Car reviews - Kia - Rondo - 5-dr wagon range
Interior packaging, safety features, handling and ride, value
Room for improvement
Engine’s lack of torque, harshness when revved could really do with a five-or six-speed automatic
22 Apr 2008
By PHILIP LORD
HAVING kids can change many things, but more than anything they change your perception of cars. People-movers like the new Kia Rondo 7 may not be sex on wheels but ask anyone who’s endured a svelte coupe or sporty hatchback with children for any length of time how they went.
They won’t answer they’ll be too busy pouring over people-mover brochures.
Clearly when you are a prospective people-mover owner it is a measure of your priorities. No longer can you talk about how much horsepower is lodged under the bonnet, instead you want to know how many people you can stuff inside.
How many cup-holders a car has becomes more noteworthy than how many kiloWatts it can produce and you find yourself pondering the side curtain airbag availability and the third row toe-room.
Kia’s Rondo 7 is the type of car that will find itself buyers among mostly parents aged 30 to 45 with two or three children.
That makes sense, but Kia also sees others including the over-50s empty-nesters looking to buy a practical, nimble vehicle that has a footprint not much bigger than a small SUV but is more practical and spacious inside.
While the exterior is yet another take on the tall hatchback look of other compact people-movers, the Rondo 7 is as good as the best of them inside.
Even though the quality of the plastics does not appear to be top-notch, there were no rattles or creaks during our drive over several hundred kilometres that included very rough, pot-holed sections to give cause for concern.
The front-row occupants are each treated to a comfortable supportive pew and deep centre armrest/console compartment and plenty of cup-holders, storage space and even a recessed hook to hang a shopping bag on the left of the centre stack.
The transmission shifter is located on a lower extension of the centre stack, which allows better allocation of storage space on the centre console.
The second row is accessed by wide-opening doors that are not inhibited by wheel-arch intrusions and the interior floor is almost perfectly flat, making life easier for the centre occupant.
This middle-row seat is quite flat, and is split in a 70/30 arrangement, the one-third split on the traffic side, betraying the left-hand drive origins of this design (it is better to have the narrower split seat on the kerb side so that only one kerbside passenger has to move to allow the seat to fold forward so third row occupants can gain access instead of two.)
However, the second row has a very convenient fore-aft sliding adjustment, which means a suitable compromise can be met with third-row occupants for legroom.
The second row has a child-seat anchor point located on the back of each of the three seating positions, and each position also has a lap/sash seatbelt. Unlike some designs, the lap/sash is fixed to the seat and not attached in the less convenient position on the rear ceiling.
The third row is very easy to access even for adults, with a one-lever action tilting and sliding forward the second row.
The headroom is tight, but with the second-row seat moved forward on its runners, three rows of adults can co-habitate in relative comfort.
Toe and foot room is quite ample, too, which is a common problem area for third-row seat designs.
The seat folding arrangement is very good, with the seatback folding forward onto the base in the second and third rows to present a flat loading floor.
While boot space is very tight with the third row seat up (as is typical of seven-seat designs) drop it down and there is ample space for luggage.
The 2.0-litre engine propels the Rondo 7 well enough in the city, where it has good off-the-mark response and is generally responsive at low speeds.
When pushed a little harder, or when loaded up and travelling on the highway, the engine struggles to maintain momentum and in the auto’s case, is kicking down regularly to get into the power band.
When revved beyond 3500rpm, the engine sounds noisy and feels harsh, too. Even back in row three occupants will know the engine is working hard.
While only full testing will confirm it, we suspect the combined fuel consumption figure of 8.4L/100km (manual) and 8.6L/100km (auto) may be hard to achieve when worked hard in hilly country when loaded up.
The auto is smooth enough but it really needs another forward ratio or two to keep the engine on the boil. The manual mode does not hold gears, instead upshifting as it approaches redline.
The manual transmission is clunky but quite direct and appears to mask the engine’s lack of torque better than the auto does.
The Australian-specification Rondo 7 is fitted with the European-market suspension settings and rides and handles very well. While Korean models traditionally have soft springing, the Rondo 7 is firm without being hard.
The ride quality is no doubt helped by the relatively long wheelbase, but that doesn’t mean the Rondo 7 is unwieldy when tipped into a corner.
In fact, the opposite is true, on the 17-inch alloy wheels and Dunlop SP Sport 270 tyres fitted to the EX, the Rondo has an engaging deportment through corners totally unexpected of a small, tall and long-wheelbase front-wheel drive people-mover.
There is minimal bodyroll, reasonable road feel through the steering and very good levels of adhesion from the 17-inch tyres (we didn’t have the opportunity to test the LX on its 15-inch steel rims and Hankook Optimo tyres).
The Rondo does not seem upset by the patchwork quilt of lumpy tarmac found on the backroads of the Hunter Valley, either. The ride over such surfaces was very composed, although that may change with seven occupants on board.
There is something very appealing about a small people-mover that looks much like a tall hatchback, has all the safety and convenience features you would require and doesn’t cost much to buy or to run.
While the 2.0-litre is not the most powerful or refined engine, the Rondo 7 is still a very cohesive surprise package.
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