Even Toyota admits its newest car is designed to create a ruckus. And it is more than just its name, which also happens to be Rukus.
Toyota Australia's senior executive director sales and marketing, David Buttner, admits the boxy wagon is "the most un-Toyota car we have ever sold". "I understand the looks will polarise people," Buttner says.
Buttner also says Toyota needs to attract a new style of buyer, one who is youth oriented or at least younger than the global demographic for Toyota cars, which is aged 54. "If it provides us with a chance to attract a younger buyer we believe the investment is worthwhile," he says.
The Rukus is expected to attract two types of buyer, urban trendies and those whose car is an extension of their personalities. Buttner says the Gen Y car is designed to be different. "Rukus is set to invade our automotive culture, just as it has done in Japan and the United States."
The car has reached cult status in its home Japanese market and also has a strong following in the US. Toyota says the car defies automotive design conventions, particularly the modern trend towards curvy, streamlined shapes. "Suddenly, it's hip to be square," Buttner says.
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. Buttner describes the boxy wagon as a Tardis – spacious on the inside and compact on the outside. Its on-road footprint is similar to the Corolla hatch, while it gains an extra 40mm of rear overhang to provide plenty of luggage space.
Buttner says the car straddles the market between a wagon and a compact off-roader. Despite the quirky design, Buttner is confident the newest wagon will appeal to urban trend-setters and 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," he says. "It's not for everyone – and that's OK. It's an acquired taste."
Prices start at $27,490 for the opener and three models will be available, known as Build 1, Build 2 and Build 3. The Rukus accent is on safety as much as in-your-face styling and strong performance with six airbags, stability and traction control and anti-skid disc brakes all standard.
Other features in every Rukus include air-conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and windows and an engine immobiliser. The quirky design details continue on the inside with centrally mounted gauges and high-mounted gearshift. Audio and cruise-control switches are also on the steering wheel. The boxy shape affords plenty of room for gear. There are plenty of handy storage spaces throughout the cabin, including underneath the luggage floor.
The Build 1 sound system has six speaker CD stereo, Bluetooth hands-free telephone and audio streaming, USB and 3.5mm audio input. The $29,990 Build 2 adds leather-accented seats, steering wheel and gearshift, plus upgraded air conditioning. Nine speakers for the sound system include a sub-woofer, and there's a six CD-stacker plus a 4.3-inch colour screen for the audio. The aircon gains climate-control and push-button operation. Build 3 is effectively the range topper and adds a tilt-and-slide moonroof for a further $1800.
Toyota is expecting to sell between 150 and 200 a month with buyers split 50/50 between private and fleets. Buttner admits it is a low volume car but it remains an important addition to the Toyota lineup. He expects most buyers to be conquests from rival niche vehicles, small hatches, small wagons and compact off-roaders. Buyers will also have the opportunity to dress up their cars with various decals which include stripes, flames and bricks, as well as alloys. An additional lure for buyers is a fixed price servicing deal of $130 for the first six scheduled services.
Passion is more than just a box on wheels. Although Toyota is to be applauded for getting out of its design straightjacket, they are trying a little too hard with the Rukus. The company that brought us the evocative Celica and MR2 needs to revisit these cars to try and lure a younger buyer back to the brand.
The Rukus is not that car. It's good but it's hardly exciting. It drives predictably and the Toyota badge will be enough for many. It has the same 2600mm wheelbase as the Corolla but gets a 40mm longer rear which translates into a very practical and roomy luggage area.
The 123kW/224Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder is a perky performer for the size of the car. The Rukus will hurtle away from the traffic lights with plenty of zip courtesy of the standard four-speed automatic.
Our time with the Toyota Tardis was all too brief but if you're familiar with the Corolla's steering, brakes and handling you will feel right at home. What we really like about the Rukus is its commodious interior. 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.
The standard equipment list is good and the safety kit runs to six airbags, stability control and a strong body. Given that the Corolla wagon is no longer available, the Rukus could fill that niche. But as Kia is finding out with the Soul, there's more to flogging a car to Gen Y than just looks.
Perhaps the most important thing about the Rukus is that it heralds a change in culture at Toyota. It could be the first of many different and interesting Toyotas to head our way.
Build 1: $27,490
Build 2: $29,990
Build 3: $31,790