Big might be beautiful, but small rules in Bangkok!
The Toyota Fortuner is a bit of a monster. It's success in Thailand has been remarkable, dominating the SUV market, which also pinching sales from the luxury passenger car segment. On paper the Fortuner seems hard to beat for around 1 million baht. And for those looking for a big "impressive" machine need look no further.
When I first saw one on the road in Bangkok last year I was impressed by it's size but now I would ask a question: Why is it good to own a big car?
Why is the Fortuner so popular?
Some of the reasons given in answer to this question are valid. Some will argue that they need the space the Fortuner provides to transport their family and friends. Some say that they require the 4WD abilities for when they want to go off-road.
The most obvious answer has little to do with practical reasoning however. Many choose the Fortuner because it is the biggest lump of metal for the money. And this is also entirely valid. Thailand's vehicle tax system is stacked in favour of pickup trucks. The Fortuner sits on a pickup chassis and enjoys the same favourable 3% tax rate. This allows the Fortuner to undercut CR-V, Escape and other SUVs while providing more. Honda's CR-V comes with a 2 liter engine for around the same money as the 3 liter Fortuner, and the CR-V has only 2 rows of seats. Not surprising then that the CR-V sales figures are dire since the launch of the Toyota giant.
So there are a few good reasons for the Fortuner's popularity.
So, what's the problem?
This is not a review of the Fortuner, but if it was I would not be recommending the machine. My reasoning is based on something simple: Parking!
I recently drove my family to the local Major Cineplex to catch a movie. Being holiday time in Bangkok many people had the same idea and the cinema car park was chock-a-block. Hopefully, we followed a train of cars up the levels of the parking tower, keeping our eyes open for spaces but on the third floor everything came to a stop. Every 4 to 5 minutes the queue of cars would move forward 1 car length and it didn't seem normal. Eventually we made it onto the 4th floor and the reason for the hold up became apparent. A Fortuner!
The poor owner of the Fortuner was trying to get his vehicle out of the space. His friend was directing him back and forward to within inches of the cars parked around him, while driver of the car at the front of the queue waited patiently thinking that the space would be available once the SUV vacated it. But, after 5 minutes of maneuvering, the driver of the Fortuner backed up and allowed a car past, and then tried again.
The occupants of the latest car to be front of the line pilled out of the car and took up strategic positions to assist the Fortuner driver. They started motioning enthusiastically, sensing that their long wait for a parking space was about to end, after all, it had to be possible to get this behemoth out and on it's way. Suddenly, a young lady in the group of self-appointed parking attendants spotted a free space on the next level through the gap in the wall to the back to the unfortunate Fortuner, and as fast as they had appeared they were back in their car and squeezing their Jazz past the blockage to grab a parking spot.
At this point we got lucky. A car parked against the in front of us wanted out and we managed to parallel park our modest sedan car in the space. A Fortuner would probably not have fitted there either!
The Fortuner is not the only car on the road that causes headaches for its driver when it comes to parking. There have been numerous occasions where I have been patiently waiting for a car to park in a space only to eventually take the space myself when the driver of the large car in front has to eventually give up because he can't fit.
This story probably won't put anybody off buying a Fortuner. It's still a popular choice among Thai and expatriate motorists alike, and with good reason. Some distress in the car parks might be a small price to pay for the advantages on offer. But when I witness Fortuners driving in Bangkok (no need for 4WD) and with 0-3 passengers on board, the two main arguments for the Fortuner are dismantled. Even in cases were more passengers are being transported, there are other options. The Avanza (also from Toyota) holds 7 too, and is surprisingly comfortable.
But at this point several readers have sniggered at the thought of the Avanza being put forward as an alternative to the mighty Forturner. You see, for many, the choice of car is little to do with practicality.