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

Launch Story

14 May 2010

WHEN a car manufacturer invites the media to drive their new product, it often means driving the new model for a day or two, usually for 300km-plus in varying conditions.

This is often enough time to form sufficient impressions of a new vehicle to write about it. The manufacturer wants to show its new product in the best light possible, of course, but also wants media to have time to form an (hopefully favourable) impression.

Perhaps Toyota did not want the media to form any sort of impression of its Rukus in case it was a bad one, going by the launch of the new model this week.

Using the open-surfaced areas surrounding Sydney’s defunct Overseas Passenger Terminal, Toyota orchestrated two timed competitions for media, driving the Rukus 150 metres to pick-up a toddler crash test dummy from a marquee and then driving a similar distance to pick-up a load of cardboard boxes.

Both were intended to be fun exercises displaying the sort of things Rukus buyers would do with their car – pick-up toddlers and enormous loads of shopping.

If this was not designed to ensure an all-too-brief impression, then perhaps this was for the benefit of the lifestyle media, who arrived for a session of crash-dummy and box-collecting after the motoring media.

Whether through innate skill or through the process of Darwin’s theory of evolution, most motoring writers these days know how to drive. Some lifestyle writers don’t even hold licences, so letting them loose only in a closed car park would seem the best way to keep your press fleet intact.

In any case, there is not much to say about the performance, dynamics, comfort or controls of the Rukus because there wasn’t really the opportunity at the launch to find out.

I did discover in my 150-metre drive impression that tyre grip in the wet is not too bad, that the stability control and traction control is effective, and the doors open wide and make it easy to strap baby into a capsule and the cargo area will take a huge volume of boxes.

Not only that, but also that the media conference venue had fine coffee and very comfortable sofas.

At least I was able to spend some time looking over and in the Rukus.

The exterior styling is quite conservative despite Toyota saying the looks would be polarising. It’s been done before, many times, by a long string of Japanese Kei cars and the Kia Soul is the obvious current example, and one that has a more polished smoother appearance, even if it lacks the cachet of the Toyota roundel on the front.

It is in the detail that the Rukus does not look so great. Its front-end looks fussy, while the taillights have the crystal look of aftermarket types sold on eBay by dubious sellers.

The interior is huge – especially in cabin height and length, although its Corolla-like width does not give three blokes much elbow space to sit comfortably on the rear bench.

The seats are set relatively high, allowing occupants an easy slide in and out of the cabin, and although quite flat appear supportive with their firm cushioning.

The doors open wide for easy access and there is almost medium-car legroom and SUV-like headroom available. A box-on-wheels look might be cool, but it is also practical.

Toyota has made storage an art form in the Rukus, with all the cubbyholes and drink holders conceivably possible.

The cargo area has useful tie-downs but the carpet looks cheap and as if it will wear quickly. The foam wet storage tray underneath the carpet (and above the space-saver spare wheel) is also a cheap touch.

Thankfully the rest of the interior is well finished, yet it is not anything special – and no more fashionable than a Corolla interior.

The instrument cluster is centrally placed and while the Toyota design team says that central placement engenders a ‘sense of community’ within the car, I doubt it will stop the presumably young and funky passengers from texting or Googling on their smart phones. The instruments appear small and possibly difficult to read, although lack of wheel time didn’t permit us to see if this was the case.

More often than not the cars that young people like they can only afford by the time their mid-life crisis swings around.

How often do you see a new $30,000-plus car driven by a 20-year-old? Sure, wealthy parents do cough up to buy their offspring nice cars, but in the main, 20-to-25-year olds are struggling to pay HECS fees and keep up part-time job shifts while studying. They usually can barely afford a crumbling piece of metal built back when they were still in nappies.

Even Kia has failed to stir up much interest in its similar Soul, which is a solid $8000 less that Rukus at base level. Kia managed to move 407 units last year, but this year sales are not exactly booming, at 47 units a month average, despite the current offer of a top-spec diesel auto for about the same price as a base Rukus on the road.

This is the greatest problem facing Toyota regardless of how well it does – or doesn’t – drive, how does Toyota encourage the iPod generation to buy a Rukus, when – in this country at least – it is likely to appear out of reach or as a fossil-fuelled irrelevance?

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