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October 28, 2021

First Drive: 2022 Toyota Fortuner GR Sport

The Fortuner GR Sport is a litmus test of Toyota’s brand strength in the Philippines for two reasons. The first is because at P 2,509,000, it’s the first mid-sized pickup-based passenger vehicle or PPV to cross that psychological price mark. Second, it continues the quick and sometimes scattered diversification of Gazoo Racing (Avanza GR Sport, anyone?)—a division often associated with sporty, go-fast Toyotas.

Now, before answering those two questions, let’s talk product first. The Fortuner GR Sport, or GR-S for short, is the second GR Sport model after the Vios GR-S launched earlier this year. Like its sub-compact sedan counterpart, the GR Sport label here can’t be equated to full-blown GR models like the GR Supra, the GR Yaris, and the upcoming GR 86. Instead, think of them as sportified versions of Toyota’s everyday vehicles. If you need a tangible comparison, think of them as Toyota’s counterpart to BMW’s M Sport, Mercedes-Benz’s AMG Line, or Honda’s RS.

With that in mind, don’t expect the whole shebang when it comes to mechanical upgrades or tweaks. These don’t pack super high-performance engines, or promise Baja-taming suspension. It does, however, add a bit more design flair to an already solid package. The look isn’t transformative, but it manages to help the Fortuner cut a sleeker figure. At the front, the bumper’s been reshaped lending this variant a more serious, more on-road centric face than the LTD despite key off-roading specs like approach, departure, and breakover angles being unchanged. Towards the sides, the itsy-bitsy fender molding’s now color-keyed, while peeking through each 18-inch rim are red-colored brake calipers with the GR branding. At the back, a built-in diffuser replaces the LTD’s high-gloss black overrider.

Toyota already has seven variants of the current Fortuner, including the GR Sport, and this isn’t counting the number of color permutations. So, as part one of Toyota’s social experiment, the Fortuner GR Sport only comes in one solitary color. Hope you like white, or more specifically, White Pearl Crystal Shine, because that’s the only shade available. Honestly, it looks great in white, but axing Gazoo Racing’s trademark Emotional Red feels like a missed opportunity here.

Inside, the Fortuner GR Sport gets all serious with its all-black cabin with red accents and highlights. Like its exterior, this added Gazoo Racing shot isn’t transformative, but it does give this Fortuner variant a somewhat sportier bent. Interior-wise, the best thing here are the seats. Although the shape is shared with the LTD’s, the suede inserts do give it a bit more visual drama. Oh, and it helps keep you in place too during more spirited driving. It also keeps the back and bum cooler in midday Manila weather—perfect because the GR Sport loses the LTD’s ventilated seats. Other changes in here include the red stitching on the steering wheel and gauge binnacle, the carbon fiber pattern on the center console, the darkened silver trimming, and of course, the spattering of Gazoo Racing branding.

It’s great how Toyota actually embraced sportiness for the Fortuner GR Sport, and it would have been downright perfect if not for one thing: the interior illumination—all the controls are lit in a rather unsporty shade of blue. Perhaps Gazoo Racing could have built on more differentiation and installed red or maybe white lit buttons and controls? It would have matched with the white LED map lights too.

Going to the powertrain, the Fortuner GR Sport has the very same engine found in the LTD variant. The tweaks done this year upped the horsepower and torque of the 2.8-liter turbodiesel to 204 horsepower and 500 Nm respectively—easily one of the best in the segment. Even now, as it wears the Gazoo Racing branding, you honestly don’t need any more power This engine doesn’t run out of steam. There’s pull when you need it, and when you want it. Even better, it’s polished, quiet, and refined. This is easily one of the best engines fitted to a PPV at the moment.

The Fortuner’s main sticking point is its bone-jarring ride. With new monotube shock absorbers fitted to the GR Sport variant, some of it has been quelled. However, it’s still no silver bullet. There’s still some jiggle, particularly at low speeds, but at least it comes across as more composed over undulating roads and small cracks and ruts. Manila’s punishing roads don’t seem as back-breaking as it was before. Oh, and at least drinks stay inside their cups or bottles as opposed to having it splash around the cup or bottle holders.

As a PPV, the Fortuner’s already easy to drive, but Toyota says the new shock absorbers should also improve the steering and handling. Without a back-to-back comparison, honestly, the difference is hard to tell. However, it does have a quicker near-center feel—something that wasn’t in the LTD variant. Better still, the Panoramic View Monitor or PVM is better integrated now too. In the LTD, it required drivers to press the PVM button for three seconds to activate it. Now, it automatically activates whenever an object’s detected in either the front or rear sensors (there’s a defeat switch), or when Reverse is engaged.

As for safety, the Fortuner GR Sport, like the LTD and Q models come with Toyota Safety Sense or TSS. It bundles technology such as Pre-Collision Braking, Lane Departure Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, as well as blind spot indicators with rear cross traffic alert. The last feature, of note, is well executed. Drivers have the option for purely visual or audio-visual warning, and the intensity of the side mirror-mounted caution lights can be adjusted too.

Going back to the questions posted at the beginning, is the Fortuner GR Sport worth crossing the P 2.5 million price tag? Well, that entirely depends on the buyer. For the buyer who would want to have the top-of-the-line variant, no questions asked, this Fortuner GR Sport fulfills that mission. Having said that, the more practical-minded set would settle for the LTD or even the Q which offer around 90 to 95 percent of the equipment at 80 to 85 percent of the cost. This effectively means the pool of potential Fortuner GR Sport buyers quite small. And with that, it increases the exclusivity—something perhaps Toyota wants when it comes to the Gazoo Racing brand.

When it comes to the second question, is the Fortuner GR Sport deserving of the Gazoo Racing badge? Honestly, it’s still too early to tell. For niche products like the GR Yaris and the GR Supra, the positioning and the branding are crystal clear. But as Toyota diversifies the Gazoo Racing family, it’s hard to see where everything’s going until the whole picture’s revealed. One thing’s for certain though, Toyota has plugged every conceivable price gap and niche when it comes to the Fortuner, and the power of choice is perhaps something that’s too hard for anyone to ignore.

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