Review: 2021 Toyota Fortuner 2.8 VRZ in Malaysia; as good as the Land Cruiser?
Sanjay · Mar 23, 2021 02:00 PM
Think of the 2021 Toyota Fortuner - here in top-spec 2.8 VRZ guise - and it naturally draws comparison to bigger stalwarts in the carmaker's stable. It's not uncommon for people to call it a 'baby Land Cruiser' and while in some cases that may be true, that's a tag that undercuts what the car can do.
Priced from RM 203,183 (SST-free, until 30-June 2021), it isn't exactly the cheapest car around, but boy does it put the 'sports utility' part in sports utility vehicle (SUV) to good use.
When the Fortuner first broke into the scene in 2004, it just looked like nothing but a cloned Toyota Hilux with a covered rear. Suffice to say it's come a long way since then.
Walking up to it, the first thing you'll notice is its size - it is huge. Sharing the same ladder-frame construction of its Hilux sibling, the Fortuner stands tall and wide - on the road, it'll make relatively large cars like the Proton X70 look small.
We don't think most would call it beautiful, rather 'ready' and 'rugged' are adjectives that fits the look better. Part of the charm we feel comes from the VRZ's imposing face, which completely breaks away from the rest of the line-up.
This variant trades the large grille of the other variants for a split front bumper, with a slim upper grille that features black fang-like garnishing sitting in between its quad-beam LED headlights.
Other than the front, the design is undramatic. Smooth lines flow into the sides, culminating into a simple rear end.
We're glad however that Toyota has hopped on the dual-tone bandwagon and now give buyers the option to specify a black roof on the Fortuner. It's an option that complements the chunky 18-inch wheels really well and I think it lends the car extra visual character.
Bringing the conversation to a more objective note, paint quality is consistent and good (averaging in the hundreds of micrometers). Panel fitment consistency is average, with a maximum deviation of 1 mm.
Interior - Welcomed premium touches
Rather unsurprisingly, getting into it can be a of a challenge can be a challenge for first time buyers of proper 4x4s of this size. At least there are grab handles on either side of the A-pillars to help things along.
Matching the rugged exterior is a cabin that looks premium, but at the same time feels robust too. No creaky panels here!
As gaudy and overdone as it may sound, the red-and-black leather upholstery inside actually works. Might clash a bit if you opt for Bronze Mica Metallic exterior paint though.
Common touchpoints - such as the drinks cooler and centre console surrounds - are draped in leather as well.
Personally I find that little touches such as the marble-like finish on the gear lever surround and Fortuner badging on the rear doors ups the premiumness factor a notch.
Other good stuff we appreciate is the screen for rear-seat entertainment, air-conditioning vents for second- and third-row occupants, as well as the many different cubby spaces (most of them easily pass our big bottle test). These are things parents, for example, will appreciate.
As a whole, interior quality is great. Buttons are suitably tactile and responsive, materials feel sturdy, and you get the vibe that you can really wring the Fortuner around for years on end.
Interior - Infotainment is nice
Connecting to the headunit itself is a painless experience. The Clarion-supplied 9-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is very snappy and the screen is sharp enough, but suffers from rather bad glare under direct sunlight.
With an electronically-adjustable driver's seat and good forward visibility, even drivers accustomed to smaller cars (like me) can get used to the Fortuner pretty quick.
Aside from that, how it steers also lends more driving confidence - we'll get to that later.
At the back, second-row legroom and headroom is decent for a typical adult, but it's best you leave the third row for kids. Still, there's a curious point we'd like to bring up.
Notice the Fortuner has a black headliner. It's something commonly associated with performance cars - because it gives a cockpit-like feel - but the shade somehow makes the latter rows feel 'closed-in'. With a few people in the car, it feels much tighter than it is.
But the most irksome of all is how the third row seats don't fold flat, instead folding up towards the sides. You can see the problem now - not only does this eat into your cargo space, but they affect visibility as well, making the rear-view just that much tighter.
A better arrangement would the Ford Everest's flat-folding third-row seats, giving maximum space with minimum visibility intrusion.
It's a feature that the Isuzu MU-X has too, but that's a model that's no longer on sale here.
Another rather impractical solution is the optional wireless charger (RM 490) that saw zero use when we had the car. Placed under the centre armrest, it's very awkward to put your phone in there - because when you have it connected to the headunit, the cable will get in the way of closing the box. See the problem now?
Driving performance - The engine it deserves
Look, the VRZ costs RM 30k more than the mid-grade SRZ, and beyond the visual and kit changes, you'll also get the new 2.8-litre turbodiesel plucked straight from the Hilux Rogue:
Toyota Fortuner 2.8 VRZ specifications
2.8-litre turbodiesel, four-cylinder
204 PS @ 3,000 - 3,400 rpm
500 Nm @ 1,600 - 2,800 rpm
This new engine is very much welcomed as it fixes the pre-facelift Fortuner's problem of lacking the grunt to match its weight. The Fortuner now gets the poke it needs.
The Fortuner dispatches hits 100 km/h from a standstill in 12.8 seconds, and needs 49 meters to come to a halt from that speed.
Turbodiesel power will pull you way past three-digit speeds with a linear, smooth acceleration, making overtaking a breeze. The 6-speed automatic transmission handles the power rather well, if a little slow.
Compared to the Hilux, the Fortuner offers a more confident drive. For one, the covered rear makes it more balanced than the Hilux, which can get rather tail-happy and squirrelly under hard braking.
Like the Hilux, the Fortuner benefits from a new variable-flow control (VFC) steering pump which translates to improved maneuverability. It seems trivial, but it's a highly welcomed feature in tight spaces like car parks.
For off-roadiness, the Fortuner gets the same part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) system as the Hilux, complete with Active Traction Control (A-TRC) function.
On the handling front, the Fortuner rides jiggly thanks to its ladder frame chassis and relatively stiff suspension. You'll feel a waft you clear speed bumps and coming out of sharper corners.
Cabin insulation is alright, but there's a slight whistling noise as the car grows in speed. We recorded the cabin noise level to be 60 dB at 60 km/h, 63 dB at 90 km/h, and 68 dB at 110 km/h.
Safety systems - Works well
The Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) controls are easy to pick up and use, and the rest of the system are useful enough. Our experience with it is that it was smooth, with no real problems using it.
The blind spot monitor is not beepy, and the 360-degree camera was quite handy in judging tight spaces.
Fuel consumption - Can be improved
Based on the calculation between distance travelled and amount of fuel filled up, the Fortuner returned 13.8 litres/100 km on a journey ranging equally split between city and highway driving.
Conclusion - Worth taking a look
At the end of it all, the Fortuner is an ode to the basic tenets of SUVs - brutish four-wheel drive vehicles with oodles of space inside. Sure, other options exist, but typical SUVs can only dream about going to places where the Fortuner can.
That said, most Fortuners sold here won't ever see a mud patch. And let's face it, for some, the ladder frame construction is hardly a deterrent when compared to what the rest of the car offers.
When the truth's been told, the Fortuner more than fits your needs if you're looking for an SUV that's just as capable as the Toyota Land Cruiser - minus the hefty price.
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.