Toyota has equipped the updated Fortuner with a two-wheel-drive, automatic transmission. Is this the variant to buy?

The Fortuner sells more for its macho appeal than its mud-plugging ability. A majority of Fortuner customers stay in congested cities and all the off-roading they'd subject their car through is a bit of slush during the rains so it's easy to see why this new two-wheel-drive and automatic-transmission-equipped Fortuner variant is such an interesting prospect.

But before we get into how the SUV drives, let's take a look at what else is new. For starters, frontal styling gets a major revamp and the look is even more ‘ mini Land Cruiser' than before. Taking pride of place here is the large, slatted grille that is finished in chrome and adds a fair amount of bling to the front end. The angular HID headlights are in keeping with Toyota's international design language and also get useful washer sprays to keep clean. Adding brawn to the design is the restyled front bumper that also houses the pod-like fog lights. There are many details to lose yourself in here, but look closer and you will notice a wider intake for the intercooler on the bonnet.

Other changes include a new design for the alloy wheels and a repositioning of the turn signal indicators to the rear-view mirrors. Further distinguishing the new Fortuner from the older model are the kinked tail lamps.

Climb aboard this two-wheel-drive variant and the absence of the low-range gearbox is quite apparent. There is a redesigned centre console that now features a six-inch touch-screen (shared with the Corolla and new Innova) which controls and displays the audio system, new DVD player and reverse camera. The AC vent shrouds get a nice, black wood finish, which is also carried over to the restyled steering wheel that now comes with controls for the new Bluetooth connectivity function. Toyota has also equipped the new Fortuner with cruise control, though we feel this feature is redundant in India. The ‘Optitron' dials also get new blue backlighting, but remain clear and easy to read as before.

Fortuner drivers always had it good with a comfortable and supportive seat and excellent all-round visibility. The good news is that the inclusion of six-way power adjustment has made finding the perfect driving position much easier.

But if convenience is what you are looking for, it is really the Fortuner's automatic transmission that will win you over. The four-speed torque-converter 'box may not be cutting-edge in terms of technology but it complements the torquey 3.0-litre D4-D engine quite well.

Gearshifts are smooth and the ratios are well-suited to typical city driving. The 'box is also quite responsive for the most part; yes, there is a mild hesitation to downshift but that is only apparent when you need instant power. However, mash your foot to the floor and the transmission will execute shifts at 4250rpm, just shy of the 4750rpm redline. It must be noted that the engine does get quite noisy above 3000rpm.

The Fortuner automatic does without the 4WD hardware, so there is no low-range transfer case. You can, however, slot the gearbox in ‘L' to hold the lowest possible gear for limited off-road use. If you're driving on tarmac, there is little to differentiate the two-wheel-drive Fortuner from its four-wheel-driven counterpart.

The steering is marginally lighter and you need to be a bit more restrained with throttle inputs coming out of corners, but that's about it. The smooth 168bhp engine remains tractable as before and the seamless build-up of power makes the Fortuner effortless to drive. Ride quality though is quite bumpy at low speeds but does even out the faster you go.

This 2WD AT variant adds the convenience of automatic transmission to all that we liked about the Fortuner, including and especially its ability to transport seven people in reasonable comfort. The styling changes and added kit only enhance its appeal to its image-conscious, largely urban clientele. While prices were not out at the time of going to press, we expect the 2WD AT variant to cost Rs. 50,000 less than the refreshed 4WD model, also coming later in January.

A two-wheel-drive MT variant will also join the line-up and will be the most affordable Fortuner on sale in India.