Thank heavens, it rained hard. Our specially constructed off-road track outside Khopoli near Mumbai, turned from slip-slide mud to a quagmire and the water crossings went from mere streams to SUV-engulfing rivers. This was just the setting we wanted for the inaugural Toyota Fortuner Boot Camp.
Organised by Mumbai’s Automission Motorsport, for Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM), this boot camp was an opportunity to show Fortuner owners, the off-road capabilities of their SUV. Hence, the 3-km track was specially designed for an unforgettable experience.
As many as 30 brave Fortuner owners turned up for a dose of hardcore fun in deep dirt. It involved lots of revs, spinning wheels and torrents of flying mud.
Allan Almeira, a well-experienced 4x4 specialist, was on hand to give a demo. The extreme ascent and descent ramp was exhilarating for first-timers. Equally astounding was the ease with which the Fortuner trudged up the slope and gently eased down.
Track is too tame a word for the slush that drivers experienced. The first few cars had it quite easy, as the track was still fresh and there was plenty of grip. But with each passing vehicle, the ruts turned into chasms, the dirt got a little softer and the water a little deeper.
As the day wore on, it wasn’t hard to get stuck on this course or lose all-important momentum. That’s when the JCB excavator leapt into action to haul cars out of sticky situations. But there was no time to breathe.
You were almost immediately into the deep ruts section, which tests the SUV’s ground clearance.
Testing the limits
Drivers winced every time the underbody flattened the high centre ridge, but it was too soft to cause any damage. And just when you thought the worst was over, you felt the car sinking into a treacherous part — a sticky stretch of soft mud that just sucked you in. The trick was not to lose speed. This meant selecting third gear, 4WD low and charging through as quickly as possible.
Then there was a mad scramble up a muddy mound and over rocks before dropping sharply into a stream. This tested the Fortuner’s ability to climb slopes in low-ratio second gear. At the end of the day, Fortuner owners experienced the limits of their SUVs. The best part was that you could get your thrills at walking speeds. That is what off-roading is all about.