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Car reviews - Toyota - Rukus - Build 3 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Unique styling, user friendly cabin, great rear seats, easy to park, smooth drivetrain, relatively good fuel economy, charming nature with prolonged exposure
Room for improvement
Divisive styling, hard cabin plastics, no rear air vents, silly name, low towing capacity

14 May 2010

AYGO and iQ.

Two of the best (and smartest) Toyotas we’ve never driven in Australia were passed up for this ... Rukus – a car that truly looks as dumb as a box of hammers.

Seemingly pitched at 18-30 year-old American anti-style geeks, we were really, really ready to despise it, especially – after the umpteenth time of badgering Toyota over when we’re getting the iQ – one insider admitted that vehicles such as the Rukus and FJ Cruiser are more relevant to Australians …

Don’t even get us started on what our response to that was!

Anyhow, so here it is, the bluff and unbeautiful Rukus. It isn’t even that new, having debuted in North America (as the Scion xB) and Japan (alias: Corolla Rumion – an even sillier name than Rukus and a clue to this car’s origins) almost four years ago.

Cracks in our seething hatred began showing when the looks started growing on us. Don’t worry – we’re not in love just yet, but the simple (simplistic?) styling – clearly inspired by Nissan’s Cube (another frustrating non-starter for Oz) and the current Mini – kinda works. For some folk they do anyway.

Here’s another. Since the Rukus is a Corolla-in-a-box-it-came-in, the size feels right. It does not seem SUV oversized in any way, but does offer some SUV benefits like slightly higher seating and unimpeded entry and egress.

If you’re older or not as mobile as some others, suddenly the notion of a compact non-SUV wagon crossover thingo sounds intriguing, yes? Toyota says the Rukus is aimed at Y-gens but this car is SO 2006 for them we reckon they’re dreaming …

So with an eye to who we believe the demographic really is, the Rukus’ doors open wide, heads don’t need to duck as one swivels his/her hips inside thanks to generously sized seats that for most are at an ideal height, and due to the ample headroom available (even in our sunroof-equipped Build 3 range topper) the feeling of airiness comes as a most attractive surprise.

Gen Vs (those alive on Victory Day 1945 – © 2010 GoAuto), your wheels are ready!

There’s a Baby Boomer-era Mini-esque feel to the square-edged windows and upright pillars from inside the Rukus, but this also means that parking accurately is not the mystery that most modern cars can be. Only the needlessly thick C-pillars keep it from being a piece of Madeira cake to manoeuvre in tight spots.

What you make of the utilitarian cabin architecture probably depends on your point of view. Hard plastics abound, moulded to conform to the Toyota’s Tonka-toy exterior simplicity, to varying degrees of success.

Aesthetically it wins no awards from us then, with the instrument pod (two oversized analogue auxiliary gauges – temperature and fuel – followed by an undersized tacho and then a digital speedo and – comprehensive – trip computer readout) having a contrived, amateurish appearance.

But these – along with the well-built dash as a whole – work extremely well as devices to serve the car’s occupants: that speedo is right in the driver’s eye line all controls are precisely where you’d expect them to be (thought the up-spec air-con buttons do require some familiarisation), and the nice to caress steering wheel is exactly in the right position. The Toyota looks after your oddments storage needs well enough too.

If you love your music this particular model features an effective sound system complete with sub woofers as part of its multimedia set-up, so whether it is ABC Classical or the unlikely sounds of Dizzee Rascal soaring through the speakers, you should be impressed. Note that we could not mate an iPhone ‘4’ to the Bluetooth hands-free system in our example.

Assessing the boxy Rukus from the outside, the fact it is a spacious vehicle probably won’t come as a shock. What might though is the amount of acreage in the rear.

While the front seats are Toyota-average comfy and sufficiently supportive but nothing to get excited over, the rear bench is a bit like an inviting couch to luxuriate in, complete with heaps of space in all areas and enough toe-tapping room under the front seats. Even the centre pew is adult-doable – and we cannot remember the last time we said that – although the outboard positions are of course better.

Plus points back there include windows that fall all the way down well-placed elbow rests on the doors and centre arm pull and a small bottle holder in each door. Then some are taken away for no face-level vents. It could have been perfect back there.

The cargo area’s volume is somewhere between a hatchback’s and a regular wagon’s. While the floor is a bit higher than you might expect (and so a cinch to load and unload but not great for standing a Zimmer frame on), the child anchorage points are immediately behind the rear backrest, so transporting your littlest grandchildren or great grandchildren won’t mean eating into the luggage area.

Geez, those cracks are now like the floating polar icecaps, melting our icy hearts and flooding us with admiration – or something like that anyway.

There’s a hidden floor for your stash (but no luggage cover), just above the space-saver spare wheel. Toyota quotes the cargo volume as 310 litres (1331 litres with back seats folded). Note that towing capacity is rated at only 500kg.

The Rukus’ user friendliness continues in the way it drives too.

Toyota has turfed out the Corolla’s 1.8/2.0L four-pot engines for the RAV4’s 123kW/224Nm 2.4-litre unit, and that helps overcome the 100kg or so weight penalty this car has over its progenitor.

Driving the front wheels via a smooth but, really, quite old-fashioned four-speed automatic gearbox (no other transmission is offered), the drivetrain pairing is a slick one, a Bob and Dolly Dyer of a duo that will never offend nor excite too much.

Slot the (agreeably elevated) gear lever into ‘D’ – there’s no need to use the Tiptronic-style nonsense in a vehicle with ratios this few), and all you will notice is how torquey this powerplant is. While not smoking the front tyres, forward acceleration is ample.

Actually, we found ourselves constantly underestimating our speed. Maybe it is the Rukus’ stately appearance, but what seemed like 100km/h was, well, rather more – a month’s licence suspension in some states more, in fact.

How come? Well, while revving the 2.4-litre engine does betray an upper-range harshness, the easily accessible torque in the lower regions means that most people will happily amble along down there, so there won’t be that much mechanical noise intrusion.

Meanwhile, road-related droning is kept in check while – perhaps unexpectedly – there isn’t too much wind rustle coming from those upright pillars and protruding door mirrors. This isn’t Lexus hushed but nor does the Rukus, well, make one.

This car neither lives up to its positioning nor its name – unless you pump up the stereo volume and press pedal to the metal of course.

Another upshot of that torquey 2.4 is utterly reasonable fuel economy – we averaged a commendable low-10s in the litres-per-100km ratings, and most of that was in built-up inner-city areas.

Easy and quiet to drive, with no discernable susceptibility to cross winds, the Rukus is turning into a Good Car on the open road, and an effective one in the city, because the turning circle is rather tight. Light and response steering further aids manoeuvrability, as does that lofty driving position.

We’re suddenly scratching our heads as to why more retirees don’t flock to this car!

Earlier we said that the Toyota is a cross between a hatch and wagon, but there is an element of SUV in the way it handles.

There’s no escaping the laws of physics with a slightly raised vehicle and a hefty mass gain over the Corolla, and so the Rukus is not really an agile or enjoyable cornerer.

Enter a turn with some speed and there will be a commensurate increase in the amount of road width it needs to plough through. But the 205/55R16 Dunlops fitted to our car grip gamely, and the Toyota does handle corners with a flat and foursquare attitude under certain approach angles, as we discovered to our delight.

We doubt the older buyer profile would go there but their offspring’s offspring might!

What we would like is more instantaneous response from the brake pedal the Rukus’ anchors do haul it up within acceptable limits, but the amount of travel seemed excessive in our particular example.

Nevertheless, the car we were ready to condemn with relish we ended up really rather liking.

You could argue that our expectations were so low that by merely meeting them, the Rukus has earned a positive review … but you would be wrong regardless.

Yes, against all our preconceptions, the Toyota won us over. But it also won over the various people who travelled in it too, and continued to impress everybody with a high level of comfort, versatility and smoothness.

Factor in relatively good value for money – prices start from under $30,000 – and things do stack up in this car’s favour even more.

So while the Rukus does indeed look like toy car packaging, we were disarmed by its friendliness and abilities – and eventually even charmed.

Just as we were when driving both the Aygo and iQ in Europe not too long ago.

Thus, silly name, comical styling and all, the not-very-rambunctious Rukus can stay after all.

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