The Toyota Rukus presents an all-new image for Toyota by offering a unique and somewhat quirky exterior design coupled with a practical and spacious interior. Starting at $27,490* the Toyota Rukus will undoubtedly turn heads and attract younger buyers to the brand.
Let's be honest, Toyota is not the most exciting car maker in the world. Over the last 50 years the Japanese company has risen to the very top of the automotive world and become the world's largest producer of vehicles, at a cost. Its success was arguably due to producing safe and reliable cars in massive volumes rather than creating cars that had character.
Not that there is anything wrong with that strategy, if you're in the business of selling cars why not appeal to the masses? Of course once upon a time Toyota did have a variety of sports cars such as the Supra, Celica and MR2.
Despite sporty Toyotas of the past, the problem facing Toyota today is somewhat similar to that facing Mercedes-Benz. The majority of its customer are not exactly Twitter and Facebook users. In fact the main portion of Toyota's customers are over 54 years old. That's all well and good, but what happens when the current 20-somethings turn 40 and have no association with the Big T?
Thankfully Toyota saw this coming and with new president Akio Toyoda (by all accounts a passionate car lover) in charge, the company has set itself the big task of putting soul, character and aspiration into its lineup.
The first part of the design-revolution starts with the Toyota Rukus in Australia. A model which is set to polarise the public and car journalists alike. From the outside the boxy shape is unlike anything Toyota has done before (which is not necessarily a bad thing). The idea is to create a car which makes a statement and you're not really suppose to agree with it either.
Toyota Australia believes the Rukus will appeal to urban trend-setters looking for a car that stands out and one which may be customised to suit their personality. It should also appeal to young couples looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
From the front there is something very unique about the Rukus design. It looks like something a half-American, half -Japanese designer would've come up with at 3 am in the morning (Rukus is actually designed at the CALTY design studio in Los Angeles). If it could talk I imagine it would say something along the lines of: "Yes, that's right, I am boxy. Wanna fight about it?". Frankly, I rather like it (but hold off on the hate-mails for now).
The rear is pretty much the same, given its straight line box-on-wheels design structure it almost looks like a commercial van, but it's got far more appeal than that. No doubt a few of you are frothing at the mouth dying to tell me how ridiculous the Rukus looks. My only piece of advice is to actually go and see one in the flesh. It looks far 'cooler' in person (but some will still hate it and that's part of the plan as you can't be cool if everyone likes your taste).
Why do I like it? Perhaps because I am part of the Twitter and Facebook generation but also as a car journalist it's rather refreshing to see Toyota design something that actually has character and personality.
The idea is to get the exterior completely repainted (you can buy it as a blank canvas) or customised enough so that yours will be unique in your own way.
The interior is also designed in such a way to make it easy to fit in multiple LCDs, new stereo systems and whatever else "you crazy kids can think of". Toyota Australia also offers a huge selection of genuine customisable options.
Of course you can just pick one of the seven default colours it comes with and be done with it, but that would be missing the point.
This idea of a cool, hip and Gen-Y car for the younger folks isn't new in Australia. It was tried last year with the Kia Soul which is yet to make a big impact on its target market. Last month the Soul found only 53 buyers (total year to end of April sales were 189). Toyota believes it's brand reputation will mean better results for the Rukus. The Big T expects to sell 150-200 units per month.
The Rukus is sold in the United States under the Scion brand as the xB but Toyota Australia decided to keep the Toyota badge for this market. Partially because launching an all-new brand for just one model would not make all that much sense and also because Toyota's image in Australia is in better standing with the younger crowd than in the United States.
Once you get over the look and exterior styling of the Rukus, you'll quickly realise that it's a rather well equipped and practical car.
All Rukus variants in Australia are powered by a 2.4-litre dual overhead-cam four-cylinder engine that outputs 123kW of power at 6000rpm and 224Nm of torque at 4000rpm. This is mated to a four-speed automatic (more on this later) and as such returns a respectable fuel economy figure of 8.8L/100km for the combined highway and city cycle.
The Rukus is built on the same platform (MC) as the Corolla and RAV4, but feels much roomier inside than both. The box-shaped exterior means a spacious interior big enough to comfortably seat five adults (a rare feature these days). What most impressed me about the Rukus was the unique dash layout. Despite its box-shape, the interior is all about circles. From the four gauges in the centre console to the aircon controls and even the air-vents, it's all round.
There are three different variants of the Rukus, simply called: Build 1, Build 2 and Build 3. The base model Toyota Rukus Build 1 starts at $27,490* and comes standard with:
- Six airbags,
- Stability and traction control
- Anti-skid disc brakes
- 16-inch alloy wheels,
- Cruise control,
- Keyless entry and ignition,
- Power mirrors and windows
- Engine immobiliser.
- CD player with six speakers, Bluetooth™ hands-free telephone and audio streaming (meaning you can stream music wirelessly from your iPhone/Pod directly to the car), USB and 3.5mm audio input.
Build 2 will see buyers fork out $29,990* and gain:
- Leather-accented seats, steering wheel and gearshift knob.
- Nine speakers including a sub-woofer, plus a six CD-stacker linked to a 4.3-inch colour screen for the audio (no Sat-Nav or TV).
- Climate-control and push-button operation
Build 3 is basically just a Build 2 but with a Sunroof for an additional $1,800 ($31,790).
Compared to the entry-level Kia Soul, the base Rukus is $6,500 more expensive but it does come with a much bigger engine plus a whole range of additional features (and a Toyota badge).
It's hard to criticise the Rukus because it's not meant for everyone - no doubt the older crowd will dismiss it quickly (but that's a good thing!). My only solid concern is the car's four-speed automatic gearbox which should really be a six-speed (there is no manual option in Australia either).
During the media launch, Toyota brought out a few examples of what the car could be customised to look like (note: the black one with the giant intercooler is not road-legal).
A short stint behind the wheel didn't pose enough opportunity to thoroughly report on the car's handling credentials. Nonetheless it would be fair to say the Rukus is not underpowered and it certainly managed the obstacle course with ease. Check back soon as CarAdvice will conduct a comprehensive Road Test & Review of the Rukus.
To put everything into perspective, Toyota doesn't really want everyone to like the Rukus (it would almost defeat its purpose). It will no doubt find enough buyers to become an effective branding car. Finally a Toyota model which is not about volume.
If you've seen those Lexus LFA ads that say "Yes, It's a Lexus." then you get the idea - changing brand perception. Yes, it's a Toyota - and no, it doesn't care what you think!
* plus statutory charges or other on-road costs