New Car: 2011 Toyota Rukus

Toyota has released the most "un-Toyota" vehicle it has ever launched locally, a boxy small car called the Rukus -- and Australia's most popular car maker has openly admitted that it is a "love it or hate it" vehicle.

"I must confess I wasn't sure about the appeal of the Rukus when I first saw it," says Toyota Australia senior executive director of sales and marketing, David Buttner. "I thought cars were supposed to have curves on them ... but suddenly I discover it's hip to be square."

Buttner admitted that the Rukus was designed to appeal to Gen Y buyers, "but that doesn't mean everyone who's young will love it, and everyone who's old with hate it. It's a bit like vegemite, it's an acquired taste."

When Toyota did "blindfold" customer clinics in Australia (where the Toyota badges were covered on a Rukus sample car) most people didn't pick it as a Toyota. They thought it was a Honda or a Volkswagen.

Priced from $27,490 -- a substantial price premium over the Corolla on which it is based -- the Rukus is not intended to be a volume seller for the brand, rather it is "the first of a series of cars that are about brand image, not volume", says Buttner.

"We expect to sell about 150 to 200 a month, which is relatively low volume but important volume. Most of them will be first time Toyota customers."

He said many young buyers will see the car as "a blank canvas, limited by only by their imagination and, of course, what's legal".

To help with its appeal among younger buyers, Toyota will launch the Rukus with a special finance deal starting from $123 per week.

Designed at Toyota's styling studio in Los Angeles, where boxy cars have become cool among younger buyers, the Rukus has about the same size footprint as a Corolla but with the roominess of a wagon.

"Depending on who you talk to it's either a Corolla wagon on steroids or a lowered, front-drive RAV4," says Buttner. "It straddles the line between family car and SUV. It's a small car with a tall roof."

The chief engineer for the vehicle, Hiroya Fujita, describes it as "something of a TARDIS, compact outside, roomy inside".

There are three model grades in the new Rukus range, known as Build One, Build Two and Build Three.

Priced from $27,490 Build One comes with six airbags, stability control, a proximity key, digital speed readout, and four-speed automatic transmission (a manual is not available on any model).

Priced from $29,990, Build Two gains climate control air-conditioning with a digital display screen, six-CD player and a nine-speaker sound system.

Priced from $31,790 Build Three gains a sunroof in addition to the equipment on the other two models.

The Rukus is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with 23 per cent more power and 28 per cent more torque than the 1.8 in the Toyota Corolla, but a 0 to 100km/h is not yet quoted for the car.

The first cars have begun to arrive in dealerships and the first customer deliveries are expected this week.

Despite the arrival of the Rukus, Buttner said that Toyota was not about to introduce the Scion brand locally.

"The Toyota badge is fine," he said. "We were pleasantly surprised about the positive reaction to the car once the people in customer clinics realised the car we were showing them was a Toyota."

Thanks to: Car Point


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