It’s hip to be square

The Rukus is be­ing aimed at the younger gen­er­a­tion, writes Neil McDon­ald

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

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