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First drive: Toyota makes a Rukus with niche appeal

Out of the box: The Toyota Rukus will compete with the Kia Soul for domination of a small niche.

Young drivers the target as Toyota goes all square with Corolla-based Rukus

Toyota logo18 May 2010

AUSTRALIA’S vehicle sales leader, Toyota, is turning its sights on small-volume niches to help cement its sales domination, with the latest addition to the rats-and-mice approach being a small Corolla-based front-drive wagon, the Rukus.

The Rukus name is exclusive to Australia. It is sold as the xB in the United States under Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand, and as the Toyota Corolla Rumion in Japan.

Although Toyota is targeting young buyers, the Rukus has reached middle age even before entering the market.

The xB/Rumion/Rukus is four years into its model cycle, and a recent facelift was restricted to minor interior improvements and a cosmetic nose job.

According to Toyota Australia's senior executive director of sales and marketing, David Buttner, the Rukus was the result of demand by potential Toyota buyers, who were not taken by Toyota’s existing offerings.

“Potential customers have told us they want this style of car,” he said. “We’ve listened and we’re responding.”

Mr Buttner added that the boxy Rukus was meant to appeal to “urban trend-setters” and “young couples who have started or are about to start a family”.

Mr Buttner said the Rukus would sell about 150 to 200 units a month – making it one of Toyota’s slowest-selling passenger cars, together with the Avensis, Prius and Tarago.

8 center imageToyota says Rukus will take sales away from niche competitor models in the compact SUV, small hatch and small wagon segments.

The closest competitor is the Kia Soul, which averaged 47 sales a month this year to the end of April.

Clearly with a 150-200 unit monthly projection, Toyota plans to tackle the high volume end of this low-volume market.

The Rukus might grab more buyers than Soul but it costs several thousand dollars more. Kia is advertising the Soul at $19,990 drive-away for a 92kW 1.6 petrol five-speed manual entry-level model, while the most expensive petrol is the $25,990 (drive-away) Soul Cubed petrol auto.

The Soul is competitive on price and its features, although is does not have cruise control – a standard feature on Rukus.

The Rukus shares its wheelbase with the Corolla hatch, at 2600mm, but has an additional 40mm rear overhang and is 25mm longer overall at 4260mm.

The 1645mm-tall body is 135mm taller than Corolla and just 50mm short of the RAV4. At 1760mm wide, the Rukus is the same width as a Corolla but narrower than the 1815mm RAV4.

The Soul is slightly smaller at 4105mm long, with a 2550mm wheelbase and 1600mm tall.

Kerb weight is between 1390kg to 1430kg, about 100kg heavier than a Corolla hatch.

The Rukus might have all the right styling to be considered fresh, but under the skin it is mostly old school.

The three Rukus models – ascending through grades Build 1, Build 2 and Build 3 – share the same body and mechanical package.

The 88.5 x 96 bore and stroke, 2362cc 2AZ-FE alloy in-line DOHC four-cylinder has been seen in a variety of similar versions in Avensis, Camry, Corolla, RAV4 and Tarago.

The 2AZ-FE has variable valve timing on inlet valves, a 9.8:1 compression ratio and runs on regular 91RON ULP. It develops a peak of 123kW of power at 6000rpm and 224Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

Toyota says the Euro 4 compliant Rukus achieves an average of 8.8L/100km and emits 208g/km CO2. Fuel tank capacity is 55 litres.

The only transmission offered is a conventional, electronically controlled four-speed automatic sending drive through the front wheels.

The Rukus’ suspension is an all-coil, front MacPherson strut and rear torsion bar design with ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes.

Wheels are 16-inch alloys shod with 205/55R16 tyres. The space-saver spare is a T135/70 D17 size on a steel rim.

Cargo space behind the 60/40-split rear seat is 310 litres (1331 litres with seats down) while the tall body design allows a SUV-like cargo area height of 855mm.

Inside, the Rukus is equipped with plenty of storage space and cupholders – and even a wallet holder – plus a cargo area that provides storage space under the cargo floor, where the space-saver spare resides.

While the Rukus was penned with predominately square themes, the central instrument cluster (as the previous-generation Nissan X-Trail) has a set of round dials, with orange backlighting for better visibility.

Toyota says the front seats recline fully and also have 240mm of fore/aft slide adjustment, plus a 43mm height adjustment for the driver’s seat.

An open lower centre console box in Rukus Build 1 features four stowage compartments.

Rukus Build 2 and 3 have a taller console box fitted with a sliding armrest and also a storage compartment for rear-seat passengers.

Safety features on all models include six airbags, stability and traction control and ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.

Standard equipment on the entry-level Build 1 model includes air-conditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control and keyless entry and ignition, front-window UV cut glass, rear-door and rear side door privacy glass, body-coloured exterior power mirrors, one-touch power windows, trip computer, six-speaker audio with MP3 and iPod compatibility, plus audio and cruise control steering wheel controls and fabric seat trim.

Build 2 adds part-leather seats, a ‘premium’ three-spoke steering wheel (with audio and cruise control switches), ‘premium’ gearshift knob, climate-control air-conditioning and nine-speaker audio including sub woofer.

Build 3 is based on Build 2 but with the addition of a power tilt-and-slide sunroof.

The Rukus Build 1 has grey fabric seats while Builds 2 and 3 have grey leather.

Like the Kia Soul, the Rukus will offer a number of personalisation options.

Aside from the usual array of options, the Rukus can be equipped with new body decals in flame, brick or stripe graphics in white or black and a number of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) accessories designed for the Rukus, such as a fuel cap, oil cap, push-start button and leather gear shift handle.

The Rukus is offered in a choice of seven exterior colours, including Ink and Dark Furnace Mica Metallic, and three new metallic colours, Amazon, Tungsten and Aura.

Toyota Rukus pricing:
Build 1 (a) $27,490
Build 2 (a) $29,990
Build 3 (a) $31,790

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