Car Advice

Toyota Fortuner and Toyota HiLux technical analysis – 4WD systems explained

Every new 4WD has its own particular off-road system. Here’s how the 4WD systems on the Toyota Fortuner and Toyota HiLux works…

THE FORTUNER is essentially the same vehicle as the HiLux, but with a shorter wheelbase, wagon body and coil springs intead of leaves. The electronic and 4WD systems are the same, and although calibrated differently due to the different vehicle characterstics, work the same way from the driver’s perspective. This article refers to Fortuner – where the HiLux is different that will be mentioned.

What’s it got?

The Fortuner is a part-time 4WD vehicle which means you have to run it in 2WD on the road, only using 4WD on loose-traction surfaces like dirt, sand and mud. The Fortuner also has a variety of electronic driving aids, which are:

  • VSC – Vehicle Stability Control, better known as ESC or Electronic Stability Control. That’s fully explained here.
  • DAC – Downhill Assist Control, otherwise known as HDC or Hill Descent Control. That’s a system which permits very slow speed, steep hill descents by braking individual wheels. Operates under 30km/h, and only in 4WD high or low range, and with the rear differential lock disabled. The Fortuner GX model does not have DAC, and only automatic HiLuxes have it.
  • TSC – Trailer Stability Control. A subset of VSC, detects and corrects/prevents trailer sway by braking individual front wheels. Very much worth it.
  • TRC – Traction Control (Engine). Cuts the engine power to prevent wheelspin. Otherwise known as engine traction control (more on that here).
  • A-TRC – Active Traction Control (Brake Traction Control). Detects wheelspin, brakes individual wheels so the car can move forwards.
  • Rear cross-axle differential lock – Disables all electronics when it is activated, and can only be used in low range.

In 2WD mode the Fortuner has all its electronic aids active. Only use 2WD on high-traction surfaces, including wet bitumen.   097a1604   In 4WD high mode all aids are active, although VSC appears to be detuned to permit more slip to the point where it doesn’t really interfere with most offroad situations.   In low range TRC is disabled (but A-TRC remains enabled), and VSC is entirely disabled.  A long press (three seconds) of the VSC button when in low range will disable A-TRC as well. A long press has no effect if not in low range.    

The VSC off switch, rear differential lock (note X across rear axle) and 4WD mode selector; 2WD, 4WD high range and 4WD low range (crawler gears).
The Fortuner in 4WD (green icon), low range (4LO), VSC turned off (orange squiggle and OFF), rear differential lock in (red icon) that also disables ABS. TRC is also disabled.

What do I use, when and how?

For normal onroad driving you must have the Fortuner in 2WD. You can disable VSC and TRC at low speeds only with a single VSC button press, but they re-enable above about 50km/h. There’s really no point disabling them as they step in if you have done something very wrong. They come in very progressively and the electronics are a wonderful safety net.   On dirt roads the Fortuner, like any part-time 4WD, is best run in 4WD high for traction, stability, less tyre wear and less damage to the road. There is no fuel consumption penalty noticeable without resorting to lab equipment. VSC, TRC and A-TRC remain enabled but again if they kick in, it’s because they need to, so you should just leave them enabled.   097a1588   Offroad — in slow-going terrain like rocks and ruts just slot it into low range. VSC will disable, as will TRC, and A-TRC will remain active. Do not disable A-TRC by pressing the VSC button; it is your friend.   For terrain where you can move faster and use high range, like sand and perhaps snow, then most of the time simply selecting high range 4WD is all you want. This gives you 4WD, A-TRC and to some small degree of VSC and TRC.   If the situation looks like you need unrestricted power in high range with no computer control — as would often be the case in sand — then disable VSC and TRC with a long press of the VSC button, but be aware you’ve now lost A-TRC which will help in situations such as climbing straight up a rutted sand dune. A short press only disables TRC and then only below 50km/h. Toyota seems to think this helps in the event of the car being stuck… I disagree; I think it’s a completely pointless mode.   The rear differential lock has its place, but not very often as A-TRC is so effective and works across all four wheels. The rear locker is best used in extremely rutted, high traction terrain such as very slow, rocky climbs.  It is also useful to engage on descents as it helps engine braking on the rear axle, although models above the GX have DAC… and you can’t have DAC and the rear locker engaged. It is good the rear locker exists, but do not assume the Fortuner is more capable with it in than with it out. Only automatic HiLuxes get DAC.   Finally the Fortuner has a trick up its sleeve with its anti-stall technology, like all modern manuals. Just slot the car into first low, take your feet off the pedals and let it walk up the hill or whatever is in front. It will run out of traction before it runs out of torque. This also works pretty well in second low.   Read more in our Fortuner onroad and offroad review.  

Rocky hill. A locker would help, but would be prone to spin the rear around. Traction control pulls on all four wheels, and doesn’t restrict steering.
Out of suspension flex, traction control kicks in. Locker would be better here, but it’s a very easy rut so it doesn’t really matter.
Loose hill with ruts, but clearance not an issue. Couldn’t be crawled up, second low was the go.
Scraping the rear diff, the HiLux managed this with traction control but not the locker.
Rear locker in for a descent so we don’t lose engine braking on the rear axle when the wheel lifts. The GX has no electronic hill descent control (DAC). Unfortunately, DAC is disabled when the rear locker is in on higher-spec models.
Rear locker handy here too for a descent.
High range only selected. This is as much slip as VSC lets you have…
Switch VSC off with a 3-second press in high range and you have freedom to do this. However, A-TRC is disabled.
Lots of traction on the rear wheels, so this is where you can crawl with a locker, first low, not touching the throttle and the car just idles up.

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4 years ago

I got New TRD its top model and there is no differential lock button.

Max Bancroft
Max Bancroft
3 years ago

Thanks for a very informative article. I for one would appreciate the same explanation for the Prado 150.

Robert Pepper
3 years ago
Reply to  Max Bancroft

It’s pretty much the same, Max, except the Prado’s centre diff can and should be locked when in most offroad situations. You can leave it unlocked for any dirt road except very slippery ones, but lock it elsewhere. You may unlock it in low range territory if you need to perform some tight turns.

2 years ago

Hi Robert. The Hilux chassis seems to be used as a selling point for the Fortuner. But that’s what makes me nervous. I don’t do challenging 4WDing in terms of gullies and descents but central Australian corrugations over long distances with some off road soft sand dune climbing. In 2009 I travelled in and around the remote APY lands in tandem with a bloke in his 2008 Hilux Dual cab ute and everyone who could was swapping out of that and climbing into my Landcruiser (which I’m updating). They all reported not being able to talk in the Hilux due to cabin/road noise. “Oh this is so much quieter!” they’d all sigh once the shift had been made into the Landcruiser. They all reported that conversation was difficult in the Hilux and stress levels were higher. Landcruisers are big and heavy, yes, but maybe this is one of the inescapable advantages – you can listen to music and talk to each other on a corrugated road? The Fortuner suits me in all other areas in terms of capability & comfort. But that trip convinced me I don’t want to spend all day in a Hilux on a rough corrugated road. Do you think the larger Fortuner wagon would cope better than the dual cab ute in terms of noise and durability? Is the chassis type irrelevant to corrugation noise/shudder? Are my fears unfounded?

Robert Pepper
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

The Fortuner’s coil suspension handles much better than the Hilux’s leaf springs, so the two aren’t directly comparable. The chassis is the same, and by and large seperate-chassis vehicles like these two have better NVH than monocoques.

However, the Fortuner won’t compare to the LC200. I do however think you’ll find it acceptable.

Hans Grobbelaar
Hans Grobbelaar
10 months ago
Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper