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The Toyota Fortuner looked like a winner the moment it entered the Philippine market in 2005.  As one of those who flew to Australia in March 2005 for its intro to 50 selected Philippine, Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian motoring journalists, I could tell that the Fortuner would score big sales in our country.

            The magnitude of its success can be gauged by the fact that in 2017, the second generation Fortuner outsold Toyota Motor Philippines’ (TMP) perennial best-selling car, the Vios, despite its much higher price range.  In that year, 39,680 units of the Fortuner were sold compared to 36,733 of the Vios.

            Yesterday, despite the continuous dampening impact of the coronavirus pandemic on automotive sales, TMP confidently rolled out the third generation Fortuner during a digital launch. People who own, have owned or, like me, have driven a Fortuner expect the latest iteration to be even better than the current model.

            We anticipate improvements in design, performance, and features in the new Fortuner, based not only on past experience test-driving the first and second-gen Fortuner, but also because of the Toyota Way: Toyota’s commitment to “kaizen” — a self-critical culture that fosters continuous and unrelenting improvement with perfection as the ultimate goal.

The 2018 Toyota Fortuner

EXPERIENCING “KAIZEN”. I experienced “kaizen” driving the first Fortuner in 2005, the refreshed Fortuner in 2011, and the 2nd gen Fortuner in 2016. Manufactured in Thailand, the Fortuner is a 7-seater urban SUV suited for use as a passenger car although it is built on the same platform as the Hilux pickup truck.

            Driven in Australia, the 2005 Fortuner easily tackled the off-road courses in Darlington Park on the Gold Coast, but provided a firm, bouncy ride on smooth, paved roads.  Four months later in July 2005 in Metro Manila, when I had a D-4D Fortuner for one week’s test-driving, I once rode in the back while a friend took the wheel.  Again, the ride quality was uncomfortably bucking-horse bouncy.

            When the facelifted 2011 Fortuner was launched at TMP’s 23rd founding anniversary celebration in August 2011, TMP president Michinobu Sugata announced its “significantly improved riding comfort without sacrificing stability, durability and handling.”  True enough, when I got to test-drive a 2011 D-4D Fortuner, the ride quality was smoother and better up front, changes or additions having been made to the suspension.

            Changes were also made to the front grille, front bumper, headlamps, taillights and some interior features, but the engine, 4-speed A/T, body structure, drivetrain, steering system, tire size, brakes and safety equipment remained the same.

TOTAL MAKEOVER.  The Fortuner underwent substantial “kaizen” in 2016 with a total makeover that improved its performance, refinement and fuel efficiency.  The KD series engine was replaced by the 2.4-liter 2GD-FTV DOHC straight-4 diesel engine with intercooled VGT, the old tranny gave way to a 6-speed A/T with Power and Eco driving modes, LED projector headlights, DRLs, a power tailgate, rear spoiler, LED taillights, and a more stylish, wider and longer body built on the new, indestructible 8th generation body-on-frame Hilux platform distinguished the 2nd gen Fortuner from its predecessors.

            Aside from the upgraded cabin and a wider array of safety features, what I liked most in the 2016 Fortuner is its new 4-link coil spring rear suspension with stabilizer and dampers that replaced the leaf springs of the 2011 model and helps the SUV to absorb potholes and bumps and limit reverberation.  Moreover, improved isolation limits road and wind noise entering the cabin.

            Can the 2021 Fortuner which was launched yesterday improve on all these?  Knowing Toyota’s adherence to the “kaizen” principle, we can look forward to an even better Fortuner.

             So far, during its 15-year life cycle, the Fortuner has built a reputation for value for money because of its solid build quality, reliability, refinement and durability that make it suitable for family activities as well as long-distance, all-terrain journeys.

             And this is why the Fortuner has become a best-seller for Toyota, aside from earning and keeping its rank as the best-selling midsize 7-seater SUV in the Philippines.

IN MAIN PHOTO: The 2005 Toyota Fortuner

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