TOYOTA HAS today launched the 2010 Toyota Rukus, an 'urban utility vehicle' that Toyota hopes will return some sorely-needed youthful street cred to the Japanese brand's local image.
“Rukus is set to invade our automotive culture, just as it has done in Japan and the United States,” Toyota Australia boss David Buttner says of the company's latest addition to the local line-up.
“It defies automotive design conventions, particularly the modern trend towards curvy, streamlined shapes.
While its Japanese counterpart utilises the company's small 1.3 and 1.5 litre petrol engines, the Australian-delivered Rukus draws power from a 2.4 litre four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 123kW of power and using 8.8 litres of unleaded petrol per 100km on the combined cycle.
Starting at $27,490, the Rukus is more affordable than the similarly-styled Kia Soul. With the slow-selling Soul, its got a market nearly to itself. The grey-import Nissan Cube, sold in miniscule numbers, is similar in style and appeal but cannot be considered a competitor.
In the 1980s, boxy styling was a trend driven by efficiency and cost at the manufacturing level. In the past decade, some carmakers - and apparently enough buyers - have seen the look as a stylish alternative to the curvaceous flowing lines evident in most other designs.
In Japan, just about all of the main brands offer a model (or five) in the 'mini MPV' box style, from the diminutive 660cc 'kei' cars through to the larger Corolla-sized models like the Rukus - sold in Japan as the Toyota bB.
Here in the west, Toyota has been the biggest advocate of the box style, particularly in the US where it has marketed its bB-based xB through the youth-oriented Scion brand since 2004.
It's the xB version of the platform with which the local Toyota Rukus has the most in common, utilising the same 2AZ-FE engine and wearing more-or-less the same outfit.
From a design perspective, there isn't much to say about the Rukus - it's a box. According to Toyota, the brand's designers have imbued the Rukus with a "simple and unique design based on horizontal and vertical lines rather than the rounded proportions the dominate other models". A box, then.
The almost completely square headlights of the Rukus combine with the bulky front bumper to present an unlikely tough countenance, and the top half of the two-box design is dominated by a large, blacked-out glasshouse.
The relatively non-descript rear-end features a tall tailgate flanked by tail-lamps plain in overall shape but sporty in their internal design.
Available in three distinct equipment grades - Build 1, Build 2 and Build 3 - the standard styling accessories of the Rukus vary with each model.
As crates go, the Rukus is a fairly aerodynamic package, with a relatively impressive 0.32 drag coefficient. Another car with a 0.32 drag factor is the Ferrari California. The slippery 2010 Toyota Prius lists a 0.25cd, while the similarly-boxy Nissan Cube lists a drag coefficient of 0.35.
Inside, the Rukus is dominated by a large, layered dash panel that continues the horizontal lines of the exterior styling, with silver highlights featured.
In the instrument cluster, four prominently-placed round guages offer a contrast to the straight lines of the dash, featuring a digital speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and temperature dials.
The contrasting circular theme continues with the air-conditioning vents and controls, along with the increasingly common 'Smart Start' button in place of a regular key-operated ignition.
Rukus Build 1 features textured grey fabric seats, while the seats of Builds 2 and 3 are trimmed with grey leather accents. The front seats offer 240mm of fore/aft slide adjustment, with the driver's seat featuring six-way movement and and the front pasenger seat getting four-way adjustment.
Build 1 features a three-spoke urethane steering wheel with audio and cruise control switches, a urethane gearshift knob and a six-speaker audio system.
Build 2 adds leather-accented seats, three-spoke premium steering wheel with audio and cruise control switches, premium gearshift knob, climate-control air-conditioning and nine-speaker audio including sub woofer.
Build 2 can be ramped up to Build 3 spec by adding a power tilt-and-slide moonroof.
Although the Rukus shares a 2600mm wheelbase with the Corolla, its squarer dimensions and 40mm longer overhang mean greater storage space. In the back, there's a handy 310 litres to the top of the rear seats, and the total height of the rear cargo area is 855mm.
Drop the 60/40 split-fold rear seats and storage grows to 1331 litres. There's also a storage space beneath the rear floor, shared with the space-saver spare wheel.
Standard features for the Rukus include air-conditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control and keyless entry and start via Toyota's Smart Entry and Smart Start systems.
A six-speaker audio system is standard with the Build 1 spec, while Build 2 features a nine-speaker setup and a sub woofer. Climate-control air-conditioning is also standard with Build 2.
USB and iPod connectivity is standard, as is Bluetooth streaming and hands-free mobile phone connection. A rear-view camera is available as an option.
Rated as a 'Top Safety Pick' by the USA's highly-regarded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, standard safety features for the Rukus include six airbags - driver and front passenger, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
High-tensile steel features in the outer centre pillars, door hinges, belt line and outer rocker panels, while a reinforced central roof beam and a brace between the dash and A-pillar help to ensure structural integrity in the cabin.
Other structural safety features include a horizontal beam in the floor tunnel, an impact-absorbing pad in the dash to protect legs and ankles, and stiffening bulkheads in the rocker panels.
Standard stability control features include ABS braking with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, traction control and vehicle stability control.
Toyota’s 2.4 litre petrol inline four is the sole engine on offer, and is similar to that used by the RAV4. 123kW of power is available from 6000rpm, and 224Nm of torque arrives at 4000rpm.
The inline four runs on 91 RON petrol, and Toyota claims an average fuel economy of 8.8 l/100km.
A four-speed automatic takes power to the front wheels, and there’s no manual transmission option.
The front of the Rukus is suspended on MacPherson struts, while the rear uses a simple beam axle with coil springs and trailing arms. The steering rack is electrically-assisted and features a 10.6 metre turning circle.
Disc brakes are fitted to all four corners, with the front getting ventilated rotors.
The 2010 Toyota Rukus is available now.
- 2010 Toyota Rukus - Build 1: $27,490
- 2010 Toyota Rukus - Build 2: $29,990
- 2010 Toyota Rukus - Build 3: $31,790
Note: prices are Manufacturer's List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.