It’s hip to be square
The Rukus is being aimed at the younger generation, writes Neil McDonald
THE boxy Rukus is the most unToyota car the brand has ever sold locally. The newcomer has has been a hit in the US and Japan, and Toyota Australia senior executive director sales and marketing David Buttner is confident it will win over fans here.
‘‘I understand the looks will polarise people,’’ he says. ‘‘But suddenly it’s hip to be square.’’
Toyota says the car defies automotive design conventions, particularly the modern trend towards curvy, streamlined shapes.
Based on the Corolla, the Rukus shares its architecture with the hatch but borrows its 123kW 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine from the RAV4.
The Rukus must attract a new buyer, one who is younger than the global demographic for Toyota cars, which is now 54.
‘‘If it gives us a chance to attract a younger buyer we believe the investment is worthwhile,’’ Buttner says.
He also wants it to inject some urban cool into the brand. He hopes it will attract trendies and those whose car is an extension of their personalities.
Buttner says the Gen-Y car is intended to be different. Despite the quirky design, he is confident it will be popular among urban trend-setters, young couples and families.
‘‘Rukus will appeal to many people who have never previously considered a Toyota. In that sense, it’s the most un-Toyota vehicle we have ever introduced,’’ Buttner says.
‘‘It’s not for everyone and that’s OK. It’s an acquired taste.’’
Buttner describes the wagon as a Toyota Tardis, spacious on the inside and compact on the outside.
Rather than follow a conventional model-naming strategy, Toyota is calling its three Rukus models Build 1, Build 2 and Build 3.
Prices start at $27,490 for the basic model. Build 2 is $29,990 and Build 3 is $31,790.
Each gets six airbags, stability and traction control and anti-skid brakes. Other features include airconditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and windows and engine immobiliser.
The quirky design details continue on the inside with central gauges and a high-mounted gearshift. Audio and cruise-control switches are also on the steering wheel.
The boxy shape allows plenty of room for gear and there are handy storage spaces throughout the cabin, including under the luggage floor.
Build 1 gets a six-speaker CD stereo; Bluetooth and audio streaming; USB and audio input.
Build 2 adds leather-accented seats, steering wheel and gearshift; upgraded airconditioning; nine-speaker CD stereo and sub-woofer; six CD-stacker; and a colour screen for the audio.
The airconditioning gains climatecontrol and push-button operation. For a further $1800 Build 3 throws in a tilt-and-slide sunroof.
Toyota is expecting to sell 150-200 a month. Buttner admits it is a low- volume car but it remains an important addition to the line-up.
Buyers can also dress up their cars with decals that include stripes, flames and bricks, as well as alloys.
An added lure is a fixed price servicing deal of $130 for the first six scheduled services.
PASSION is more than a box on wheels. Though Toyota is to be applauded for getting out of its design straitjacket, it is trying a little too hard with the Rukus.
The company that brought us the evocative Celica and MR2 needs to revisit these types of cars if they want to lure the younger, iPod generation to the brand.
They’re coming, like the FT86, but you won’t get warm and fuzzy about the Rukus unless you love its quirky shape. It’s good but it’s hardly exciting. It acquits itself well to urban driving and the Toyota badge will be enough for many.
The 123kW/224Nm 2.4-litre fourcylinder is matched to a four-speed sequential automatic and gives perky performance for the size of the car.
Our time with the Tardis-onwheels was all too brief but if you’re familiar with the Corolla’s steering, brakes and handling you will feel right at home in this mobile lounge.
What we really like about the Rukus is its commodious interior.
It shares its 2600mm wheelbase with the Corolla but gets a 40mm longer rear that translates into a very practical and roomy luggage area. That’s its biggest selling-point.
The windscreen stretches out in front of the driver like a panoramic cinema screen.
There is plenty of room for even the heftiest people up front as well as in the back seat.
Given that the Corolla wagon is no longer available, the Rukus could fill that niche.
And it lends itself to the ideal fleet car because of its unusual eyecatching shape.