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Toyota Rukus vs KIA Soul

Being a product planner for a major car manufacturer is a tough gig. You need to know what your market wants and almost predict future trends in consumer demand. Some models do surprisingly well in one country and bomb completely in another. Sometimes manufacturers create cars for a market which doesn’t exist yet, in the hope of creating demand by doing so. In the case of the Toyota Rukus and Kia Soul, the verdict is still out in Australia.

Here are two cars that are relatively unique in their design, which in this day and age of car design, is rather unusual. They both look like a box on wheels and they are both meant to appeal to the younger crowd and build up brand kudos.

Late last year I spent an entire month with a Toyota Rukus and a week with a Kia Soul. So let’s find out what makes one more appealing than the other and to whom exactly.

If the manufacturers had their way, you’re supposed to buy one of these two if you wanted a ‘cool cruising car’ that could be easily modified with more bling and maybe even a paint job. Despite the best efforts of both Kia and Toyota Australia, I am yet to see a single modified Soul or Rukus.

In fact, seeing a stock standard Rukus or Soul on the road is unique in itself. Toyota managed to convince just 1,089 people to buy a Rukus last year (it went on sale in late May), well below its expectations of around 300 per month.

Meanwhile, the Koreans did even worse. Only 387 buyers signed the dotted line for a Soul in the whole of 2010. So out of the one million plus cars sold here last year, only 1,476 people went for one of these two. That represents a not-so-staggering 0.14 percent of the market.

So are we all just sheep? Do we shun cars that are a little strange looking and pick a safe bet? Or have both manufacturers really missed the mark? It’s hard to say. Both the Rukus and Soul represent great choices for certain people. The question still remains though, how many of those “certain people” live in Australia?

Engines and performance

Toyota Rukus Kia Soul
Engine 2.4L petrol 1.6 PETROL | 1.6 TURBO DIESEL 4
Maximum power 123kW @ 6000rpm 91 kW | 95 kW
Maximum torque 224Nm @ 4000rpm 156 Nm | 260 Nm
Transmission Four-speed auto Five-speed Man or four-speed auto
Acceleration 0-100km/h Not provided Not provided.

Herein lies perhaps both model’s biggest setback. Australians love to modify their cars, but it’s not all about looks. We want some ‘go’ to go with it too. The modification scene is more about fast cars than about cruisers in Australia. Does anyone remember when having a Hummer H3 was ‘cool’? Big wheels were put on and stereos were modified. That went out of fashion rather quickly (it didn’t help that Hummer went out of business either).

The Kia Soul is powered by either a 1.6L petrol (91 kW – 156 Nm) or diesel (94 Kw – 260 Nm). Both engines are available with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic.

Toyota’s Rukus uses a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (123kW and 224Nm) mated to a 4-speed auto (no manual option). At this point, I suspect I am meant to get excited about those performance figures. But it’s rather hard.

No doubt neither of these cars are meant to be performance cars in any shape or form, but if they are supposed to appeal to the young savvy buyer who wants something unique to express his or her individuality, then perhaps both manufacturers need to realise that a 4-speed automatic really isn’t the go these days if you’re marketing a niche product.

In Kia’s case the 1.6-litre diesel is actually a rather good engine. With 260 Nm of torque, the Soul+ is a pretty nifty little thing and can get around town and on the highway with ease. The five-speed manual would be my pick but the four-speed auto still manages to do okay. KIA has updated the MY11 model’s auto-transmission by adding sportsmatic shift. Handling wise the Soul has it over the Rukus thanks to its slightly smaller size and better dynamics.

The Rukus offers reasonable acceleration despite its four-speed automatic. Although it’s based on the Corolla and RAV4 platform, it’s got the worst handling dynamics of the three (after all, it’s a box on wheels). It gets along the city well enough and doesn’t struggle too much on the occasional highway overtaking manoeuvre, but the inclusion of a six-speed auto and perhaps a V6 engine may have given the model a little more character.

Fuel consumption

Toyota Rukus Kia Soul | Petrol A | Diesel | A
Fuel tank capacity 55 litres 48 litres
Theoretical range (based on combined cycle fuel consumption) 625 km 685 | 813 km
Fuel type Unleaded (91RN) Unleaded (91RN) | Diesel
Combined cycle fuel consumption 8.8 litres/100km 7 | 5.9 litres/100km
Carbon dioxide emissions 208 g/km 167 | 155 g/km

With both vehicles using four-speed automatics, you would think that fuel economy figures wouldn’t be all that pretty. In Kia’s case though, it’s diesel engine is a standout performer and manages to return an impressive fuel economy of just 5.2L/100km for the manual or 5.9 for the automatic. To put that into perspective, it beats the Toyota Camry Hybrid (6L/100km). The petrol 1.6-litre isn’t all that bad either, returning figures of 6.5L/100km in manual form or 7L/100km for the automatic. The Soul has a kerb weight of between 1254 – 1,364kg.

The Toyota Rukus isn’t as frugal. Weighing between 1,390 – 1,420 kg it’s a little heavier, but even so, comparing the top-spec diesel automatic Soul (1,364 kg) to the lightest Rukus (1,390 kg), the Big T uses 2.7 more litres of fuel per 100km. So that makes its official figure 8.8L/100km. It’s fair to point out that the Rukus does offer more storage capacity.

A six-speed automatic (or even manual) would bring both car’s fuel economy figures down by a good 15 percent.

Exterior and dimensions

Toyota Rukus Kia Soul
Length (mm) 4260 4,105
Width (mm) 1760 1,785
Height (mm) 1645 1,610
Weight (kg) 1,390 – 1,420 1370kg

As you can see, the Soul is marginally smaller than the Rukus and its more rounded design makes it look a little more welcoming. Both of these cars require a special kind of love to appease their buyer.

Although looks are totally subjective, the Soul is the better looker as far as this reviewer is concerned. The Rukus is not lacking in the looks department, but when put next to a Soul it does tend to a look a little dated (even though it’s newer to the Australian market).

The Rukus looks more substantial on the road and if you buy it some bigger wheels and seriously dark tint (and maybe a bodykit and paintjob?), it could look rather mean. The Soul is less likely to look mean, it perhaps looks best when painted in the company colours and optioned with some nicer wheels.

There are two different Soul models now for 2011 (used to be three). The basic Soul comes with 15-inch steel wheels (great if you intend to replace them straight away), upgrade to the Soul+ and you’ll get 16-inch alloy wheels. Both variants can be optioned with 18-inch official KIA wheels, although you’d be better of getting third party 18-inch alloys fitted instead.

The Toyota Rukus is available in three variants. Build 1, 2 and 3. All three get 16-inch alloys wheels and look identical nearly from the outside.

Interior and equipment

Toyota Rukus Kia Soul
Luggage Space (rear seats up) (L) 310 340

From the inside both the Rukus and Soul offer a reasonably modern interior that is modification friendly. You can fit as many TV screens as you want but if you that’s not your style, there is plenty to be happy about already.

The base model Rukus offers six speakers, Bluetooth™ hands-free telephone and audio streaming, USB and 3.5mm audio input and a CD player. There is no Sat-nav option but you can replace the unit pretty easily as it’s not built into the dash. Bluetooth audio streaming works perfectly with an iPhone 3G/S/4 as tested.

Simply turn the car on and it will automatically sync up and begin playing the last song in your iPhone’s iPod.

The Soul fails to provide Bluetooth connectivity, phone or audio streaming. However it does come with a 6-speaker audio system that can play your iPod/iPhone (straight plug in with native support) and also take MP3 files from a USB drive. So over all, not that bad, but Bluetooth audio streaming would’ve been nice.

There is a ridiculous amount of room inside the Rukus, given its boxy shape there is so much head room infront of you that you’d think you were outside. It’s very roomy and perfect for long distance drives if that’s on the agenda.

The Soul is relatively similar but slightly smaller inside. Both models have a heap of room to carry things in. I used my Rukus test car to move a large coffee table that many weeks later would no longer fit into a big SUV. So with the rear seats folded down both cars can act like vans.

Safety

The Rukus and Soul both offer comprehensive safety packages with six-airbags and stability control across the entire range as standard features.

Warranty & servicing

Toyota Rukus Kia Soul
Vehicle warranty Three years/100,000km Five years/130,000km
Service intervals 12 months/15,000km 12 months/15,000km

Kia offers the more substantial warranty with five years or 130,000km. The Big T will give three years or 100,000km. Both cars need a service every 12 months or 15,000km.

Conclusion:

So then, who would these cars be best suited to? The Toyota Rukus and the Kia Soul are both niche cars that attract a minor audience that is relatively picky. It will be interesting to see if the next generation of these vehicles will make it to Australia given their currently low volume uptake.

They are meant to act as branding ambassador cars for the two brands. Both companies hope to attract a younger audience with these models. Kia doesn’t have too many issues given it’s already appealing to the younger crowd but Toyota on the other hand is yet to prove it’s powers of persuasion towards Gen Ys with the Rukus.

To throw a spanner in the works, the Nissan Cube, which is not officially sold in Australia is being privately imported on a more and more popular basis. That may be worth a consideration if these two don’t tick the boxes and you’re not concerned about warranty.

Nissan Australia is not planning on importing the Cube in the near future as the segment is not that feasible and it already has more successful brand ambassadors like the Nissan GT-R and Nissan 370z.

The choice between these two isn’t all that hard really. The harder choice is to actually deciding to buy either of them in the first place. They both offer ample room and a funky unique character. Both would be perfect for exterior and interior modification but lack that real potential to make it to the underground mod-scene. A little more power and a better automatic gearbox would probably fix that.

The Kia Soul is noticeably cheaper as well, starting from just $20,990. The cheapest Rukus is $27,490. Although, when you compare apples with apples, the range topping Kia Soul+ Diesel automatic is $28,690. Its equivalent in the Toyota range (although petrol) is $29,990 for the Build 2. If you want a sunroof that will add an extra $1,800 to the price.

The KIA Soul is the car for you if:

  • You have fuel efficiency and low emissions among your top priorities
  • You are not all that concerned about brand prejudice
  • You need a funky looking box on wheels
  • You can live without satellite navigation, Bluetooth support
  • You have a tighter budget
  • You’re after a diesel

The Toyota Rukus is the car for you if:

  • You want a super-practical car that has serious potential to be ‘cool’
  • You love your music and have a Bluetooth audio-streaming capable phone (e.g. iPhone)
  • You don’t mind paying a little more for the Toyota badge
  • You can live with an outdated four-speed automatic
  • Petrol is good enough
  • You drive long distances or move a lot of big things (e.g. furniture)

Further reading:







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