions of the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Holden Trailblazer, both of which are about $9000 less!
Heck, you don’t even get an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and there are no front parking sensors—even on this $60K model. There are seven airbags, with dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee coverage.
Dive a little deeper and you find even more shortcomings: there’s no dual-zone climate control up front, and no seat heaters, either. The driver’s seat has electric adjustment, but no lumbar adjust, and the passenger’s is manually adjustable.
That said, it’s not bare bones. There’s push-button start, keyless entry, auto up/down windows all around, a heated and cooled drink compartment and ventilation to all three rows – the second-row includes a fan and temperature controller for the back vents, too.
The rearmost seats fold upwards and latch on to the wall/headlining of the car, meaning you can never use the full width of the boot – and we noticed they would rattle on almost all surfaces, too. When you fold them down they latch on to the floor, and with the second row folded you’ve got good space, but those third-row seats are still present in the periphery. A simpler floor-mount boot layout for the seats, like that seen in the Colorado or, you know, almost any other seven-seat SUV out there.
The Crusade’s boot features electric opening and closing, though you’d want the weather to be fine when you’re using that function, because it’s one of the slowest examples we’ve sampled. The space on offer is 200 litres with all seven seats in place, or a much more usable 716L with the back seats out of the way.
The space in the third row is fine for younger people or smaller adults, but taller occupants may find themselves a little cramped, with little headroom available.
The second row slides fore and aft to allow better space if it’s needed (you don’t get that in the Mitsubishi) and while the room is fine for adults, taller people might feel a little hemmed in.
The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine is the same seen in the Prado and HiLux ute (upon which the Fortuner is based), with 130kW of power at 3400rpm and 450Nm of torque at 1600rpm when fitted with the six-speed automatic gearbox as our version was.
There’s a six-speed manual that offers a little less torque, with 420Nm, but it could be a big plus for some buyers to be able to get a manual transmission in the high-spec variant: you can’t do that with the flagship versions of the Pajero Sport or Trailblazer.
The Fortuner’s engine is strong from low in the rev range, pulling faithfully up to about 3500rpm before starting to run out of grunt. It has a touch of lag before the torque kicks in, but it isn’t short of torque in any situation, though it can be a bit vocal at higher revs. Toyota claims fuel use of 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres – we saw 9.3L/100km across highway, urban, country and off-road driving – and there’s an 80L fuel tank to ensure plenty of range.
The six-speed automatic means you might hear it at higher revs more often than you’d expect. That’s due to the gearbox’s grade logic control, which can be quite aggressive in its downshifts to maintain speed down hills. The transmission is smooth shifting and smart in almost every situation, however.
What isn’t so smooth is the suspension: the multi-link rear suspension is the main culprit, with a terse ride at low speeds over sharp bumps. Indeed it can be quite busy and choppy on country roads where others would coast over bumps. That said, when the road is smooth – like on the freeway – it’s quite comfortable, and while the steering is a bit heavy at low speeds, it is trusty and accurate.
But if you’re buying one of these instead of a Kluger, you could probably justify the ride harshness because it is super-capable off road. It’s also super uncomfortable off road, but that could have had something to do with the 18s, rather than 17s.
The switchable four-wheel-drive selector is simple to use and quick in its operation, and the locking rear differential – which is fitted to every Fortuner – means that if you start to scramble for traction, you have a little bit of peace of mind at your fingertips.
We had one such experience testing the Fortuner, where the front axle had decent purchase but the rear was spinning up. I reversed back a few metres, hit the diff lock button, and while the dash icon flashed away as though it wasn’t locked, it soon proved its worth as the SUV went from scrabbling for grip to scurrying up the steep, slippery slope without hassle.
There’s 225 millimetres of ground clearance, so you can get pretty far off the beaten track with it, and the approach and departure angles (30 degrees and 25 degrees, respectively) mean you’re unlikely to touch down when ramping up or out of trouble.
The Fortuner requires maintenance every six months or 10,000 kilometres, whichever occurs first. That’s fairly overkill, but at least the maintenance is capped at $240 per visit for the first three years/60,000km. There’s a three-year/100,000km warranty, but no roadside assist.
You may have already guessed this, but the 2017 Toyota Fortuner Crusade isn’t the model we’d choose in the range. Try as it might, it isn’t luxurious in this spec, so you’d be much better off buying a lower-spec model.
It’ll still be super capable off road, still have a strong diesel engine, and while it may not have sat-nav, we reckon the $300 on a decent GPS with off-road maps could be a much easier pill to swallow than the extra cost of the Crusade variant.