The new five-speed automatic gearbox has improved the Toyota Fortuner’s drivability and performance.

The Fortuner, when introduced in automatic avatar by Toyota in 2012, was given only a four-speed transmission. Although this was different from the norm of six-speed boxes and five-speeders, the Fortuner’s fast-acting box did the job very capably and one didn’t feel the lack of the higher gears. Now, Toyota has upgraded the automatic transmission and the Fortuner comes with a five-speed auto box. The automatic is available only in rear-wheel-drive format.

This new gearbox brings a set of ratios that are more closely stacked. The first, second and third gears are now shorter for better acceleration and throttle response, while the fourth and fifth gear are similar to the top two gears on the old gearbox.

This, however, doesn’t translate into huge differences in outright acceleration — the five-speed is just 0.3seconds faster to 100kph than the four-speeder, and by 120kph they are pretty neck-and-neck. Even in the 20-80kph run, the new Fortuner is only 0.5sec faster, and it’s actually slower than the old car in the 40-100kph run.

Where the extra ratio really makes a difference is in everyday driving — the Fortuner feels more eager and faster than before and the jerky throttle response of the earlier gearbox is replaced by a more linear one. The engine feels more relaxed, while the gearbox shifts up early and keeps the motor at more comfortable engine speeds. This also helps the 3.0-litre 168bhp motor’s characteristics — past 3200rpm, the engine sounds rough and power tapers off, and so these early upshifts are welcome. The auto transmission feels more eager to downshift too and gearshifts, though smoother than before, engage with a slight jolt. The Rexton, for example, has more seamless gearshifts.

Other than the new transmission, the rest of the car remains the same. The build quality on the inside is solid but still fails to make you feel like you’re in a premium SUV. While the first two rows are comfortable, the third-row, with its knees-up seating posture, is only good for short drives. Despite being a tall and heavy SUV, the handling is quite decent and the wide 265-section tyres provide lots of grip. But where this car disappoints is in the way it rides. The Fortuner feels lumpy, especially at low speeds, and though it gets better as you go faster, it never feels settled. This takes a toll on how secure you feel when pushing the car.

The new five-speed automatic gearbox has definitely improved the Toyota Fortuner’s drivability and outright performance has gone up too.

Although at Rs. 22.33 lakh, the Fortuner automatic is still expensive, the overall improvement now, to some extent, justifies the high price tag. It most certainly is a better buy than before.